Columnists, Featured, Jon Caldara, Transit, Transportation, Uncategorized

Caldara: Let’s try a full-fare month to go with RTD’s ‘free’ August

The Regional Transportation District has solved Denver’s seemingly intractable homeless problem.

They have decided to house them all on their buses and trains!

For all of August RTD, and other agencies, will be charging absolutely no fare to (endlessly) ride buses and trains.

Under the guise of reducing air pollution, RTD’s “Zero Fare for Better Air” campaign is made possible by Colorado’s generous taxpayers via Senate Bill 120. It takes $68 million away from core governmental functions to push social engineering.

As the former Chairman of RTD, I have some knowledge what a laughable farce this is.

RTD was created in the late 1960s to provide transportation for those who couldn’t afford their own mobility, the poor. That mission has perverted into behavior modification of middle-class commuters, at the cost of those dependent on transit.

Poor people without cars grow more stranded so that guys with an SUV in the garage of their suburban home don’t have to pay for parking when they go to a Rockies game.

I’ve never paid more than about $6,000 for a car. I drive them ‘til they drop. Don’t laugh. I once bought a Datsun 210 for $500 and drove it for eight years, then sold it for $900. This used-car proclivity might also explain why I’m still single, but I hear (mostly from my daughter) that’s just one reason out of a catalog.

Our progressive overlords in the legislature and governor’s office claim to be social-justice warriors. But if they cared about Colorado’s poor– overwhelmingly people of color–they could have used that $68 million to buy quality used cars at say $10,000 each (66% more than I’ve ever paid) and give life-saving mobility to about 7,000 oppressed families in the program’s first year alone.

Transit dependent people must live next to a transit line and find a job on a transit line, forever clutching to the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

By contrast, a poor person with the cheapest of my old cars can live where it is most affordable, maybe even in a good school district, and work where she can make the most money.

If our overlords cared about air quality, they could have used that money to fix roadway bottlenecks. Most air pollution is caused by stop-and-go traffic.

Even before this “incentive” from the state, RTD toyed with the idea of free rides. And why not? RTD riders (euphemistically called “customers”) pay next to nothing of the real cost to run the system.

Until our progressive leaders recently changed it, state law required RTD raise about a third of its operating budget from fares. A three-dollar fare would have to be nine bucks to pay the operations alone. Now fares are disconnected from cost.

But that operational cost doesn’t include the gargantuan capital costs of buses, rail cars, rail lines, parking facilities, maintenance bays, and the like. If you include capital costs, fares only cover 5% to 10% of the whole package. That $3 fare should really be at least $30.

RTD never chose free fares because they didn’t want to give a free air-conditioned refuge to disturbed transients in the summer, or a warm one in the winter.

Only about 4% of commutes are done via transit. Transit doesn’t go where people go when they want to go. Today’s rampant crime makes it less attractive than ever.

When the chemically addicted, mentally ill start camping out in rail cars and buses they might chase away riders in the same way they’ve chased people out of downtown.

Getting to work smelling like the drunk next to you, or better yet, with someone else’s vomit on you, just isn’t pleasant. That’s why I only wear my own vomit to work.

I’m curious how much of this “free” money will go to current riders? If you bought a full year’s transit pass, how will you feel knowing you paid for a month you get for free? Will RTD be refunding one-twelfth of the pass?

I have a counter proposal. Call it the “Full Fare So You Care” campaign.

For one month a year Colorado’s transit agencies must charge the full cost of running their system, including capital cost. Riders would then learn what little they get for their obscene subsidy.

Uber and Lyft will be packed.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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