Opinion

‘Fareboxes Won’t Fix Transportation’

‘Fareboxes Won’t Fix Transportation’

File photo

The San Diego Trolley

Fareboxes won’t fix transportation. Indeed San Diego mass transit operations are efficiently managed. But boasting about a few percent differences in farebox recoveries is a tempest in a teapot in the context of overall costs, performance, and high-priority emphasis for environmental energy and emissions improvement.

Letters logoMass transit carries less than 2 percent of the region’s travel, the trolley less than half of that. Thus on average, more than 98 percent of the public not using mass transit must pay the trolley’s remaining operating costs plus all its facilities, tracks, stations, vehicles, etc. That’s about 75 percent of total cost.

This vast majority of travel is on-demand and personal; about 90 percent in autos paying fully all of their expenses. That’s like an airline boasting that passengers pay 50 percent of operations and the rest of the public (which does not fly) pay the rest, operating and capital. Or a spouse boasting 50 percent of daily household expenses are paid, but the rest will be paid by neighbors.

The San Diego Association of Governments has much larger regional transportation and community design deficiencies to cope with than trying to leave an “all is well” impression with farebox trivia.

Significantly, deficiencies have appeared because of mistaken belief 30 years ago of why the original trolley’s 15 miles was successful. Expectations were performance-based, in part, on that downtown would somehow be replicated throughout the region. It hasn’t, and likely won’t, despite activists’ image of dense congested communities.

Hopefully SANDAG leaders, in initiating 2050 plan upgrades, will recognize tinkering with minor farebox percentages has little impact to overcome the mismatch between existing numerically defined performance needs and current fund allocations.

Hopefully court rulings will force the recognition that future plans cannot forever be based upon the unique factors behind farebox success that started many years ago on a small trolley segment.

Brewer’s commentary has been edited for clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us here. Want to respond? Submit a commentary.

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Walt Brewer

Walt Brewer

Walt Brewer used to live in San Diego and currently lives in Lockport, New York.

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14 comments
Matt Finish
Matt Finish

"Or a spouse boasting 50 percent of daily household expenses are paid, but the rest will be paid by neighbors." We call that wealth redistribution. You take a gun, aim it at one person's head, take their money, then hand it to another person (after taking a cut). Object? You get the gun aimed at you. The progressive dream, laid bare for all to see.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish subscriber

"Or a spouse boasting 50 percent of daily household expenses are paid, but the rest will be paid by neighbors." We call that wealth redistribution. You take a gun, aim it at one person's head, take their money, then hand it to another person (after taking a cut). Object? You get the gun aimed at you. The progressive dream, laid bare for all to see.

Mike Delahunt
Mike Delahunt

Roads are infrastructure that benefit EVERYONE, mass transit is not. Do you enjoy your groceries being delivered to your local store? How do you suppose emergency responders get to your house so quickly? For that matter, what do you think your taxpayer-subsidized busses drive on?

Mike Delahunt
Mike Delahunt subscriber

Roads are infrastructure that benefit EVERYONE, mass transit is not. Do you enjoy your groceries being delivered to your local store? How do you suppose emergency responders get to your house so quickly? For that matter, what do you think your taxpayer-subsidized busses drive on?

tarfu7
tarfu7

I don't understand what this statement means: "about 90 percent in autos paying fully all of their expenses" If you're trying to say that auto drivers pay their own way, you're wrong. Do you know how much highways cost to build and maintain? The gas tax no longer covers these costs, so we have come to rely heavily on state funds (such as Prop 1A and STIP), federal grants, and the local TransNet sales tax to pay for a large portion of our highway and road costs. These costs are paid for by the entire population, even those like myself who are transit riders. You're fooling yourself if you think that transit is the only transportation mode that receives generous subsidies from non-users. "Hopefully court rulings will force the recognition that future plans cannot forever be based upon the unique factors behind farebox success that started many years ago on a small trolley segment." Perhaps you're unaware of recent California legislation since you live in NY, but the direction that current law is heading is TOWARD transit, not away from it. The SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan is currently in litigation, having been sued by the CA Attorney General because it doesn't reduce air pollution enough. This is based on CA state laws AB32 and SB375, which set strict targets for emissions reductions and required regional plans to meet these goals. The biggest driver of increased air emissions in the RTP? Highway and roadway expansions. If anything, future court rulings will force MORE transit into our plans, not less.

tarfu7
tarfu7 subscribermember

I don't understand what this statement means: "about 90 percent in autos paying fully all of their expenses" If you're trying to say that auto drivers pay their own way, you're wrong. Do you know how much highways cost to build and maintain? The gas tax no longer covers these costs, so we have come to rely heavily on state funds (such as Prop 1A and STIP), federal grants, and the local TransNet sales tax to pay for a large portion of our highway and road costs. These costs are paid for by the entire population, even those like myself who are transit riders. You're fooling yourself if you think that transit is the only transportation mode that receives generous subsidies from non-users. "Hopefully court rulings will force the recognition that future plans cannot forever be based upon the unique factors behind farebox success that started many years ago on a small trolley segment." Perhaps you're unaware of recent California legislation since you live in NY, but the direction that current law is heading is TOWARD transit, not away from it. The SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan is currently in litigation, having been sued by the CA Attorney General because it doesn't reduce air pollution enough. This is based on CA state laws AB32 and SB375, which set strict targets for emissions reductions and required regional plans to meet these goals. The biggest driver of increased air emissions in the RTP? Highway and roadway expansions. If anything, future court rulings will force MORE transit into our plans, not less.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

