Transit Agencies Struggle with the 'Double-Edged Sword' of High Gas Prices

<p>Rising gas prices aren't just encouraging more transit use, they are making public transit more expensive, and charging more for tickets and passes hurt low-income riders the most.</p>
July 21, 2008, 7am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"With West Coast gasoline prices averaging $4.41 per gallon, even car-crazed southern Californians are joining the nation's slow move away from the automobile and toward public transportation. But even as more Americans pile onto city buses, subways, and suburban trains, the increase at the pump is also hitting transit agencies hard.

In many cases this means fare hikes and service cuts. So far this year, nearly half of metropolitan bus operators surveyed by the APTA said they had increased prices to address the strains of rising fuel costs; 19 percent said they had reduced service.

Such fare hikes are hurting the poor disproportionately. While more of the country's suburbanites are choosing mass transit, many of the nation's poorest urban dwellers, whose only option is often public transportation, aren't riding at all because of fare hikes and the downturn in the economy, transportation experts say. Some no longer have a job to commute to, they add.

Los Angeles is in the thick of the quandary. While LA Metro's subways saw a 7.13 percent increase in ridership from April to June compared with a year ago, bus ridership was down 1.9 percent in the same period. Mr. Littman, the Metro spokesman, blamed the drop on a fare hike that raised monthly passes by $10 to $62.

As the country's third-largest public-transit network, behind New York and Chicago, respectively, the LA Metro needs to expand faster than it is to meet the demands of a rapidly increasing population. The Metro board's solution: a new tax. It wants to increase the county sales tax by a half penny, a controversial proposal that could go to Los Angeles voters in November."

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Published on Friday, July 18, 2008 in The Christian Science Monitor
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