Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Stop Dumping More Tax Dollars Into Failing Transit Agencies and Transit Services Few Use

Transit ridership was declining across the country before the pandemic, The pandemic, together with innovation and technology has created paradigm shifts away from riding transit.

More telecommuters working from home mean less commuters are on the road or on transit. The "choice" transit rider has disappeared. People prefer the security of their individual vehicles to keep them safe and healthy.

Our local Tampa Bay transit expert Steve Polzin recently did a study about the impact of the pandemic on public transit for Reason stating:

Public transportation is uniquely sensitive to changes in the number of people working from home, changes in commuting patterns, and concerns over public health and safety.
COVID-19 has produced changes in the behavior of individuals, businesses, and governments.

Public transportation is among those sectors disrupted by COVID-19 and unlikely to return to pre-COVID-19 conditions.

Polzin's study found here states transit ridership decreased 65% from April 2020 to April 2021 during this past year of the COVID pandemic. 

This decline in transit ridership creates financial distress because as the revenue per passenger mile decreases, the cost per passenger mile increases. This financial distress is not sustainable.

Transit ridership tanks 
across all modes

Unfortunately, the current solution from the federal government has been to keep throwing money at and bailing out a declining public transit industry.

Polzin states in his study that "additional funding should be driven by careful analysis of the financial condition of agencies and discernment of a sound, policy-driven program of support." 

In other words, taxpayers should not be forced to keep throwing our tax dollars at failed and failing public transit agencies.

Paradigm shifts, including telecommuting, tele-health, online business transactions and virtual communications have put transit agencies in financial peril. Politico acknowledges transit ridership was declining before the pandemic and now the paradigm shifts are eliminating the need for using traditional public transit:

Transit ridership had been falling for years before the pandemic shut down much of the U.S. economy last spring, and it's likely that the virus will only accelerate some of the trends behind that decline. Those include hastening the migration of jobs and people away from dense cities, where transit works best, as well as a newfound enthusiasm for letting employees work from home.
The pandemic, in addition to the ease of using of technology, is also causing people to consider changes to where they live. The notion that one needs to live near where they work is no longer a valid claim, especially for parents who may consider schools for their children or homeschooling their children much more important.

It is expected that autonomous vehicles will be providing more travel choices in the future. That future is here in downtown St. Petersburg where the AVA autonomous vehicle shuttle was launched last year. 

Polzin also co-authored a study "COVID-19’s Effects on The Future of Transportationin January 2021 where he stated:
..individuals and businesses have adapted behaviors and altered practices to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

..communications as a substitute to travel has been actively deployed in many areas, from telework to e-commerce, telemedicine, web-based meetings in lieu of traditional business communications, distance learning, delivery of restaurant meals and online worship services among others.
Polzin highlights that our app based, on demand society was providing ride-share, bike-share, e-scooters before the pandemic. These new services were providing travel choices that people valued, were willing to pay for and contributing to a decline in transit ridership before the pandemic.

Less than 2% used transit in Tampa Bay before the pandemic. Transit ridership has declined even more as a result of the pandemic. The transit "choice" rider does not exist in Tampa Bay.

Thank goodness the All for Transportation (AFT) 30 year, 1%, $16 Billion transit rail tax boondoggle was thrown out in February by the Florida Supreme Court. That horrific tax would have forced taxpayers to hand about $7 Billion to HART transit agency, whose ridership, has totally tanked. Even the "free to the rider" Streetcar ridership (100% funded by you the taxpayer) has decreased 60% since last year.

HART Ridership Decline

Polzin's study indicates HART's ridership, anemic before the pandemic, may never come back. HART collects an ad valorem property tax from property owners in unincorporated, Temple Terrace and Tampa. As property values continue rising, HART's ad valorem revenue continues rising. Local taxpayers should not be handing HART any more money.

But beware!

AFT, who perpetrated their illegal tax on the voters of Hillsborough County, want the county commissioners to put AFT 2.0 $16 Billion rail tax on the 2022 ballot.

The pandemic, paradigm shifts, innovation and technology are putting nails in the coffin of traditional transit. We are in a dynamic transportation environment that is going through a transition with numerous moving parts. 

As Polzin's study states, we need to be more cautious and prudent about where our transportation tax dollars and resources are spent. 
Local officials in Tampa Bay must take note of Polzin's latest transit study. Simply wanting to throw money at failing transit agencies is unacceptable and unsustainable.

No transit tax boondoggle should be put on any ballot in Tampa Bay in 2022.

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