Yesterday I discussed how conservatives in this country have failed to support transit, despite having excellent reasons why it fits with their own ideology. Today it's the left's turn.
There are lots of liberal, radical, socialist and communist people who support transit, for good reasons. Properly-funded transit can provide access for all, while private car use discriminates against anyone who can't afford a car, gasoline, repairs and insurance. It brings people of different ethnic and class backgrounds together. It pollutes less and uses less energy, and it encourages dense living which is more efficient and less polluting.
There are plenty of conservatives, like this idiot, who see transit as a commie plot. Certainly, if you ask leftists whether they support public transit, you'll almost always get a yes answer. Campaign mailings from Greens and liberal Democrats regularly tout "support for transit."
Unfortunately, that support for transit is often very thin, and when it comes time to go beyond rhetoric and make hard choices, the left often fails. Here are some reasons why your lefty friend totally supports transit, but this case is different, man:
- Distracted by other issues. If a bookstore has an "Environment" or "Green living" section, good luck finding any books about transit there. It's all How You Can Build a Mountaintop Commune out of Old Twist-Ties and Barter Your Organic Gooseberry Jam for Biodiesel at the Contra Dance. Green politicians tend to either be wide-eyed technophiles (if Lovins is wrong, they don't want to be right) or back-to-the-land Luddites, or both at once.
- Conflicting priorities. Subaru wagon liberals may pay lip service to transit, but they still see cars as a tool to liberate and uplift the poor. Thus, they are easily swayed by Richard Brodsky's nonsensical claim that congestion pricing is a regressive tax. When the transit unions demand a wage increase to cover their car payments and their houses in Nassau County despite zero inflation, these liberals support it. They support the Los Angeles Bus Riders' Union when it insists on spending all the transit money on upfront operations instead of capital investments that will bring operating costs down over the long term, because in the long term all these poor people will have cars, right?
- Unrealistic plans and sloppy execution. Rather than focus on the immediate problems and support existing reform efforts, they come up with simplistic ideas like the "People's MTA" and "OurMTA, and then when things turn out to be more difficult than they thought, they give up and go on to some other project.
In the governor's race, we have City Council member Charles Barron, who could have been a real asset to the congestion pricing campaign, but in his best Subaru-wagon fashion he chose to see it as a tax on poor New Yorkers. In fact, the easily distracted Barron rarely says anything about transit or roads, apparently feeling that they have nothing to do with poverty or racial inequality. In September, George Haikalis convinced him to put free transit in his campaign platform. When I pointed out that Barron had opposed congestion pricing, Andrea Bernstein asked him about it, and he quickly distanced himself from the cornerstone of Haikalis's plan, saying that free transit could be funded by "a stock transfer tax or a personal income tax surcharge." So there we have conflicting priorities, distraction and unrealistic plans all rolled into one.
The Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins, is much better than Barron. He supports congestion pricing, as well as a number of other measures to restore full funding to transit. But would he follow through, if elected? He also mentions personal rapid transit and direct elections to the MTA board, which are both bad ideas. A campaign letter I got the other day spends five paragraphs talking about the military (at best a minor issue for state government), and only mentions his support for "public transit" twice, each time as one item in a list.
The Left should be transit's strongest support, but people on the left get so distracted by the myriad of green agenda items, try to put every poor person in a car with subsidized gas and roads, and come up with grandiose plans that they abandon almost immediately. Even if they manage to win an election, there's no guarantee that transit will be the better for it. As with the right, it largely depends on the individual candidate, but the various left-wing groups are a huge disappointment.