Monday, May 3, 2010

Helium site debate attracts intelligent free transit advocacy

I am a 49-year old man who rejected the norm of possessing and utilizing a privately owned, fossil-fueled motor vehicle in 1987. As such, I have a clear and obvious vested interest in promoting the idea of "free" public transportation. However, I do believe that there would be significant benefits to all, whether they personally use such a service or not. By "free" here, we are referring to no direct charge to the passenger, the service itself will obviously still cost money to provide. Money that will need to come from taxes paid to the national or local government, or occasionally from a local business association.

Many central business districts provide a localized free bus service paid for by the area's local governing body or its retail business association, offered as an incentive to attract customers to their area. Some cities, particularly in Europe, offer public transportation on a "no charge to users" basis to facilitate ease of movement in narrow city streets that were first created before the motor vehicle was even dreamed of. Others do so to promote a green, environmentally friendly attitude or a people friendly perspective to encourage tourism. Many do so for all three reasons.

The primary objection to "free" public transportation in today's societies is the capitalist ideological concept of "user pays". This presupposes that the only people benefiting from public transportation systems are those who use them. As long as the financial benefits are comparative to the loss of convenience and comfort "costs", public transport usage will be primarily limited to those who have little or no choice. Under these circumstances, those not using public transport do indeed receive little benefit from it. It is only when the financial benefit significantly outweighs the comfort and convenience costs, thus increasing public transport usage, that non-users will see significant personal benefits.

The fallacy that single-occupant privately owned motor vehicles are an effective form of urban transportation is demonstrated daily on the roads of most of the cities of the world. Many of which no longer have "rush hours" simply because many of their major streets have traffic that moves at no more than a snail's pace all day long now.

Public transportation without user charges would be a very strong incentive to people struggling to get by economically to restrict their car usage to occasional trips rather than the daily commute. While they benefit financially, those road users who would never dream of using public transport will also benefit, from the reduction in vehicles crowding the roads, giving them a speedier and more pleasant drive. And not only from the reduction in road traffic, but because the buses would flow more rapidly since the drivers would not need to collect passengers' fares at every stop.

Road building and road widening costs within an urban area are astronomical; alleviating the necessity by reducing road usage would save far more money from local taxes than providing the "free" public transport is likely to cost over the long-term. Properly evaluated accounting would show this, so local taxes should not need to be increased to pay for the service.

The reduction in car usage would reduce the associated pollution, offering health advantages to the city's population. Respiratory illnesses such as asthma have been on the increase in our young for decades and car exhaust fumes are considered a major contributing factor.

It would also be nice to see the sunrise or sunset without a haze of smog distorting it. In a world where our recognition of the impacts of our technology on the environment we depend on for our existence is steadily growing, it is time to utilize the benefits of public transportation to their maximum potential. The quickest and most effective way of doing this is to eliminate direct charges, thus encouraging people to use these services. Perry McCarney on Helium