The Relevance of Public Transit

Public transit in the San Diego region has tanked in the past two years. Funding for its capital improvements — things like trolley tracks and stations — isn’t doing too badly. But the funding needed to operate the system on a day-to-day basis has been hit hard.  

The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has now had to declare a fiscal emergency due to having zero cash available to fund the operations on three occasions. People assume that public transit will always be there. But many transit agencies around the nation are closing their doors for good.

In Clayton County, Georgia, for example, the transit system stopped providing service on March 31, 2010. The results there have been bad enough that taxpayers are clamoring to have a sales tax placed on them to bring it back. It is shocking to realize just how little transit we have in this region, but even more to understand how little most taxpayers believe it affects them.

So let me ask you, do you care that the public transit system in San Diego is failing? Should you?

Probably the most important negative effect is the loss of funding for the area. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recently joined forces with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and made rules that connect funding for housing with a robust transit system.

We could lose millions of dollars in funding from HUD because we cannot show that the housing will have adequate public transit. 

That has a domino effect and leads to the loss of both state and private leveraged funding coming into the area too. Much of both federal and state monies and grant funding is now connected to smart growth, green planning and Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The chances of San Diego receiving this money are severely hampered by its lack of a viable transit system. I could go on.

Suffice it to say, we will be hit hard by a reduction in funds available to us because of our failing public transit system. San Diego Unified School District has cut back on the school buses, forcing kids onto city buses. How will they get to school with no transit?

Air pollution is on the rise aiding to the increase in asthma and cancer rates in our youth. Childhood obesity has seen a huge increase.

Public transit promotes walking. It cuts the number of cars on our roads so that our children can be safer and healthier. And, it provides an option for drivers when gas prices skyrocket — as we know they will again.

We have to find ways to change how we do business to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not just a state requirement; it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure our children have a healthy place to live and a good quality of life.

Baby boomers are aging. More and more of our population lose the ability to drive due to age issues every day. How will we provide for our elderly if we cannot provide them with a means to get around?  

It has been shown, especially with the elderly, that an inability to get to doctors appointment create a much higher number of 911 calls and costly, preventable emergency visits.

It is not only a question of the monetary cost, but also of the burden on our emergency services for these calls. Fire trucks are dispatched for 911 medical calls, fire trucks that are needed elsewhere – especially when we have rolling brown outs.

The average American walks 300 yards a day. No one can be surprised by that. We have designed our streets for cars, not people.

This region cannot build its way out of congestion. The San Diego region will have more than a million additional residents by 2030. Do you want them all driving on your freeway at rush hour?

When those in poverty cannot get to work by public transit, they are forced to buy cars, ones they can afford, which breakdown continuously and cause delays on our roads.

They are more likely to drive without insurance or registration — those costs are way beyond their means. What is the price of that on your insurance, your lost work sitting in traffic?

Our Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which plans freeway construction, is based on a robust transit system. The extent of the current expansion of I-15 and the upcoming expansion of I-5 were calculated based on transit being at the high levels predicted in the plan.

Now that the transit has fallen apart, the wrong problem has been fixed. The $5 billion spent on the upgrades will have been a waste of money since there will be far more traffic than was anticipated. We will now need many more lanes than were built on I-15, more lanes than have been planned on I-5.

Many people with cars think that public transit has no relevance to them. It does. Here in San Diego we have an intricate interwoven transportation system. If one fails, they all fail.

– THERESA QUIROZ

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Theresa Quiroz

Theresa Quiroz
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