Why do we subsidize transit? There are two main goals, which we can broadly group under social and environmental. We want to make sure that everyone who has a legitimate need to get somewhere can do so. We also want to get people out of their cars, thereby increasing efficiency, decreasing carnage and pollution, and improving society.
I don't think that anyone is opposed to these goals on principle. The opposition comes from people who disagree about how effective transit subsidies would be in accomplishing these goals, and from people who have other goals that they place a higher priority on.
For example, deficit hawks may place a higher priority on balancing the budget than on providing transportation for all. Back-to-the-land hippies may place close contact with nature over transportation efficiencies. Pro-business people may put economic prosperity ahead of reducing pollution. Libertarians may put "the freedom that cars bring us" ahead of the social benefits that come from pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.
I believe that many of these objections are reasonable, but misguided. Others are half-truths or even outright lies invented to cover self-interest. Regardless, to the extent that transit is a priority for us, we want to see it overcome these objections. Now more than ever, transit is in competition with private cars, and in order to compete effectively it needs to be dependable. In order to be dependable, it needs a stable funding source.
Probably the worst way to fund transit is through general tax dollars that come from sales or income taxes. In that kind of budgetary free-for-all, there are lots of people who can think of better uses for money than transit. Between the needs of dying orphan babies and the demands of powerful elites, it's almost guaranteed to get short-changed.
It might be a good idea to develop some political power for transit to use in various fights, but financial independence is an easier way to build dependable service. In a later post, I'll discuss some possible ways to achieve this.