Do real taxpayers think Transit riders are pond scum?

by on April 11, 2009 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Organizing, San Diego

This past Friday morning (April 10) the SANDAG Board of Director’s meeting had an agenda item for a special Transit Operations Funding workshop. Thirty public speakers presented testimony for and against additional fiscal support for MTS.  (SANDAG is the San Diego Association of Governments – and is governed by a Board of Directors composed of mayors, councilmembers, and county supervisors from each of the San Diego’s 19 local governments.)

As you may recall, the MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) budget is in the toilet.  It is going to stay there for a long time. Services will be reduced and some bus lines will be eliminated. Fare increases will be discussed in next week’s meetings.

Many of us believe that our public transit system should not and must not die and that SANDAG has the ability and responsibility to provide two years of bridge funding while a sustainable income stream is found.   North County Transit (NCTD) is in the same state as MTS.

I left at noon, before the board voted to consider other funding options for public transit.  That vote was no small victory.

Here’s the other part of the story.  Public testimony is pretty fascinating- how we identify ourselves, the metaphors we use- how we ascertain or imply our power. All of this takes place in 2 minutes. Here’s my take on the voice of the people.

THE MTS HOME TEAM:

Citizens, mostly women, spoke about their reliance on transit because they have no other alternative.  This group includes the young, the old, the poor and people with disabilities.

Welfare to work and workforce agency staff spoke on behalf of the working poor who rely on transit because they can’t afford a car.

Citizens who own cars and have made a conscious choice to take public transit because it is preferable to long commutes on congested freeways spoke.

Architectural students supported public transit as an integral part of good long range architectural planning.

A Sierra Club member spoke about the environmental benefits of public transit.

Citizens spoke about public transit as an integral part of our planning process and as a legal requirement of a voter approved tax measure.

Midcity community groups with the highest transit ridership spoke.

The HOME TEAM had representatives from throughout the County of San Diego.

THE HIGHWAY IS MY WAY VISITING TEAM:

A citizen questioned high salaries- operating a trolley should be a minimum wage job (Note: minimum wage= $8/hr.) He admitted that bus drivers probably deserve more.

The Builders Association representative urged the board to Build (highways) Baby, Build.

The Taxpayers Association representative urged the board to Build Baby Build. And reduce the high pensions and salaries of MTS transit employees.

The Angry Taxpayer/Voter who defined her relationship with elected representatives on this issue as a marriage  urged the board to BUILD BABY BUILD (or there will be a messy divorce)

A citizen spoke who felt that it was terrible on Good Friday for the board to be considering moving funds from highway projects to public transit. (WWJD?  Build, Baby, Build?)

But the best part folks- Richard Rider, San Diego’s One and Only Official Taxpayer, said that the board really needs….”an asshole.” At which point he raised his hand.  “For free.” He once again raised his hand. (1. I did a quick assessment to see if mine had gone AWOL. and 2. doesn’t a free asshole smack of socialism?)

While the Visiting Team invoked marriage, Christianity, their interpretation of the law, and provided their own perspective on class issues, none of them addressed the obvious truth by saying “I drive a car and quite frankly don’t give a damn about public transit.  I don’t need it and I don’t use it.”

There was a great deal to absorb, needless to say.  And although our advocacy group which included transit powerhouse Theresa Quiroz was there at 9:15 in preparation for the 10:00 am start time, we spoke last, at 12:00 pm and were not afforded a full five minutes to address the board.

By the time I was called upon to speak, it was obvious that the Visiting Team had clearly defined itself as The Taxpayer and The Voter.  This is of course sheer bull pucky.  Everyone in that room paid taxes.  I would bet that everyone in that room voted.

So does this mean that there are taxpayers and REAL TAXPAYERS?  Does this mean that there are voters and REAL VOTERS?

Where do you see yourself in all of this?

