Grim Forecast For Transportation Progress In Bay Area

<p>Bay Area political columnist Dan Borenstein examines long-term transportation data and concludes that driving will only increase unless politicians make driving more expensive and transit cheaper, a solution he regards as unlikely at best.</p>
March 12, 2008, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Despite decades of efforts to widen highways and move people from cars to transit, the Bay Area continues to strangle itself in congestion. An economic slowdown and rising gas prices might temporarily loosen the flow on the roads. But the trends are in the wrong direction:

* We use our cars more. Bay Area residents drove an average 18 miles a day in 1990. Today, it's 21.
* Our commutes take longer. The average Bay Area commute was 24 minutes in 1980, 26 in 1990 and 29 in 2000.
* We use public transit less. While BART ridership is up, San Francisco's Muni and the East Bay's AC Transit both report less patronage. Overall, the average Bay Area resident boards public transit 10 percent less than in 1990."

"There are many reasons for this. In our quest for affordable single-family homes, we're moving farther from our jobs. The growth in the suburbs means more people are dependent on automobiles for trips that, in urban areas, would be within walking distance or a quick bus ride. Automobile travel, despite increasing gas prices, is still cheap enough that most will jump in their cars rather than wait for a bus or train."

"Simply put, we're failing in our effort to get people out of their cars. We're part of a state and a nation struggling to find a way off the road to self-destruction. Gov. Schwarzenegger is calling for cutting carbon dioxide and other gases by about 25 percent by 2020. That would require a major shift in our travel habits.

To push people out of their cars, we need to make driving more expensive and public transit cheaper. It sounds brutal, especially for people in the suburbs, where public transit is woefully inadequate."

"Raising the gas tax is a good idea. It discourages driving and the money could be used for road improvements and to subsidize public transit. Politically, the idea is probably dead on arrival. Certainly, no one is going to push for a tax increase during a election season when we're on the edge of a recession and gasoline prices are already surging.

Thus far, we lack the political will. We're married to our cars. Few politicians are willing to propose gas tax increases. Fewer are willing to suggest that more of those funds should go to subsidize public transit."

"Drivers should contribute. After all, the more people taking public transit, the fewer people in cars, the easier the commute. And we pollute less. Everyone benefits."

Thanks to Steve Levy

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, March 9, 2008 in The Contra Costa Times
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