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Seattle Transit Blog: No Free Ride

By Erica C. Barnett October 20, 2011

Over at Seattle Transit Blog, Roger Valdez makes a compelling case that the group of folks urging people to refuse to pay for the bus are missing the point about why transit costs what it does. Their complaint is that we "pay for transit four times": Once as workers (our work creates the wealth that allows the bus system to operate); once in the form of sales and federal taxes; once in the form of the $20 car tab for Metro, assuming you have a car; and once in the form of "BUS FARES that have increased 80% in 4 years."

The problem is that all those things, taken together (in reality, Metro is funded mostly by sales taxes followed by fares, miscellaneous revenues, and transfers from King County capital programs), are what it actually costs to pay for the bus system. Make fares free, and you have to come up with some way to make up for the 24 percent of Metro's costs that fares currently pay for. "Sure, prices at the fare box have gone up, but abolishing them would mean all the other times we pay for transit would just get more expensive."

Valdez continues:
The idea—as suggested on the We Won’t Pay website—that society and the economy should provide “Everything for Everyone” is what has driven government policy for the last 6 decades. Because there was such a demand for “free” highways and roads to get to our mortgaged single family houses backed by Uncle Sam, we got miles and miles of highway, which induced more and more people to drive. After all driving is “free,” right?

The perverse logic of transit funding is not that we’re paying more for it, but that we’re not paying the real price for other things that make less sense and are more resource intensive like roads and driving. Ironically, the more we sprawl and drive, the more expensive transit gets because demand for transit is more expensive to supply.

Building highways, sprawl, and keeping driving cheap ought to be the target of the We Won’t Pay crowd. Their slogan ought to be We Should Pay—for roads and driving. Such a policy would certainly generate revenue and internalize costs where we want them, making things we don’t want people to do more expensive.

Read the whole thing here.
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