Saturday, April 12, 2008
Why turning UTA over to UDOT is a bad idea.
First of all lets remember that almost all state dept. of transportation units started off as department of highways but had their name changed to show that they are more than highways. However most DOT's are still dominated by highway hard liners who have no love of transit of any kind.
Not only would the Utah State Highway Department be running UTA under the Bus Riders Union dream, but that would mean our state legislature would have more control over the funds. Lets remember that our state legislature has clearly shown they are very anti-transit and would love nothing more than to transfer those funds to highway projects.
In essence you would have someone from Bluff, Utah deciding how transit funds would be spent in Salt Lake City. How were do you think the guy from Bluff would want money spent, on some bus line in Salt Lake City that only the 'transit dependent' ride or on a highway project near Bluff that would help him or her get reelected?
Now lets take a look at some of the few examples of were a state controls transit funding and operations.
First of all, lets take a look at New Jersey. While New Jersey has an extensive bus and rail network things are all not well in the state. The head of New Jersey transit is the person who is politically connected not the best person for the job. This creates a situation were some projects are develop in such a way that is best for those who are politically connected than the actual people using the service.
Now I know that our friends at the bus riders union hate John Inglish, but what can of person do you think our state legislature would put into the job? Do you really think it would be the best person for the job or will it be some politically connected hack who could care less about the riders?
Another state that runs the transit systems is Maryland who provides transit service in Baltimore. Bus service in Baltimore is poor and it is hard to move about the area. A couple of years ago I was attending a conference in Baltimore and found it nearly impossible to find a motel that I could stay in that would have transit service to downtown.
In addition the transit agencies funding is at the mercy of state government who cut transit funding for a period of years but increased highway spending. This led to less transit service for the 'transit dependent' because of things being controlled by politics. This past session the Maryland legislature passed a fare box recovery requirement for transit in the state. This is one of the those feel good bills that sounds great to create more responsible spending but has unintended consequences.
To put it into perspective lets say that UTA is giving over to UDOT and this same bill passes our legislature and is signed by the governor. What would happen to transit service? Well guess what, TRAX and Frontrunner would still be around because they would meet the fare box recovery target but 99% of ALL bus service would be gone, history, dead. As pointed out, the bus system does not do well when it comes to fare box recovery especially compared to rail. The bus riders union would have been directly responsible for death of most transit service to the 'transit dependent' due to unintended consequences.
Turning UTA over will not give more bus service to the 'transit dependent'. What it will do is make UTA funding political and at the whims of a hostile state legislature who rather see roads funded that buses to the 'transit dependent'.
IF the bus riders union truly cares about the so called 'transit dependent', maybe they should start fighting against some of are auto centric development policies, decisions and subsidies that create a situation that people are forced into housing that is not convenient to transit due to lack of good choices.