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.

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Mass 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.

Walt Brewer

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

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