Friday, November 17, 2006

I Can No Longer Justify Taking the T

There's a great diary on the impending T-fare increases and some of the comments are worth reading. Cos, who's spent his adult life living in Cambridge and Somerville, drives because he can't afford the T.

If I make that trip about three times a week, the total marginal cost to me for a month is about $6.00, or about $9.00 when gas prices are near $3/gallon. By T, it's $30/month, and about to go up to over $40/month. A new T pass, at $59/month, is equivalent to the marginal cost of making 236 trips to Davis or back! And if I stop on the way, say to pick up something at a store, or meet a friend? By car, no extra cost. By T, it's another $1.25 if I don't have a pass.

The result: I could be taking the T, but instead, I'm on the roads. Increasing traffic congestion, increasing pollution, increasing gas consumption, increasing health & injury risks. Because the T is too expensive!

One of the funny things in life is the lack of planning by this country. Often, because there's no planning from the top, what makes sense at the personal level is absolutely devastating to the country as a whole. Just look at Urban sprawl: it's cheaper to live in suburbs and exurbs, people get better schools and actually have a yard. However, it means cities no longer have middle classes and their educational systems suffer from a smaller taxpayer base and less parents interested in the system. It also means the environment suffers because of increased traffic and huge neighborhoods were jettisoned in favor of highways en masse. It makes sense on the individual level to move out of cities - and the further out, the better - but it comes at an extreme societal cost.

The same goes for transportation. It makes sense, at an individual level, for people to drive. If I want to visit my friend in Boston, I could take the T or drive. If I take the T, I have to pay $3 at Wonderland for parking (plus 30 minutes of traffic and gas to get there and back). Then another $2.50 for T passes, which will soon go up to about $3.50. Add to that the fact I need to leave early so I can get the T back home and it soon becomes apparent to see just why I've been driving in lately.

Contrast taking the T with driving and I need only pay for the gas and $3 bucks in tolls, which I could avoid if I wanted to. My friend has some free parking nearby her apartment, it's much quicker to drive in (about an hour vs. 30 minutes). Best of all, I can leave when I want (and even stay over) and pay much, much less for it.

With a hefty portion of Boston living in poverty, we're talking about a lot of money here.

At the risk of quoting myself, I think I made a good point in the diary. I'll end this blog there.
The T is a public service, it should be getting enough support from Beacon Hill that it should never be in the red. It doesn't have to make all its money back from riders because non-riders depend on it too. Given that hundreds of thousands of employees who work in Boston or nearby areas use the T, those employers have an invested stake in the T actually working and delivering their crew. Therefore, their invested stake means some of their tax dollars should be going into it without complaint.


Joe said...

Interesting story:

When I was in Germany this summer, I was absolutly marveled by the Trams and trains and public transportation. I asked my host dad if it was torture when they installed all the rails and everything, and his answer shocked me kind of. He said something to the effect of "Kassel (this city I lived in) was rubble after WWII, nobody notices rails going in when they're busy rebuilding their homes."

I know people joke about blowing Boston up, but if it actually happens someday, at least we'll be in a better position to plan a good public transportation system. I have to tell you, the PT over in Germany made this resident of the most advanced nation on Earth feel wayy behind the times. (Did I mention it was mad cheap too?)

Ryan Adams said...

It is hard for Boston to have a good system since it is such an old city (and no one ever blew us up)... but, still, we can do much better. However, that won't ever happen if it doesn't have the kind of volume that can demand those changes - and if they keep raising the prices, there won't ever be that kind of ridership.

Joe said...

Well, I think volume for this issue will never be loud enough because we aren't even slightly dependant on it. As long as the average household has it's own car, the T will always be #2 for a plethora of reasons, price being one of them. For our public transportation to change, its going to require a change in the culture of american transportation.

Ryan Adams said...

Joe, this is one of the reasons why I like you. A lot of Republicans would be going "eww public transportation it cost taxpayers money!!!" and that's all they could see. So kudos.

buddy said...

Urban planning and public transportation can go a step further than a commute into Boston. In the UK, small towns have just about everything you need within walking distance. We have to get in the car to go to the convenience store. (somehow that's funny) The only problem is that the rail service in the country is unreliable and always late.
So what I'm saying is that we can save at both levels with better planning - locally and regionally.

By the way, it was a joy to walk all over town - and maybe back late from the pub - and be safe the whole time.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to drive. It's already cheaper, and now with the fare increase, it's just getting crazy.

The outer suburbs also have a really poor walking/biking infrastructure. The commuter rail is only a couple of miles from my house, but it's almost impossible to get there on foot because there's no sidewalk and you basically have to walk on the other side of the barrier with heavy traffic an inch away and scramble through waist high brush and trees and up and down ravines trying not to fall in front of a car.

So yes, we need to improve the layout and plan of both the public transportation system and suburbia.

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