Move That Bus!

One of the things that attracted me to the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University is its focus on “bread and butter” issues. As a new faculty affiliate of the center, I now help spotlight and evaluate some of these issues. Take the issue of getting to and from work, for example. What could be more universally “bread and butter” than helping people to get to and from work so that they might be self-reliant, productive members of their household, community, city, state, and nation? I believe that few of us would want to undermine such core American values as a strong work ethic, self-reliance, productivity, ingenuity, and self-respect. But I fear that these values will be undermined if we fail, as a nation, to support improvements in public transportation, and those who depend most upon it to get to and from work, school, and other places.

Cities across the nation are grappling with rising oil prices, record-high inflation, staggering home foreclosure rates, and declining revenue for public services, such as local and regional bus transportation. This includes the city of Youngstown, Ohio. In November, the Western Reserve Transit Authority will ask people in Youngstown and surrounding communities to approve a 0.25 percent county sales tax that would help finance restoration and improvement in the region’s bus service. This is the second time that this proposal has been presented for voter approval. Fifty-six percent of area voters rejected the proposal in March 2008.

Here are a few research findings that people in Youngstown and surrounding communities (and people in your town) might consider before casting a vote on public transportation funding:

  • About two-thirds of all public transportation passengers take public transportation to get to and from work or school, according to the Federal Transit Authority.
  • Low-income women are more likely than are low-income men to require public transportation. And among women, Latina and low-income African American women are highly dependent on public transportation. Research suggests that, without access to public transportation, low-income African American women would have few, if any, means of getting to and fromjobs in retailing, personal services, and childcare, where many are employed. Walking to work is less of an option for the women because of the shortage of jobs in low-income, African American urban communities.

Recent poll results suggest that the current economic recession has begun to solidify public resistance against higher taxes for any purpose. (As an example, see the on-line comments from a July 2008 poll of Ohioans regarding higher taxes for improvements in bus service in Youngstown, Warren, and Columbiana, Ohio.) This “anti-tax sentiment” is making it difficult to mobilize massive public support for tax levies that would support improvements in public transportation in San Diego, Chicago, Youngstown, New York, and other places.

Do improvements in public transportation benefit even those who can afford their own vehicles and who, as a result, do not use public transportation? Should the issue of funding public transportation improvements matter even to those who, on the surface, appear not to be affected by the condition of public transportation in America (such as some upper-middle income suburban residents who commute in private vehicles)? Mounting evidence in scholarly journals, trade magazines, and the popular press suggest that the answer to these questions is “yes.”

Research finds that communities that invest in public transportation realize enhanced social economic development and prosperity. For example, a study by the American Public Transportation Association estimates that for every $1.00 invested in public transportation, there is a $3.00 increase in business sales. Communities that invest in public transportation are reported to attract more businesses, more visitors, and more shoppers. Property values tend to be higher in communities with good public transportation systems.

Absenteeism in the workplace and at school decreases when people who cannot afford private vehicles have reliable public transportation to get them to and from work and school. This decrease in absenteeism translates into higher productivity within the workplace, which potentially benefits everyone in a community, city, and region.

More business sales, more businesses, more visitors, more shoppers, higher property values, and increased productivity. Each of these benefits is an additional compelling reason for all to be concerned about the condition of public transportation in America, in my view. I submit that an investment in public transportation is an investment in a more promising future for people across the social-class spectrum, and particularly for members of the working class and the poor.

Denise Narcisse

This entry was posted in Class at the Intersections, Youngstown and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Move That Bus!

  1. Shaq says:

    The issue of effective public transportation system, bus service in particular, has been put forward by the author of the blog. It goes without saying that the use of public transportation has a numerous advantages over other forms of transportation and hence most of the commuters who switch to public transportation system exhibit strong satisfaction of those services after the adjustment period. Some underlying reasons for such satisfaction have been mentioned in above given posts. In addition to those arguments in favor of public bus services following points could be incorporated.

