In the age of coronavirus now there’s only one type of rider — those who have no choice. And these poor people are putting themselves at risk every day just to get to work.
Transit is after all the most dangerous place to be trapped today. Sporting events, church services, festivals, concerts have all been canceled because they are hotspots for spreading COVID. Even Red Rocks concerts, with spacious rows and open air, is too dangerous to allow people to enjoy. But stuffy buses with their recirculated air? They’re allowed. Government reasoning at its finest.
If you are too poor to own a car or hire an Uber, you must endure this high-infection zone to earn your rent money. Yet another reason it sucks to be poor. Government could rescue these people, but of course won’t.
There is little wonder why Denver’s transit agency, RTD, has seen ridership drop some 60%.
In a recent survey RTD commissioned they found only 18% of their riders said riding RTD was “safe amid the spread of coronavirus,” compared to 33% of them feeling safe at a drug store. And a paltry 15% said they’d immediately ride RTD when the “Stay-at-home orders are lifted.”
Even a truly transit-reliant city like New York isn’t immune. Nearly half of NYC transit riders plan to avoid the system when the lockdowns ease and only 18% plan to ride transit like they did pre-pandemic. Would you?
So, let’s see, government-run transit is wildly expensive, energy inefficient, doesn’t reduce auto traffic, but on the bright side it is the epicenter of coronavirus transmission.
Given how tax receipts that prop up transit have plummeted, maybe, just maybe, now is the time for a complete overhaul of this bloated, outdated, anti-poor vestige of the early-industrial era.
Now is the time to destroy transit and re-build it around the needs of those who have no choice but to ride it. We call them transit-dependents.
You know what people who can’t afford a car really want? Urban planners think they want a bus pass. Amazingly, what they really want is a ride in a car. So, let’s give it to them.
Mobility is the first step to the American Dream. Show me a man in Colorado who can only travel when and where government transit can take him, and I’ll show you someone who will always be on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
Transit is today’s Jim Crow.
But the massive subsidy that goes to government transit, — RTD spends over a billion of taxpayer dollars a year — mostly goes to people who can afford their own transportation, people who already have access to a car.
Instead of our tax money going to transit agencies to subsidize the rides of people who can afford the actual full fare (the amount a rider puts into the fare box is a tiny fraction of what the real cost is), that money should be given directly to those who can’t afford their own car or Uber.
We give food stamps to the poor, free lunch to students from poor families, but we give transit subsidies to people who have money and access to cars.
The word you’re looking for is “unethical.”
A poor person with a “transit voucher” could use it to pay the real, full fare on a government bus, or use it to hire an Uber or taxi, pay a person to carpool them, or heaven forbid, buy their own, COVID-free used car, you know, like a person with money can.
By giving the subsidy directly to the transit dependent, they could have choice, mobility, safety from virus and, if this matters, a shot at the American Dream, untethered from a one-size-fits-no-one, Soviet-style system.
In cities like Colorado Springs, where the subsidy to transit is a simple line item in the city budget, the city council could implement this means-tested policy change, if they cared about their city’s poor. For RTD, too consumed with its own empire building, such a change likely would have to come from the state legislature.
Stop subsidizing the wrong people. Start empowering the poor. And save lives. End crony transit.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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