May Letters To and From the Editor
With another debate over public transit heating up (see Page 12), expect a good deal of suburban hand-wringing over the cost of adding bus lines in the counties. Adding full-service buses that run deep into Henrico and Chesterfield would cost millions, possibly hundreds of millions.
With another debate over public transit heating up (see Page 12), expect a good deal of suburban hand-wringing over the cost of adding bus lines in the counties. Adding full-service buses that run deep into Henrico and Chesterfield would cost millions, possibly hundreds of millions. Last year, Chesterfield spent less than $300,000 on a few express transit lines. There’s no money.
The economic argument against buses is perfectly reasonable: The counties don’t have the population density, and the road network in metro Richmond is one of the best in the state. Taking the bus regularly is a real sacrifice for car owners. With no traffic to speak of, why would you give up the independence of driving – and convenience?
But that’s not the biggest problem holding back suburban buses. There’s also a pervasive sense in the counties that car owners own the roads. When cyclists or pedestrians enter the roadways, particularly narrow ones, we shake our heads in collective disbelief. We worry for their safety (I hope). Perhaps you give them extra room when passing. It’s a kindly gesture, sharing your road.
It isn’t really, of course. We all pay taxes to build roads, even the cyclists who choose to pedal them. Politically, funding public buses is often couched as a subsidy. Why should car-owning suburban taxpayers pay for buses they won’t ever use? Some see it as a welfare play: Funding full-service bus lines in the county helps those in urban areas who don’t have transportation, not us.
What this suburban mindset fails to take into account is that the inverse is already true. In 2013, when the General Assembly passed the landmark transportation bill, how transportation is paid for changed. Funding for roads now mostly comes from the sales tax, not the 17-cent per gallon gas tax, which means that everyone now pays for roads, even those who don’t have cars. Why should car owners be the only ones who truly benefit from the taxes paid by all? State and local governments spend millions each year on new roads that only the privileged – car owners – get to use.
True, road funding comes from many sources, and it’s still not enough. But until our politicians, and suburban voters, take responsibility for their subsidy, the movement for public transit will remain stuck in neutral. – Scott Bass