If you consider yourself a voting, taxpaying American, please email your support of public transit to:
Charles “Muggs” Stoll mst@sandag.org and   Kim Kawada  kka@sandag.org

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar nunya April 11, 2009 at 11:34 am

There have been more and more little gang banger attacks on the light rail system here in town. My friend witnessed one. Four little black thug girls under 18 attacked a white rider, calling him “white trash” because he had no socks on. He kept yelling “I don’t even know you, what are you doing?”

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avatar nunya April 11, 2009 at 11:41 am

I should have added that I rode the transit system for years and never felt unsafe. The attitude of land developers who have run this city for years shows up in their historic lack of integration of a decent mass transit system. It used to take 6 hours on mass transit to get from Imperial Beach to Ramona, which at the time was 90 minutes max by car.

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avatar PSD April 11, 2009 at 9:29 pm

My e-mail is below. Anna, do you have phone numbers? I wasn’t able to find any on the SANDAG website. From what I’ve heard, an e-mail has about 1/5 the impact on a public official as a phone call, and 1/10 the impact of an actual snail mail. It seemed to work for me, as every time I passed the missing trash can at the stairs to the cove on Santa Monica carrying a trash bag to de-scum the cliffs I called and left a message expresing my dismay at the trash cans’ disappearance earlier this year. Eventually that trash can returned, though the one on my block at the south end of Bacon is still MIA.

My apologies in advance for any perceived crudeness of language in the e-mail. That’s just how I roll, yo.

Hi,

Please allow me to preface this letter by identifying myself as an infrequent user yet ardent supporter of public transit in our county. The purpose of my writing is to express concern about the budget shortfalls and proposed methods of addressing them, namely fee hikes and reduced services.

I don’t feel fee hikes are appropriate, as they have the potential to reduce discretionary travel by those with access to private vehicles, but more importantly because they place an added burden upon the lowest income individuals who rely on our transit system due to their inability to afford to own and mantain a car of their own. At times in my life these people have included family members and friends, who could find themselves stranded if the route serving their job was cut off and I was at work with the only car in the household.

In expanding on the topic of service reduction, may I point out that the inaccessibility of mass transit due to the grotesque amount of time required to travel to a destination already indicates we’re contending for the title of transit laughingstock of the metropolitan world? If anything, we need to drastically expand service, offering more routes and, particularly, increased service frequency along major transit corridors. I know that of the discretionary transit consumers such as myself, many would like to rely less on their cars and more on rail and buses, but we’re simply unable to due to the inavailablity of service to the locations or at the times we need. Trolleys run at intervals of 15-30 minutes, whereas regions with successful light rail operations run a train through every 5 minutes or so. I highly suggest a taxpayer-funded junket to Boston, New York, or Washington D.C. to check it out.

According to the MTS website, the “fastest” trip from my home in OB to my job in Clairemont would take 1 hour 21 minutes, not including 10-15 minutes to walk a bit less than a mile. It would cost me $4.75 to get to work, another $4.75 to get home, based on the regular fare. Of course, I could’ve bought a one-day pass for $5.00. But that’s still about twice the $2.50 gallon of gas that my car will burn running the 30 mile round trip, and compared to a 20 minute one-way trip, it’s taking 2 – 2 1/2 hours out of my day that could be spent sleeping, spending already difficult-to-find time with my partner and daughter, or otherwise just being lazy. While one could imagine the necessity of making some sacrifice for the common good and the environment, adding 12+ hours to the workweek (and subtracting the same amount of time from their family life) isn’t a way to convince anyone to voluntarily abandon the single-occupant automobile. Again, better service is the way to attract greater ridership. If you build it, hopefully they will come. If not, I guarantee attracting patrons that have any conceivable method of avoiding the use of your service is going to be difficult, to say it politely.

One more thing to say in favor of mass transit – DUI prevention. Even though service is sketchy at best and doesn’t run nearly late enough, I’ll bet tens of thousands of intoxicated patrons board trolleys every year instead of getting behind the wheel (probably half of them leaving Chargers or Padres games). I’m not entirely familiar with the proposed cuts, but I hope they don’t include reduced late-night hours. With such a paltry off-hours schedule of one train every 30 minutes, I would like to think we could keep them running virtually round-the-clock, minus a few hours for track maintenance.

