Some might answer the above question like an evolutionary biologist; the purpose of a transit system is to maintain its strength and grow. This at least seems to be the sort of perspective that is creeping into the debate about how to close a budget gap for the DC metro. Although it is very refreshing to see fare increases be the main strategy, many of the proposals from transit advocates in the area are centered around methods that take advantage of captive customers who are very unlikely to leave the system even with substantial fare increases.
The two main proposals that exhibit this property affect commuters to the city center (up to $0.50 surcharge during peak commuting time) and tourists, along with those who must pay with cash, (with surcharges for paper fare cards – frequent riders typically have a permanent credit card type fare card that would not be affected). The thinking behind these disproportional increases is quite simple; these sorts of people are very unlikely to change behaviors after fare increases and therefore metro can charge them more without losing ridership.
Is it wrong to charge disproportionate fees? Not exactly. The problem here is not the disproportionate fares themselves; this is done all the time in an effort to change people’s behaviors to more pro-social options. For instance, you might increase parking fees in an area with the hopes that people will take public transit instead (this might make sense if cars often clog the city center); however, the intent in such a case is totally different from the current case. It is hoped in the current case with metro that people won’t change their behaviors. Otherwise these extra fees would not raise the needed funds.
I’m not against most of the proposals that include fee increases but it is important to maintain a just (an ethically justifiable) distribution of burden. Something radical needs to be done but many transit advocates seem to have lost sight of the actual purpose of any mass transit system, building a just city. We can take advantage of the circumstances of some so that they carry a disproportionate burden but this sort of strategy is certainly wrong. After all, models of consumer elasticity can’t tell us what sort of values we should have.
As the automobile became the preferred method of travel in the United States during the 20th century, car oriented development became the dominant pattern of city design. Today it is extremely difficult or simply impossible to go about ones daily life without some reliance upon an automobile. Furthermore, in most areas of the country, the lack of one makes a person a second class citizen. For a variety of reasons, there has been a resurgence in the interest for mass-transit oriented developments (TODs). Proponents of this alternative method of city organization argue for its superiority over car oriented developments in efficiency, aesthetics, and livability (to name a few).1 Although there is something to be said for all of these reasons, here I will concentrate on an argument for TODs from the perspective of social justice. Typically arguments from social justice have been among the more controversial because they often involved some sort of redistribution of resources; in American politics it is often unclear how much the rich should be forced to give up in order to help the poor. I hope to bypass this issue by looking at a current public policy that seems to have wide-spread public approval, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and derive from it an argument for government sanctioned support of TODs. In section 1, I describe a number of public policies, including zoning, highway, and accessibility standards for the disabled and from these derive the moral basis for the government support of TODs. In section 2, I explain my argument in detail and address a number of initial concerns. Finally, in section 3, I address the most plausible objection to widespread TOD development – that gentrification could cause the poor to lose their homes. Continue reading Social Justice and Transit Oriented Developments
Some people feel buses are the answer to all our mass transit needs. They will, of course, admit that big expensive commuter rail systems are more pleasant than a fleet of buses (anyone who has ridden on both can attest to this), but they will simply point to the price tag as the major issue at hand. How can we afford such large transit systems?
In fact, if you look at the issue from a certain perspective rail systems seem simply fascist. Whereas bus networks can be easily adapted to meet the ever changing demands of the customers (we must keep them happy!) , rail systems dictate what the customer behavior should be. It is very easy to change a bus route to accommodate a new population distribution (for example, the construction of a new subdivision); it is extremely difficult to change a rail system.
A rail system has the remarkable effect of change the area around it. Transit stops usually become hubs of development; property values go up around them and people try to move as close by as possible. In the Washington DC area, for example, real estate prices are largely a function of distance to a metro stop; people want to use the metro and thus want to be near a stop. But it is not clear how we should feel about this trend. On the one hand, a rail system can have an incredible stabilizing effect on a community. It supports clear neighborhood centers and a maximization of space (i.e. higher density) around the stops of the metro. This in turn greatly decreases the dependence of residents on cars and thus decreases energy consumption; if you live near a metro station/neighborhood center, you have all your basic needs met within walking distance and you can take the train to anywhere else you need to go.
However, the flip side of stability is restrictiveness. The rail will stay where it is for a great while and therefore people are forced to live where that system exists if they want the high quality mass transit that their tax dollars helped build. People must, in effect, react to what the government has provided and are not as free when choosing where to live. The government can, in effect, coerce people to live in a specified pattern. The ethical implications of all this are rather interesting, and when I have time I’ll post about my take on it. However, for now this is an issue about which I am still starting to form a view.