Across the United States, demand for public transportation is on the rise and, unfortunately, so are the fares people have to pay to use the public transit systems they need. Almost 90 percent of public transit systems have had to raise fairs or cut service in order to deal with funding cuts put in place by politicians looking to save a few bucks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, while funding for public transportation is disappearing, funding for highway systems is increasing. According to Transportation for America:
Existing federal policy is out of date and out of touch with the reality of public transportation’s growing importance to Americans and their communities. Only 18 cents of every transportation dollar supports transit and to make that situation worse, communities are required to supply a much larger matching amount compared to federally-supported highways.
A local community has to provide a dollar for each federal dollar received in transit funding, versus providing just $0.25 for each federal dollar received for highways.
Due to these funding issues, major metropolitan areas are being forced to either raise fares or cut service. Cities such as San Francisco and Boston are increasing their base fares as much as 33 percent, while cities such as Dallas and Seattle are raising base fares 17 percent. Other cities raising fares include Chicago, New York, Denver, Honolulu, Houston and Atlanta.
When Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, stated that those upset about more expensive multi-use transit passes can “make that choice” to drive a car instead of taking public transit, it spurred public outrage. Many people don’t have the choice. These changes in public transit systems are disproportionately affecting senior citizens, students, people of color, and those who cannot afford to have a car. Keeping a car, especially in a city where parking can cost several hundred dollars per month, is extraordinarily expensive, and many simply cannot afford to do so. If fares continue to rise at the rate they have been, it may be prohibitively expensive to take public transportation, as well — that is, if routes haven’t already been cut back so much that using public transportation isn’t feasible anyway.
Public transportation is not only important for those who rely on it to get to and from work or school. It is vital in helping reduce pollution and car emissions, which is necessary in fighting global warming and keeping our air clean and breathable. If more people are prohibited from using public transit and instead decide to drive cars, pollution would become even more of a problem than it already is.
Luckily, people are speaking out against fare hikes and service cuts. In New York City, a group of volunteers led by Stefanie Gray, a Geographic Information Systems expert, set out to break the Guinness World Record for traveling the entire New York subway system in the least amount of time. Gray did this because it was something she always wanted to do, but also to draw attention to potential fare hikes. She said, ”The simple message behind the ‘Race to Stop the Fare Hike,’ is that the fare hike is in fact looming, but Governor Cuomo can stop it by providing adequate funding for reliable and affordable transit.”
The bottom line is that public transportation should remain public. Anyone who wants or needs access to these services should be able to use them on a reliable schedule and for a price that isn’t prohibitive. The ability to do so has been part of what has made American cities so important throughout history, and, if public transit remains accessible, can continue to help our cities thrive for many years to come.
Photo Credit: Susan NYC
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