Thanks for your time in reading this, and please know any sarcasm perceived was intentional, and any evil comments were intended in a joking manner. The best way to reach me if anyone wants to follow up is e-mail.

Cheers,
Dave (Dave’s real name here)
(Dave’s address)
(Dave’s phone number)

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 11, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Dave – that rant – your email – was so great, I posted it as a “Reader Rant” on the blog. See your name in lights!

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avatar Tolerate Another View Please April 12, 2009 at 6:38 am

TransNet already gives MORE money to mass transit than to single occupancy capital improvements. It is a huge amount already.

If that is not enough it was a huge mistake for the transit supporters to vote for transnet (a 40 flippen year tax). If want TransNet II changed, go to the voters and ask for a change on a ballot measure.

The voters voted for some of the money to go to highway construction. Please get more involved in your government long before these things get passed. It takes time and effort but you really don’t deserve to whine later.

MTS is economically unsustainable. The transit system that everyone has in their dreams is not something that we will be able to afford. Please, if you don’t sit down and consider the cost you should not advocate for expanding transit.

Our nation and our State has been living on borrowed prosperity. We are not the richest country in the world. We are the most bankrupt industrialized country in the world. It is time to pay up and we aren’t going to get everything we want. The me me me attitude is going leave heartburn.

Transit is already heavily subsidized. What is your end game?

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avatar annagrace April 13, 2009 at 9:09 am

Tolerate another view? Tolerate a view that transit gets the majority of Transnet funding?

Dianne Jacobs presented this same disingenuous mathematical sleight of hand at the SANDAG meeting. How about some facts instead of a bogus argument about tolerance. Show me the facts.

Sit down and consider the costs? Landscaping the northern 1-15 segment is $1.4 BILLION dollars. This roughly equals the shortfall of MTS and NCTD operating costs for two years.

Do you honestly believe that highway and road construction is not heavily subsidized? We all know that it is, so please, don’t try to paint transit as a social welfare program and highway construction as something different.

And finally, while we may disagree about the importance of public transit, I would caution against advising “involvement in your government long before these things get passed.” Unless you are omniscient, you don’t know squat about our involvement on this issue.

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avatar Theresa Quiroz April 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I’d like to respond to tolerate another view. It really is time to get some of the facts to those who THINK they know what they are talking about.

AB32 and SB375 are two state laws that were recently enacted. The San Diego region is required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions drastically. In two years time, if the required reductions have not been made, the region will be fined – heavily. All those funds you think will be going to build highways, will instead go straight to the state to pay the high fines and penalties that will be levied if we don’t get a good transit system so that we can cut our emissions. So you can choose. Put the money into transit, or give it to the state.

Next, the fear and horror brought into play by the ridiculous Union Tribune Op-Ed should be given a better perspective. That $1.4 billion upgrade to I-15 included $40 million for landscaping. It would take just half of that landscaping to keep MTS and NCTD afloat for one year. Not a single highway project would be impacted. Next, this idea that transnet is almost all given to transit is another U-T farce. They include the cost of the HOV lanes on I-15 as transit. That gives you just one idea of the exaggerations they feel are necessary to get the people who don’t follow this kind of thing to agree with them.

SANDAG’s Regional Transit Plan requires a transit system that is competitive with driving. The upgrades to the highways are based on that transit system being in place. If transit fails, those highway projects will be obsolete before they are completed. Now that is a waste of taxpayer money.

Transit systems in other cities pay for themselves. It is only when we allow the transit system to become as lacking as it is here, that it requires subsidies. For the environment, for our health, for the sustainability of San Diego as a city, transit has become a necessity. The future is very bleak for us without it.

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avatar PSD April 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm

TAVP – like the others, I’m going to ask what facts you’re referencing, I’ve got to check them out before I can really assess your claims. Got links?

