Public Transportation Deserves Fair ChancePeter Jensen's...

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October 30, 1993

Public Transportation Deserves Fair Chance

Peter Jensen's concern that our state is paying too much to underwrite public transportation as opposed to building roads (Perspective, Oct. 10) relies on specious reasoning.

He has fallen into the trap that most critics of public transportation make: that the expense of operating public transportation must be equal to or less than the money that customers are willing to place into the fare box.

The basis for this misconception is that the cost of various transportation systems can be easily reduced to a dollar figure for each traveler.

In fact, all of our transportation systems are supported by such a web of governmental subsidies that it is very easy to mistake that the economic choice of taking a car or bus to work is based on the difference between the cost of gasoline and bus fare.

Take the example of the hidden costs of traveling by automobile. There are the costs of building and maintaining roads, police patrolling those roads, loss of open space to parking lots, air pollution and medical and automobile insurance.

(Insurance rates are higher than for other forms of transportation, based on deaths per mile traveled; automobiles have been shown to be the least safe means of transportation).

Another misconception commonly made by public transportation critics is that public transportation rarely adds to economic development.

As a dramatic counterpoint to this belief is the Baltimore Metro system. The corridor serviced by the Metro has seen growth over the past 10 years at a greater rate than the rest of the Baltimore region.

The civic leaders of Glen Burnie apparently feel that the Central Light Rail will have the same effect; they have been loudly requesting a spur of the light rail system to serve downtown Glen Burnie.

Mr. Jensen makes a good point when he notes that ridership on public transportation has steadily decreased over the past decade. However, I believe this is due to the fact that our public transportation system is still incomplete.

Baltimore would benefit greatly from expanded public transportation that served not just select corridors, as the light rail and Metro systems now do, but the entire metropolitan region.

I challenge Mr. Jensen to revise his article to reflect not just the cost at the gas pump or the fare box but to untangle the web of county, state and federal subsidies to try to reach a cost-per-passenger-mile for the various means of transportation.

Taking this approach, I am certain that he will find that public transportation, even with the recent increased fares, is still a less expensive way of getting from point A to point B.

Andrew W. Gray

Baltimore

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Peter Jensen is making a journalistic career out of trashing mass transit. Obviously something is sacrificed in terms of objectivity when he is willing to quote a highway contractor to make his point.

If he feels that mass transit is inefficient he should at least acknowledge that roadways have a huge advantage over subways and railroads in terms of sheer mileage, the status quo, effective lobbyists and funding.

Mr. Jensen's article failed to mention that recently proposed expenditures published in The Sun Sept. 30 favor roadways 66 percent to 33 percent.

Clearly mass transit is not going to attract passengers without a level playing field. A lack of effective mass transit means noncompliance with federal ozone-reduction standards, which will lead to a lack of money for his precious highways.

This may be the best thing for the environment, but it has led to a hue and cry over Baltimore being unfairly penalized without the recognition that highway construction has created much of the ozone air pollution problem in the first place.

Washington should not be considered in the same category as Baltimore, since it is accessible via a credible subway. . . .

Neil Peirce has a better grip on reality. His column (Opinion * Commentary, Oct. 18) demonstrates how highway construction to and from the "outer crescent" suburbs benefits the affluent and contribute to urban blight.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the northern terminus of the light rail line, which ends two miles short of the Hunt Valley business community. This means that many entry-level unskilled factory positions remain beyond the reach of unemployed city residents without cars.

Extending the light rail is a fairly economical proposition, particularly since a railroad right-of-way already exists.

However, in the same area an extension and interchange involving Warren Road is being built that will cost millions and won't have any tangible benefit besides improving commuter access to I-83.

A proposal to extend the light rail north must wait somewhere down on the wish list in relative importance to the need for highway bypasses to bucolic hamlets such as Hampstead, Manchester and Hickory.

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