Happy Earth Day my fellow Earth occupying humans. While our federal government is reigning in the 2009 Earth Day/Week by unveiling a plan to set aside billions of dollars to renovate the nation’s railway systems in an effort to create jobs and lesson the impact of highway traffic, our own California government decided to go in the other direction and cut $14.4 million of its support for San Diego’s transit systems (MTS). Balancing California’s budget is priority number one in Sacramento, and in the short term, improving San Diego’s already crappy transit system apparently isn’t close to the top of their list.
It is no secret: San Diego’s transit system is a bit of a joke. I’ve lived here for 4 years and I’ve used the trolley 3 times. It is RARELY convenient. The routes and connections feel like they were mapped out and designed by a dyslexic 5 year old who had a vision and a crayon. And yet, every day it seems that traffic gets worse and worse on the highways. Dean Calbreath, writer for the Union Tribune wrote that, “in the short term at least-[the answer] is more funding rather than less, to provide the means to link up the transit system’s lines in a way that would provide more comprehensive service to the community”. I can’t even tell you how enjoyable a convenient, efficient transit system would be. Everything in San Diego is so spread out and you need to drive everywhere. What an embarrassment for a city and state that boasts its environmental sensitivity. Not to mention, taxis are almost non-existent and if you are able to get one, you’ll be paying out your ying yang to get 5 minutes down the road (San Diego is second only to Honolulu as the nation’s most expensive city for cabs).
Yes, more funding is a huge part of the solution. But in the meantime, because of clipping of funds by Sacramento, San Diego has unveiled a plan to reduce services and raise ticket prices. Calbreath reports, “If the new plans come into effect, gone are some of MTS’s weekend and holiday express lines. Gone is the weekend service on several lines in Point Loma,Mission Valley and El Cajon. In their place are a wide array of new fees. Among other things, the MTS plans to double its downtown trolley fares from $1.25 to $2.50 and raise the standard monthly pass by close to $50 a year.” He goes on to add, “…MTS caluculates that it will lose nearly 600,000 rides because of fee increases.” Woohooo! More cars on the highway! Happy Earth Day California!
We’re reaching the breaking point. At some point, we’re going to need a revamped transit system. It is just going to get too damn crowded and polluted. Calbreath notes a suggestion from Paul Weinstein, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. who says we should strongly consider “shifting some of the billions of dollars that we are already spending on highway construction into rail lines and bus systems. If that’s not enough, he says, we should boost the gasoline tax, which would have the added benefit of encouraging drivers to spend less time in their cars and more in public transit.” Mr. Weinstein, your suggestion is fundamentally flawed: It makes perfect sense and even more so, it would be too simple to implement.
SANDAG (San Diego’s Association of Governments) hopes to create a multilevel transit system that would charge premium fees for comfortable express transportation and lower fees for more basic services. They are considering floating a ballot initiative to raise local sales taxes by 0.25 percent to fund such a system according to Calbreath. Mulilevel, single level…it matters so very little. What matters is that there we are willing to work to create a fully functioning transit system that benefits everyone. So just as soon as we can get this budget thing ironed out, maybe we can start putting money back into the city and state in areas that truly benefit everyone. Then, maybe an Earth Day or two down the road, we can hold our heads high and be proud of what our city and state legislators were able to accomplish.
By Andrew Brentan