I’ve been hating on TransNet II for some time now. Mainly because when it was put to voters I was living in east county, and the two significant improvements proposed that would’ve potentially served me to be covered by the tax were an extension of SR-52 to meet SR-67 (which was supposed to have been completed with the original TransNet funds) and a widening of I-8 from two lanes each way to three from East Main to Los Coches (where there still would’ve been a bottleneck until it opens back up to three lanes past Lake Jennings). I felt all the cash going to I-15 equated to a raw deal for county citizens that didn’t use that transit corridor, since other projects seemed shortchanged. And as I mentioned in my prior rant, I still feel the frequency and hours of trolley service sucks and putting extra trains on the track seems to be a non-issue to most.

Show me your source and I’ll comment on the subsidies public transit is already getting compared to subsidies for freeway expansion, particularly the statement that mass transit gets more funding than improvements intended primarily for the benefit of single occupancy vehicles. We’re comparing apples to apples here and are talking about total dollars spent in each sector, right?

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avatar Russ April 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I don’t really understand why some people think that a city the size of San Diego can get by without proper public transit. Just because most people around here are fortunate enough to be able to afford cars and gas (or even want a car), doesn’t mean public transportation should go away. San Diego will never be a real city if people can’t get in and out of downtown using public transit. I realize there’s a lot more to this issue than simply that, but I mean seriously, all sorts of money goes towards projects to attract tourists and conventioners, yet once they’re here they can’t hop on a bus to get around the city.

In fairness, I do personally drive a car to work, but when I lived in OB I took the bus, and actually I loved it. It was a fairly straight shot and didn’t take that long. If the bus was more convenient from where I currently live I’d still be taking it. It’s sort of a catch 22, the city tries to promote public transit, and to make it a viable option for more people it needs to be more efficient and more accessible, yet that will never happen with decreased funding.

IMO, efficient public transportation should be a priority at any cost for a place that wants to be a first class city. As gas prices go up over the coming years and traffic continues to get worse, people will start abandoning Southern California for the progressive cities up the coast like San Fran, Portland or Seattle where public transportation is a priority and is becoming ever more efficient.

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avatar fstued April 17, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Inexpensive Mass transit is one of the keys to a productive society and a first class city, New York, Paris and London. Look at what the interstate hwy system did for commerce. Mass transit can do the same for people commerce.
When will the folks in LJ and Rancho SF realize that if their help can’t get to the work site they may have to vacumn their own floors and trim their own lawn. If the help realizes that they are making $50/day and it costs them $20 a day to ride he bus and it takes several hour each way they may decide not to come to work at all and the bed wont get made or the lawn cut. Life could get tougher for all.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 17, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Right on, fstued! (poker tonite?)

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avatar Joan April 19, 2009 at 5:03 pm

I don’t know a lot about this issue. What I can contribute is that I thought it would be nice to take the bus rather than drive to the Earth Day Fair in Balboa Park today. I ended up driving. It would have take 2 hours 49 minutes by bus one way. I went early, avoided the traffic and spent about 40 minutes for the round trip. I doubt there are very many people who can make the bus discretionary who are willing to give up another 2 plus hours for a bus ride. Yes, I know the Sunday schedule isn’t as um, “convenient” as the weekday schedule. Somehow I keep remembering our neighbor to the north. Canadians never tried to claim to be rich but they can keep their buses coming by every 15 minutes in off peak times and every FIVE minutes during peak times. If they can manage it, why can’t we???

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avatar annagrace April 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Public Transit- as Monty Python would say “It aynt dead. It’s pinin’.” See the article in the U-T. http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/apr/19/1b19dean02457-public-transit-needs-money-become-al/ The death of our transit system isn’t a done deal. Nor are the pending rate increases.

One of the problems seems to be that buses aren’t…sexy. Like those red trolleys. Or on a national level, high speed rail possibilities. For those of us who are looking to get from point a to point b as quickly as possible, we’ll forgo the sex, thank you. Just give us the buses.

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