Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

06 February, 2013

Citizen Dave Gets Transit Wrong (Well, Part of It)

In his latest post at The Daily Page Dave Cieslewicz writes about the recent report by the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission concerning transportation in our state. Cieslewicz was on the commission and he laments that most of its recommendations are going to be ignored by the Republicans in control of state government.

While I agree with most of what he writes, I think he does a disservice with this:

Finally, it's a bad idea to move state support for transit out of the transportation fund to the general fund. That makes it easy to start thinking of transit as more of a discretionary program and not what it is, which is part of the transportation network that helps move people to and from their jobs.

Emphasis mine.

I am inclined to agree with Jarrett Walker who thinks the heart of public transit is "personal mobility" which he defined as "the freedom to move beyond walking range without a personal vehicle". Cieslewicz's words here probably do not fully express his view on transit but, regardless, it is disheartening to have a member of the Wisconsin Transportation Finance and Policy Commission explicitly label public transit as being for getting to and from work to the exclusion of all else. The truth is that all kinds of people use public transit to go to and from various places. People use public transit to go to school, go shopping, to the homes of friends and family members, to head somewhere to grab a bite to eat, to seek out arts and entertainment, to get to doctors' offices, etc. While I don't know what the state's transit fund is used for specifically, Amtrak is public transit as far as I'm concerned which means you can add going on vacation to the list.

Labeling transit as only having to do with getting to and from work may sound good to conservative trickle down job creator wannabes but it elides the broader function of public transit.

As I was writing this Governor Walker's State of the State address came to mind, specifically, "...I am committed to a healthy transportation system that includes roads, bridges, freight rail, ports, and airports. Whether it is traveling to a tourism destination or taking product to and from market..." What about passenger rail?

The two Amtrak routes that serve Wisconsin posted ridership gains in FY 2012 and Walker has said that "he always had supported improvements to the Hiawatha". (The state's treatment of Talgo notwithstanding.)

Rather than celebrating a degree of passenger rail success in Wisconsin, Walker ignores it. I was hardly surprised considering that the DOT's Connector newsletter now seems to avoid the subject. When Doyle was governor, the newsletter touted the rising number of rail passengers almost every month. After Walker took office Connector disappeared for a stretch and returned in a new form, avoiding all mention of passenger rail as far as I can recall. Considering that the Hiawatha Line broke a ridership record in Amtrak's FY 2012 with 838,000+ passengers, you'd think that would be something to cheer.

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|| Palmer, 1:35 PM


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