Saturday, July 26, 2008

Heard this song before

Last Thursday, the LA Times ran an op-ed by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, "Why you want this tax hike" (italics in original) to pay for transportation projects, mostly transit, specifically mostly rail transit.

It's an old story, "it would pump $32.1 billion in construction funding alone into our economy and create more than 210,000 jobs." But we have heard this song before and what is left unsaid is the awful performance that similar measures have resulted in. Similar half-penny sales taxes were passed by LA county voters in 1980 and 1990.

Transit in LA hit a high-water mark in 1985 because the 1980 half-penny sales tax hike was used to drop bus fares and transit ridership in the county shot up, to 497-million annual boardings, from a low of 354-million in 1982. But bus fares were raised in 1985 to bank money for rail. Since then, we have kicked more people off the buses than new rail has served. In fact, transit use declined steadily, to 364-million annual boardings in 1996, climbing back since then to reach near-1985 levels (496-million boardings) in2007. When 2008 is over, we will have surpassed 1985.

But in 22 years, the county's population grew by 21 percent, mostly at the low-income immigrant end, transit's natural audience. Had we just stayed at 1985 transit use levels, we would have served 1.6 billion more transit users over the 26-year period. Had we been fortunate enough to have transit use grow at the same rate that the county's population, we would have served 3.3 billion more transit riders.

And had official ridership promises been realized ... had pigs ever mastered flying ...