One of the mantras of those opposed to funding for mass transit is that bus and train riders don't pay the full costs of their rides. It's true; they don't. But now a new study sponsored by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin (a really fine organization, if I do say so myself) demonstrates that those who take the bus are paying a much bigger share of the cost of their rides than drivers do.
To quote from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on the study:
So who's subsidizing who? And these are just the hard costs. The study couldn't take into account the savings in greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, as well as the reduction in reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuels.
In addition, most bus riders, at least in Madison, own cars as well. So, they're paying both the gasoline tax and the bus fare.
But everyone -- drivers, riders and bicyclists alike -- has a problem.
The state and federal transportation funds are hurting for several reasons. The recession has resulted in less driving and therefore less gas tax revenue. More fuel efficient cars and trucks also reduce consumption, which is a good thing environmentally, but further reduces tax revenues. At the state level, the elimination of gas tax indexing, which automatically adjusted the state tax to meet a revenue goal, compounded the problem.
If this just meant that we had to cut back on building new roads, that would be one thing. But there's a lot of infrastructure repair for existing roads, bridges and rails that needs to be tackled. And, of course, I'm a great supporter of buses, as well as new local and high-speed rail and bike routes.
I was just appointed by Sen. Mark Miller (D-Madison) to the new Transportation Finance & Policy Commission. The group just getting underway, with its first meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 25. Mark's only instructions were to support a broad array of transportation options, and to come up with a fair way to pay for them. That's something I can sink my teeth into.