Cars, not transit, are the COVID-19 transportation heroes
By Rachel Dawson
When it comes to commuting during COVID-19, private vehicles are coming out well ahead of mass transit.
The Center for Disease Control has stated that cars are a better option than transit during the crisis and has even suggested that businesses offer their employees incentives to “use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others,” such as driving alone or biking.
TriMet is seeing the effects of this recommendation firsthand. Transit use is estimated to have dropped 68% between February and May of this year as Portlanders chose to either stay at home or opt for other means of transportation.
TriMet is planning for significant revenue losses in coming years due to lost funds from payroll taxes and passenger fares. It may be years before the transit agency sees pre-COVID passenger numbers, which had already been falling since 2012 despite the addition of the Orange line in 2015.
Falling ridership and revenues should come as a signal to officials to halt any further investments to the costly light rail system. Instead, Metro and TriMet continue to push for the $3 billion Southwest Corridor light rail project from Downtown Portland to the Bridgeport Village.
Businesses and workers are already struggling with lost revenues and wages due to the virus. Our region doesn’t need another boondoggle, it needs relief. Metro residents should vote “no” on Metro’s proposed transportation measure this fall.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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Even despite the Portland Metro’s continued population growth with each passing year, the addition of new light rail service lines and even the mass transit/bike/pedestrian only Tilikum Crossing over the Willamette River, TriMet ridership has continuously fallen for years even before the pandemic.
Vancouver also continues to reject light rail for their own valid reasons, and the continued disagreement between Portland and Vancouver regarding light rail has kept the Interstate Bridge replacement from ever happening. The primary needs for a new Interstate Bridge have nothing to do with light rail – the needs for a new bridge surround a larger capacity for cars, semi trucks, and buses, a bridge that is seismically sound, and one that doesn’t need to raise up and stop traffic for large ships. Yet Portland bureaucrats insist on forcing light rail into Vancouver, a city that has adamantly stated they have no interest in it.
Even with worsening traffic each year, people desire to travel in their vehicles because it remains the most speedy, comfortable and versatile form of transportation. Mass transit also serves no use to commuters who have to live further outside the city due to the cost of living in the urban core.
To me it is unfathomable that Portland bureaucrats continue to actively avoid investing in much needed city street and freeway improvements, but they have the audacity to plan on tolling existing freeways without promise of improvement, and instead have plans to use that toll money instead for mass transit expansion. Essentially, taking money from the majority of commuters without giving anything in return, to put towards a transit system with trains almost always empty except for sporting events. There was a petition to combat the tolling scheme and either change it to toll revenue going exclusively toward road improvements and giving citizens and counties the right to block tolling, but I don’t know how much progress it has made. Not only this, but Portland bureaucrats continue to push for “road diets” against community wishes, removing lanes to vital throughways in the city, worsening gridlock and increasing congestion, emissions, car crashes, and car-pedestrian/biker collisions, which ironically is exactly what they were trying to combat through said “road diets”.
Portland leadership needs to change their priorities, or the voters need to wake up and replace them with leadership that has at least basic common sense. Portlanders have wanted congestion relief for a long time, not more mass transit. Mass transit is almost exclusively used by those who do not have a vehicle or someone to drive them, and by those who regularly travel to areas without parking. The day someone buys themselves a car is a liberating day – they no longer have to rely on others for transportation and can travel where and when they want, not confined to the schedule and areas of service mass transit provides. We should be focusing on the main form of transportation, and the form of transportation people aspire to have – the car, and not focus almost all of our funding and attention on the form of transportation people are becoming less reliant on – mass transit. Even with traffic resulting from Portland’s insufficient road infrastructure, travel by car is still almost always faster than light rail & buses (I say this with personal experience). The car has been the main form of transportation in our country for a long time, and will continue to be. The numbers always back this up. We need city policies that help facilitate, not attack, travel by car.
And of course pandemics. Crowding into mass transit will spread a virus way quicker than our current society where most people fulfill their own transportation needs and the needs of those around them in a car, on their own accord. Not this dense, mass transit-centric society that some Portland idealists in positions of power envision.
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