Why not make public transport free?


In a effort to reduce pollution, the city of Paris has made its public transportation free for three days so that hopefully fewer people will drive their cars. Other French cities are doing the same in order to combat pollution levels that are approaching that of Beijing. France is undergoing a heat wave that is exacerbating the situation.

I feel that free public transportation should be the norm, especially in major cities with a lot of traffic where atmospheric pollution can be a real problem. Not only will it reduce pollution, it will also be a boon to poorer people who depend more on public transportation for work and daily living.

Of course, nothing is really free. We have to pay for it in some other way in the form of taxes. But there is no reason why taxes on gasoline, 60% of which currently pays for highway and bridge construction in the US, should not be used for this purpose. State and local gas taxes that pay for local roads could also be used to cover the cost of public transport.

Incidentally, the winter and the onset of spring has resulted in the streets in the Cleveland region being awash in potholes which has highlighted once again the crumbling infrastructure in the US. One problem is that the federal gasoline taxes were fixed not as a fraction of gas prices but at a fixed amount of 18.4 cents per gallon back in 1993 and have not been raised since. As a result, there isn’t enough money to fix things properly.

To compensate for inflation and increased fuel efficiency, the federal gas tax should now be around 34 cents per gallon. Of course there is next to no chance of that happening in the near future since these days raising taxes on anything will immediately be denounced as being the equivalent of Hitler invading Poland.

Comments

  1. moarscienceplz says

    I totally agree with all these points. Part of the problem is that fuel economy standards have gotten so much better that we USAians are buying fewer gallons of gas even though we drive more miles. I switched to a Prius and more than doubled my MPGs. I think maybe gasoline taxes alone can no longer be relied upon for funding transportation projects, especially with electric cars becoming more common. Maybe some sort of business tax is needed, since business relies upon people being able to move around, whether they be customers or employees.

  2. AnotherAnonymouse says

    @1; remember, for every person like you, there’s a brain-dead oppositional-defiant idiot who’s going out and buying a 9-mpg SUV just to show people that nobody can tell HIM what to do.

  3. Wylann says

    I would be ok with a lot more taxes on gasoline, or something else to support infrastructure improvements. My usual caveat though, that it would be nice to know that money paid for a specific thing were actually going where the politicians claim it is.

    I can be a bit cavalier about gas tax, too, I admit, because I do most of my commuting on my bicycle or motorcycle, and only really take my car (that still gets almost 30 mpg) when I need to run errands or the weather is really bad.

  4. Chiroptera says

    Why not make public transport free?

    …it will also be a boon to poorer people….

    I think you answered your own question.

  5. kyoseki says

    I’ll admit I drive a fairly ridiculous car that gets pretty lousy gas mileage around town, only around 15mpg (though that typically goes to 25 or so on the freeway), but I don’t actually drive much. I carpool with 2 other guys so I only drive every third day and even then it’s all freeway driving (about 22 miles to/from work), I typically drive less than 8,000 miles a year.

    There is no real public transport option from where I live to where I work, there’s a bus, but it takes 3 times as long as driving.

    That said, I’d be totally fine with increasing the gas tax because, quite frankly, you don’t buy a car like this and then get to complain about gas prices.

    However, the cost of gas is a major concern for those on lower incomes, so as long as there’s some way to mitigate that, I don’t see any problem with using the money to make people less reliant on cars, I’d love to be able to take the train in to work.

  6. René says

    France is undergoing a heat wave

    Not really. Higher than normal temperatures. It’s early spring in these neighborhoods. I would have noticed a Parisian heatwave, living a couple of hundreds kilometers to the North of it.

  7. Jonny Vincent says

    When I go to the US, I’m always stunned by how poor the public transportation services are compared to a major European city or an Asian capital. Here in Bangkok, I can go anywhere in the city using either the Skytrain or Subway. There are bus services all over the city as well as half a million moped taxis. I’m honestly confused about why anyone would want a car but the sheer inconvenience must be a small price to pay for people who cannot be in public spaces or need the 90 min commute in traffic just to get some peace between work and home.

    Corruption with car manufacturers lobbying to keep public transport systems a mess may be a possibility.

  8. iasasai says

    I don’t quite see that fuel efficiency has increased. Quite the opposite, actually. Back in high school, early 90s, I drove a 1983 car that got over 50 mpg in the city and 60-80 on long highway treks. The crap vehicle I have now, a 1994 car, barely gets 30 on extended highway driving and it’s been better maintained…

  9. kyoseki says

    Johnny Vincent

    When I go to the US, I’m always stunned by how poor the public transportation services are compared to a major European city or an Asian capital.

    I suspect that this is because US cities typically expanded after the invention of the automobile, so there was no thought given to mass transit.

    The cities with the best mass transit are typically older, places like NY & SF, which simply had no other choice, they were already far too dense to accomodate that many people driving in and out every day. Whereas places like Los Angeles just kept spreading and spreading because space wasn’t at a premium (LA is VAST but very flat, there are relatively few tall buildings there).

    … it bloody well is now, so a lot of them are having to rethink their whole approach to public transport.

    … speaking of overpopulation though, it’s estimated that the population in the Bay Area (SF) will grow 30% by 2020.

