On the Poor, Cars, and Public Transportation

Matt Yglesias, prominent blogger of politics and public transportation, takes on what it means to be poor and the question of car ownership in our nation’s capital.

It’s a good, quick read. Many of the arguments Yglesias makes apply to our situation in San Francisco. I especially liked this bit:

The progressive move isn’t to keep subsidizing cars, but the reverse — to use congestion charges and performance parking fees to raise funds that improve the quality of service on the bus lines that poor people rely on.

I am starting to come around on tax incentives for folks to buy hybrids and other ultra-fuel-efficient cars. But even with such lures, the poor will be left out. Similarly, I’ve been a fan of congestion pricing for dense, urban areas, but not without adequate public transit already in place. That caveat prevents such a system from being just here in San Francisco under present circumstances, as Muni/BART are ill-equipped to deal with so many people choosing not to drive.

As I’ve said before, I’m hoping governments (especially federal) will reprioritize public transit and give it the funding it demands. True, more money alone won’t solve Muni’s problems. But shoring up the agency’s deficit can prevent fee hikes, a terrible idea in our current economic state. I’m excited that the incoming Obama administration is talking of exactly this kind of infrastructure funding. Now our new local government needs to get serious about overseeing big changes at SFMTA, and to help fund those changes.

One comment

  • Generally, regarding the poor and public transportation, the poor *do* take transit because they have to. They’re often in urban areas with better (ha) transit than suburban areas, and I would bet that they don’t have more than one car, if they have one at all.

    I see lots of moms with their kids on the bus, leading me to think that the family either doesn’t have a car (like they wanted to take their screaming kid and all its paraphernalia on the bus, right?) or that the dad takes it to work, and they can’t afford another.

    Saving for a car, especially a used car, can be done fairly easily, with some time and diligent savings. It really doesn’t seem to take that long, so one problem I see with the transit issue is that once they acquire a car, they’ll run screaming from the bus and never take it again. I know plenty of non-poor people who do that already, scarred from childhoods spent on a public bus before and after school.

    And yeah, I’m talking about poor, not homeless, just to be clear.

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