Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Public Transit in America

Jeff Gray writes a column in the Globe and Mail called Dr. Gridlock. Yesterday(November 17th) he talked about how in several state and local referendums on November 4th Americans actually voted to increase their taxes and put money into public transit.

The data was put together by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (go to www.artba.org and click on Economics and Research).

Thirty-two (32) ballot measures in seventeen (17) states asked for new or increased taxes. Twenty five (25) of these passed. That’s a 78% success rate. Interesting, isn’t it?

I was curious so I thought I’d look at this analysis to see what was going on south of the border.

A Look at the Data

By my count there were eight local initiatives to enhance public transit at taxpayer’s expense. (Many of the others were classified as “transportation” but I just looked at those that were clearly transit related.) Five of these passed. An example: Voters in the Puget Sound Washington area gave the thumbs up to a $17.9 billion to extend regional bus and light rail service in the communities of Lakewood, Tacoma and Seattle. The vote was 59% in favour.

There were also three statewide initiatives approved. Voters in California, Hawaii and Rhode Island supported projects that will cost taxpayers billions.

Jeff Gray quotes a former Toronto head planner who thinks we need to start playing catch up in Toronto and, I think, it is fair to say right across the GTA and Hamilton.

Paul Bedford says:

“I understand the politicians don’t want to touch any of those ideas in the current economic environment. All I’ve been saying is, let’s not wait five years to start talking about it.”

It looks like average Americans are beginning to appreciate the environmental and economic imperatives that compels us to invest in public transit. I’m thinking average Canadians probably feel the same way.