Friday, 31 October 2014

Talking Mass Transit

There are five states which don't provide funding for mass transit. Alabama is one of the five.

Personally, I don't think of it as being a big deal, but the business news folks at Business Journal in Birmingham felt it was worth talking about (their article came out this week on the topic).  They'd like to see some changes in Montgomery, and a more friendly mass transit atmosphere.

I've traveled around the world and seen just about every type of mass transit idea operating.  Some work.  Some are failures that simply work like a pit.....throw money in and see nothing in return.

The success stories are mostly in highly urbanized areas.  If you had a town of 500,000, and run a decent bus network....folks tend to use it if the prices stay at an acceptable limit.  The DC system with subway and buses?  It only works because the federal government puts a fair amount of money into the system beyond the daily income and the state contributions from DC, Maryland and Virginia.  If the Feds quit paying extra money....the whole gimmick would fold up because of the massive  cost.

There was a study in the 1980s....my hometown region of Bama....Tuscumbia, Florence and Sheffield....had become the largest urban area in the US without any mass transit (not even a single bus).  The public that might appreciate mass transit in this area?  It's the lower class only, and by the time you consider the massive layout of the landscape, the minimum number of passengers per day, and daily operational costs.....it's unsustainable.

You start to gaze across Alabama....Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Birmingham....same story.  You need four essential elements to mass transit to make it effective.  First, you need to convince all work classes that it's more effective in getting you from A to B.  Second, you need it to run seven days a week, for people to put trust into the deal.  You can run Sundays at half the rate.....but folks still need the bus if they are in the right frame of mind.  Third, you need it to run from 5AM to midnight to convince the locals that it's helpful, but you assume higher costs because of the increased hours. Fourth, you ensure absolute safety while traveling, with robbery or assault the last thing that might happen on a public bus.

The trouble in Alabama is that if some state senator started to pick this up and discuss the matter....indicating that the state would funnel $2 million to Birmingham for bus operations....then the rural folks of Bama would ask where this money came from and how they'd get mass transit money in the rurals of the state.  Naturally, it's an argument with no end.

A gas tax that would run back to each county for mass transit?  You'd typically expect the money to be misused or abused.  Some guy would rig up a contract for his cousin to operate a bus deal.....and the guy would hire some illegal guy, and use a 1966 Greyhound bus for the cross-town adventure.  Corrupted?  Yeah.

I don't expect much out of this.  The governor might bring up the topic, but he tends to bring up 350-different topics a year, so it doesn't really mean much.  Life will just continue on, as is.

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