Recently I've been writing about the competitive relationship between transit ridership and private car use, and particularly how increases in highway capacity probably led to decreases in transit ridership, and vice versa.
This has some pretty big implications for transit advocates. I've already made the point that we can help our undersubsidized transit systems by lobbying for decreased capacity or increased fees on parallel roads. The other big one is that increased capacity or decreased user fees on roads draws ridership away from parallel transit lines. When ridership declines, revenues decline, and the line will require increased subsidies or be forced to cut service.
Because of this, it is the right and duty of every transit advocate to do what they can to prevent subsidies from going to roads that parallel their transit lines. What good does it do to get a train service started, if the parallel highway widening will make that train service useless by comparison? Why fight to keep fares low, if other people get tolls removed?
Here's a challenge to all transit advocates out there: think about your favorite, favorite project. How much do you love that project and want it to succeed at all costs? How hard are you fighting to save that service? To keep the fares affordable for those who really need it?
Now think about the potential riders who are driving right now. What roads parallel that project? Are they being widened? Bridges replaced? New roads or bridges being built? Do the drivers pay anything to use those roads? Do they pay to park, at one end or both? Have the tolls or parking fees kept pace with inflation? Did they once pay, but no longer?
Now, are you sure you're doing everything you can to help that project succeed? If this doesn't apply to your favorite, favorite project, I bet you can think of one where it does. I hope you'll blog about it.