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The U-T’s backward thinking on transit

April 9, 2009 - 9:48 am

In today’s editorial, the Union-Tribune‘s editorial board set a new standard for backward thinking, which is significant, because the bar was so high to begin with.

The editorial writer lashes out at the possibility that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), a regional transportation authority, will vote to divert sales-tax revenue away from highways and toward public transit. The editorial’s main gripe is that voters were promised a certain allocation scheme—in which a third each would go to highways, transit and streets—and that allocating more to transit flies in the face of statistics showing that only 3 percent of commuters travel by public transit.

“So, should the 97 percent (motorists) be penalized in order to spare the 3 percent (bus and trolley passengers)?” the editorial indignantly asks.

The most irritating thing about the editorial is that it presumes to speak for the voting public: “What is more, shifting highway construction money to mass transit operating expenses would constitute a colossal bait and switch—a betrayal that the voters would not soon forget.”

I have no doubt that some voters would be pissed, but I also know for a fact that there are other voters who would love greater funding of transit. How do I know that? Because I’m one of them. More and more Americans (and San Diegans) are concerned about climate change and the environment in general, not to mention global geopolitical issues. Lots of people would love to get the hell out of their cars.

I live in Hillcrest, work in Mission Valley and often have to travel from work to Downtown. I’d love to ride public transit and stop using gasoline. I can’t do that because our transit system sucks ass. It takes me about six minutes to drive to work, but it would take nearly an hour to get there by bus and trolley. It’s completely infeasible. So, because I’m among the 97 percent who drive, the U-T assumes I choose to drive and vote by turning on the ignition.

Happily, CityBeat‘s offices are moving in a few weeks, and I’m going to look into bus travel, and (failing that), I’ll consider biking to work on days when I’m relatively sure I’ll be at my desk all day. I look forward to the day when I can’t be used as a statistic backing up the U-T‘s backward logic.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2009 - 6:33 am 6:33 am

    The 97% that isn’t…..

    In case you didn’t see this post on Facebook, alan@missiongrouponline.com commented:

    This is in addition to factual errors in the editorial–namely, that 97% of other workers drive. In fact, more people work at home than commute by transit, and the number that walk, ride a bicycle, or catch a ride is also larger. So the number that actually drive themselves, though large, is nowhere near 97%. Then, too, a large number of people work relatively close to their homes, driving roads that are not TransNet projects. Even among those who drive and those who take transit, it’s not always clear-cut: it’s not that 3% of *commuters* use transit, it’s that 3% of all *commute trips* use it. Individuals might drive on some days and take transit on others, so the individual number of users is higher.

    Finally, most transit commutes are rather focused. In the peak hour, for example, over 20% of commuters downtown use transit. Wise investments can certainly raise that number, double it even–but downtown would not work without transit.

  2. April 10, 2009 - 6:34 am 6:34 am

    And here’s the letter Alan was commenting on:

    Dear UT Editors,

    Please correct some points with respect to your claims about the fairness of how public transportation dollars are spent.

    You promote public subsidies for freeways while criticizing those for transit. But all times, and under all circumstances, roads and highways are “subsidized” as much or more than transit.

    Your claim that reducing funding for freeway expansion would penalize motorists fails to recognize the connectivity of the projects in the Regional Transportation Plan. Even by building every single freeway project in the plan – models still show the region will have to accommodate more traffic. And this assumes increased transit ridership. Without the transit system required to absorb the forecast additional ridership, the freeways will be more clogged than the amount of projected capacity improvements.

    Your Editorial also fails to consider the vital role transit plays for those unable to drive. Whether due to disability, age or economics, thousands of residents cannot get to jobs or needed services without reliable and affordable public transit. You cite fairness as a reason to continue cuts and fare increases, but it is fair to cut off whole segments of our society?

    It is a problem that transit has been relegated to a social welfare program and not seen for what it really is: a requirement for a growing region’s economic competitiveness.

    Without effective transit, there is no such thing as smart growth. Growing cities without it drown in traffic and pollution.   Organizations such as Move San Diego have been formed by members of the business and environmental communities because San Diego desperately needs to solve its mobility problems – in addition to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

    Cutting transit is not the smart way to go.

    Marcela Escobar-Eck

    Carlsbad, California

  3. April 10, 2009 - 6:51 am 6:51 am

    And here’s the Sierra Club LTE:

    From: Richard Miller
    Sent: Thursday, April 09, 2009 3:13 PM
    To: ‘letters@uniontrib.com’
    Subject: RE: No need to plunder earmarked TransNet funds

    Dear editors,

    What a shame that your definition of fairness appears to be ensuring that those who already have more, keep more. Too bad you don’t make the connections to the economic or the environmental necessity for great cities to have great transit. Without it, growing regions suffer from higher traffic and pollution along with reduced economic competitiveness and real fairness for all residents.

    Your view that by improving transit, motorists would be “penalized” is short-sighted. Every driver that is able to use transit, means more space on the region’s roads for others. Every transit rider that is forced on to the region’s roads due to transit cuts means more traffic.

    The TransNet measure has specific provisions allowing changes. Improving the overall performance of the system should be the goal.

    Richard Miller
    San Diego Sierra Club

  4. Nicole Hickman permalink
    April 11, 2009 - 4:20 pm 4:20 pm

    As a transplant to San Diego from NYC (specifically, Manhattan), the attitude towards public transit here in San Diego by so many car-centric residents is, quite frankly, appalling to me. And it’s worth noting that a good deal of it seems, to a certain extent, class based. The “others” ride public transit, those who’ve made something of their lives drive to work.

    Yes, it’s changed quite a bit since I first moved here twelve years ago, but the attitude is still very much present. People here love their cars, and they love driving them. Until we educate them about the shortsightedness of their car-centricity, public transit here will always be faced with an uphill battle, and will remain inadequate to the needs of the size of this city.

    I say this as someone who uses the public transit system here on a regular basis, not just for travel to and from work, but as my primary means of transportation, period.

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