There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chickens, eggs and transit

cindyn left this comment:

I've been given my very last option: If I can't start catching a bus by 5 p.m. from 9th and J, or at least the convention center, I have to start driving again. And I love being a "transitarian." My husband says he wants me alive, and that's it's not safe being downtown alone in the dark, waiting for a bus. I've got the mile walk home also. Financially, my company offers free parking or free RT pass, but I love trying to do my part to lessen my carbon footprint and the downtown traffic congestion. If others would also, I wouldn't be the only one at the bus stop after 6 p.m.
Between the chicken and the egg stands the ever weakening resolve of good intentions.

If Sacramento Regional transit offered more frequent service, especially outside the so-called peak period, more people would ride the bus after 5 p.m. Then women like cindyn wouldn't feel like they were putting their lives in danger by standing alone on a street corner.

But RT has no bus lines that run more often than every 15 minutes, and even the 15-minute headway routes fall back to half-hour or worse in the evening. Is it any wonder cindyn feels compelled to abandon the bus for the security of her car?

Having said that, I must point out the complicity of the city of Sacramento and the central business district employers -- public and private -- that make it so easy to abandon transit. As long as free parking is provided, transit ridership will suffer. As long as transit ridership suffers, RT's ability to expand service will be undermined. As long as RT is unable to become a more attractive option for commuters and others, transit will struggle to maintain even today's sorry excuse for service.

The problem with dwindling transit ridership is not the money generated by fare-paying riders. It is the community support that whithers when people see that RT offers nothing for them. Where will the support for new revenue to expand the system come from if more and more people like cindyn feel compelled to leave transit and return to their cars?

And it will only get worse from here. Next Monday, the Sacramento Regional Transit board will approve fare increases.

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