@Walt Brewer "about 90 percent in autos paying fully all of their expenses." Not quite. "[E]ven if [fuel tax] funds were fully devoted to highways, total user fee revenue accounted for only 65 percent of all funds set aside for highways in 2007." http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2013/Subsidyscope.org%20%E2%80%94%20Transportation%20Sector.pdf And that doesn't include the negative externalities of driving such as air pollution which costs us up to $1,600 per person annually. http://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.html @Walt Brewer "Expectations were performance-based, in part, on that downtown would somehow be replicated throughout the region. It hasn’t, and likely won’t, despite activists’ image of dense congested communities." For that, we can thank heavily subsidized roads and policies that encourage driving such as minimum parking requirements which force property owners to overbuild their parking lots. Let's end the subsidies, abolish minimum parking requirements, and add the cost of air pollution into the price of gasoline, and then see whether people will still choose to drive or whether they will drive up demand for mass transit and raise the farebox recovery ratios.Dirty Air Costs California Economy $28 Billion Annuallyhttp://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.htmlJane V. Hall and Victor Brajer Air pollution costs the California economy more than $28 billion annually, according to a new study released today and co-authored by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors. The study, which focuses on the South C...

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

@Walt Brewer "about 90 percent in autos paying fully all of their expenses." Not quite. "[E]ven if [fuel tax] funds were fully devoted to highways, total user fee revenue accounted for only 65 percent of all funds set aside for highways in 2007." http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2013/Subsidyscope.org%20%E2%80%94%20Transportation%20Sector.pdf And that doesn't include the negative externalities of driving such as air pollution which costs us up to $1,600 per person annually. http://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.html @Walt Brewer "Expectations were performance-based, in part, on that downtown would somehow be replicated throughout the region. It hasn’t, and likely won’t, despite activists’ image of dense congested communities." For that, we can thank heavily subsidized roads and policies that encourage driving such as minimum parking requirements which force property owners to overbuild their parking lots. Let's end the subsidies, abolish minimum parking requirements, and add the cost of air pollution into the price of gasoline, and then see whether people will still choose to drive or whether they will drive up demand for mass transit and raise the farebox recovery ratios.Dirty Air Costs California Economy $28 Billion Annuallyhttp://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.htmlJane V. Hall and Victor Brajer Air pollution costs the California economy more than $28 billion annually, according to a new study released today and co-authored by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors. The study, which focuses on the South C...

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Truckers pay fuel and road taxes to deliver groceries to our stores. So why I should I have to pay for the roads again through the TransNet sales tax? Isn't that double taxation?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Truckers pay fuel and road taxes to deliver groceries to our stores. So why I should I have to pay for the roads again through the TransNet sales tax? Isn't that double taxation?

Matt Finish
Matt Finish

If gas taxes don't cover roads, I'm curious about how much of that imbalance is due to unionized employees. Where five stand around to watch one work. If they weren't unionized, I wonder if the transportation funds would be in the black? Further, when you say it doesn't cover them, you are aware that our gas taxes have been robbed and slipped into the general fund for many years, right? That is, even after voters prohibited it at the ballot box TWICE. Any fund that is being robbed for other purposes will sooner or later end up in the red.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish subscriber

If gas taxes don't cover roads, I'm curious about how much of that imbalance is due to unionized employees. Where five stand around to watch one work. If they weren't unionized, I wonder if the transportation funds would be in the black? Further, when you say it doesn't cover them, you are aware that our gas taxes have been robbed and slipped into the general fund for many years, right? That is, even after voters prohibited it at the ballot box TWICE. Any fund that is being robbed for other purposes will sooner or later end up in the red.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Because if the entire cost of the delivery infrastructure was added to the fuel and food bill, as it would be if truckers paid 100% of the cost of their infrastructure, the poor would be the ones who suffered. Subsidized roads is simply another form of wealth redistribution, shifting the cost to those that actually pay taxes and away from those that don't. I would love to do away with road and mass transit subsidies. My overall costs would decrease as a result, and the tripling of bus and trolley fares would end this nonsense..

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Because if the entire cost of the delivery infrastructure was added to the fuel and food bill, as it would be if truckers paid 100% of the cost of their infrastructure, the poor would be the ones who suffered. Subsidized roads is simply another form of wealth redistribution, shifting the cost to those that actually pay taxes and away from those that don't. I would love to do away with road and mass transit subsidies. My overall costs would decrease as a result, and the tripling of bus and trolley fares would end this nonsense..