    HOW? Where the hell are they all going to go? And, more to the point, why? Why in God’s name would anyone live here if they didn’t have to? Rent prices are already astronomical, the traffic is astoundingly awful and the existing city residents are already fed up to the gills with the influx of newcomers.

  10. corwyn says

    There actually IS a good reason not to make public transit free. It was tried by Hungary back in the days of communism, and it was discovered that it lead to more vandalism on the trains. Raising the cost to something nominal reduced the vandalism (while not lowering ridership). Note that senior citizens ride free (I guess they aren’t as much of a vandalism risk). People value things more if they pay for them.

  11. Jonny Vincent says

    kyoseki: The cities with the best mass transit are typically older, places like NY & SF, which simply had no other choice, they were already far too dense…Whereas places like Los Angeles just kept spreading and spreading because space wasn’t at a premium..

    I actually had LA and San Diego in mind when I wrote that but the metro systems in DC and NYC are barely functional. I always end up being forced to take cabs in the US, getting in traffic jams; public transport is just a mess there compared with the standard throughout Asia and Europe. Probably the best public transit system in SE Aisa is HongKong’s MTR. It’s just brilliant. Having a car would make no sense.

    CNN: Praise for Hong Kong’s MTR gushes from every traveler who’s ever set a toe inside the immaculately clean, well-signposted, cheap, regular, convenient system that connects most corners of the city.

    There’s free Wi-Fi in 42 stations, facilities such as tactile flooring and Braille plates for travelers with disabilities and public washrooms, shops, banks and takeaway food outlets inside many stations or close to their exits.

    There’s no timetable for commuters — trains just turn up every minute or two — and it’s dead simple for visitors to buy a ticket via the automated machines.

    It has convenience stores, tech shops and fast food restaurants in every station; e-shopping, pristine facilities. I don’t understand why every city in the world isn’t striving for motor vehicle extinction but I get the feeling there’s too much money being made from suffering to permit convenience / progress.

    kyoseki:… speaking of overpopulation though, it’s estimated that the population in the Bay Area (SF) will grow 30% by 2020. HOW? Where the hell are they all going to go?

    I would think, up?

    Why in God’s name would anyone live here if they didn’t have to?

    I’ve been all over this world and the weather in the Bay area is impossible to beat. I imagine people move there just for the climate. I nearly did.

    Rent prices are already astronomical, the traffic is astoundingly awful and the existing city residents are already fed up to the gills with the influx of newcomers.

    See, a HongKong-like public transit system would take care of all of those problems and more. Cars and urban living don’t mix.

  12. kyoseki says

    Johnny Vincent

    I actually had LA and San Diego in mind when I wrote that but the metro systems in DC and NYC are barely functional.

    Can’t imagine they’re significantly worse than London’s, that’s another city that just can’t handle the number of people living there.

    I always end up being forced to take cabs in the US, getting in traffic jams; public transport is just a mess there compared with the standard throughout Asia and Europe. Probably the best public transit system in SE Aisa is HongKong’s MTR. It’s just brilliant. Having a car would make no sense.

    I lived in LA for 10 years and it’s transit system is pretty awful, at least going from downtown to the west side/Santa Monica area. It’s getting better, the expo line opened last year and you can get from Culver City to downtown in half an hour, they’re opening the rest of the line to the ocean next year.

    Once that’s done, the transport infrastructure, at least west of downtown, should be pretty decent, at least radially, if you’re heading across the “spokes” you’re still pretty boned.

    I would think, up?

    Except it’s hellishly difficult to get approval to build anything that’ll mess with the city’s skyline.

    .. and my point wasn’t so much “why would anyone live in the bay area” as “why would anyone deliberately choose to live in San Francisco?”. A large part of the ire up here is directed at people who live in the 7 square miles of the SF peninsula, but work down in Mountain View/Palo Alto 40 miles away, driving through the city. That’s some unbearably awful traffic there, even if you are taking the bus to work.

    The simple fact is that there just isn’t enough space for the amount of people who want to live here. I work on the Presidio, but I live way the hell up in Novato, because I don’t want to pay $3k/mo for a studio in the city, a decent climate just isn’t worth the hassle of living here.

  13. smrnda says

    I’ve had great experiences with mass transit in NYY and Chicago, though I wasn’t in SF long enough to have much of an opinion.

    A problem with the US is we have these things called ‘suburbs’ which were designed around car ownership which probably can’t be effectively serviced by mass transit, and that people view cars as status symbols and view people who use mass transit as *those people*. I’ve found the anti-mass-transit elitism is absent in large cities where driving is infeasible (sometimes because you may drive, but parking is impossible) so I’m not sure what could be done.

    I’d support free mass transit since it’s better than having to mess with fares and such, but the idea would be very unpopular anywhere except large cities where a substantial % of people use mass transit (particularly people who are not poor) and where the tax increase would be modest.

  14. kyoseki says

    … would be nice if they took some of that high speed rail money they want to use to link Fresno with fucking Bakersfield or wherever the hell it is and used to build an elevated rail system here though.

  15. sailor1031 says

    Sure – free public transportation for you townies subsidized by counry-dwellers like me who would have to pay increased taxes for it while STILL not having any public transportation whatever. Many of us out here in the sticks are retired, living on fixed incomes and any increases in taxes or other costs hurts and reduces our living standards. So no free transportation for you unless we get it too OR free gas and cars. And we vote! so go figger….

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