Thursday, March 22, 2012

Politics: Public Policy and Bus Riding

Took the Culver City Rapid 6 Bus to work today. The bus was packed to standing room only.  In fact, at one of the stops, the driver could take no more people!

What are the costs of running a bus service?
1. Buying/leasing the buses
2. Paying the drivers
3. Paying the staff of the agency running the service
4. Repairing/maintaining the buses
5. Insurance costs for the agency
6. Compressed natural gas fuel costs

How is the service paid for?
1. Fares collected at the point-of-service
2. Subsidies by the tax-payers of which the majority do not use the bus

My 8 mile ride today cost me $1.

Does the $1 fare per person cover the cost of the service?

Probably not.

But are there some other benefits to bus usage aside from transportation?

There is the societal benefit of having fewer commuters on the road.  The 100 or so people who came on board the bus at various times are not in cars driving on the road.

Buses use relatively clean natural gas for fuel so there is the benefit of less pollution.

Thus, I accept that the tax-payers at large are subsidizing the bus riders for these benefits.

But the public policy question is, how much subsidies are appropriate for this service?

Came across this article that suggests another aspect of the subsidies is that they are indirect redistribution of wealth since many bus riders are poor.  This item calls bus fares a form of taxation.

I'd be really curious if any city bus agency discloses the level of subsidy each rider gets?

I wonder if the MTA (the LA County transit agency) were to publish the subsidies for each city bus service how the numbers would compare?  Also, how much is the subsidy for the rail services?  If these numbers were broadcasted on the local news or published in the LA Times, I wonder what would be the public reaction?  Would there be political pressure to explain any large differences?  Would public support for/against public transit change?

I think public transit has a place in our cities.  I also accept that subsidies are a part of those operations.

What I would like is some transparency in those services.

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