|Lets Build a First Class Transit System
People Wont Ride a Second Class System!
When busways were originally proposed on four out of five of our transit corridors, it was said we needed this "make do" transit system because we couldnt afford the "up front" cost of light rail system. Busways would be substantially cheaper to build and we would probably have to rely on federal funding to complete even this type of system. Warnings that busways will cost more in the future to operate and maintain were ignored and continue to be ignored by our transit officials. Additional warnings were issued that ask us to consider the fact that very few other cities have built busways and none, except Ottawa, Canada, in all of North America, has made such a massive commitment to them. Also ignored were warnings that people wont ride busways in sufficient numbers to justify the cost of their construction.
Then the one-half cent sales tax for mass transit was passed by the voters of Mecklenburg County. This tax is estimated to generate 50 million dollars a year at the outset, and hundreds of millions a year in the future.
The question now arises: Why are we still planning this same "make do" transit system? Its as if nothing had ever changed and the transit tax had never passed and we were still begging Washington for every nickel we could get for mass transit! Building a "second class" transit system in the face of income to build a first class system is, as the old saying goes, "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
It is imperative that we now upgrade our transit corridor plans to include a system that we can have assurance will be patronized by as large a ridership as possible. That means including light rail in a greater number of these transit corridors than is now planned. Light rails track record of attracting ridership in the cities in which it now operates speaks for itself.
When you hear people talk about progressive cities with modern transit systems, do they talk about Portland, Oregon and San Diego, or do they talk about Ottawa, Canada? We have the money to be a Portland or a San Diego! Why be an Ottawa?
If we build a transit network composed mostly of busways, we may save money building the system compared with the cost of light rail. However, we will pay far more in the future to operate and maintain a busway system, which will eventually wipe out any savings made on construction. After that happens, it will be all downhill! We will pay far more to operate this costly system for generations to come. Even more important, however, is the question of which mode will draw the most people out of their cars and into mass transit. After all, isnt that the whole ball game? We believe the record clearly shows the answer is light rail.
Is there really money saved in building a transit system that people wont ride? If that transit system doesnt attract large numbers of riders, is it really worth the cost of its construction? We think in the final analysis a second class transit system will be much more costly than a first class system for those very reasons.