    First is cost. It has already been cleared out by other visitors of the blog that with gas prices soaring and economy sagging, many Americans felt pinch in their wallets. In such circumstance going public transportation is obvious cost saving option, indeed. Research findings show that if ONE person in each household chooses public transportation over driving private vehicles, average households would save between $50 and $70 per week. That can add up to $300 for the month. Besides, we need to add the cost of parking, insurance, and auto maintenance to that number. We would then find out that monthly commuting pass for bus service is far more economical. Essentially, people would be able to purchase more of other goods and services for their income which would, in fact, increase the sales of local businesses and thereby contribute to the economic growth and improvement in social sphere.

    Another crucial point is environmental and health issues. Motor vehicles are major contributors for common gaseous pollutants and harmful particulates in the air (carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, etc.) The increase in the amount of vehicles in streets and large concentration of cars and trucks during traffic hours are drastically making the situation worse. Not only environment is suffering from such man-made actions but human health as well. The increase in the motor-vehicle emissions is causing increase in the childhood leukemia, fetal hypoxia, prematurity, respiratory illnesses, and lung cancer. Those problems would largely be solved by introducing effective public transportation system to the communities. In Burlington Vermont, for instance, CCTA bus services have helped largely to cut the number of car drivers in the city. Its policy of free bus rides for students of the University of Vermont and Champlain College, located in the city, have reduced largely the need for car rides. Furthermore, starting from the spring of 2007, CCTA buses began operating with biodiesel blend – clean burning alternative fuel made from vegetable oils and animal fats that release fewer harmful toxins into the air. This kind of public transportation service will naturally make our environment a safe place to thrive.

    To sum up, I am convinced that effective public transportation system would allow communities to be economically efficient, productive, and safer place to work, study, and live.

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  2. Fredo says:

    The 3 social statistics used in the initial blog by Denise are very relevant and poignant to the Youngstown area. Unfortunately, in our country and particularly in the smaller American communities there is a social stigma in regards to public transportation. Only the lower classes are the working poor are relegated to the bus. However, in Europe people of all social classes and income brackets utilize public transportation because it is easier, faster, and cheaper than owning your own vehicle. Often people don’t even have a driver’s license, let alone own a vehicle (or 2 or more as some American’s do!). With the ever growning eco-consious that the world is developing now is the time for Americans and Youngstown-ians to embrace public transportation. Living in New Castle, we have access to the New Castle Transit Authority – they charge $3.00 each way to get to Pittsburgh daily (monday – friday). Now, from New Castle this is apx. 60 miles to downtown. Averaging 15 miles per gallon in my SUV it would cost me apx. $9.00 in gasoline each way, not to mention wear and tear on the vehicle and the cost of parking once you are downtown. What we sacrafice for the convenience of our own time schedule and private transportation we more than make up for in fuel and vehicle savings as well as the environmental benefits of less vehicles on the road.

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  3. Suzie May says:

    I agree with the author of this blog. She makes some very good points about improving public transportation. I feel that bettering the public transporation would only benefit the whole community. I found it interesting that for every $1.00 spent on improving public transportation would in turn bring in $3.00. I feel that this would only help our economy. Especially in the city of Youngstown, I feel that it would almost be foolish to not improve the public transporation system if we are making money overall.

    If the public transporation was improved, I feel that more people would take advantage of it. It seems as though most of the people using public transportation are those from a household of lower income. If the buses and other things used for transporation were improved, (cleaner, etc.) people of a higher social status might be be more interested in using them. These people might realize that they are spending more money for the gas on the SUVs and sports cars than they would be using this public transporation.

    Lastly, I know that this issue is not really a part of the blog, but I think that in the long term, this will also help with pollution. With more people wanting to use public transportation, there will be cars on the road. If there are less cars on the road, there will be less gasoline used. This will in turn lessen pollution.

    In conclusion, I do feel that improving the public transportation of cities across the United States would only be a good thing. If they are improved, they will make more money, which will better the economy. If they are improved, more people will use it (even those of a higher social class), lessening the amount of cars on the road. This in turn will lead to less gasoline being used, which will ultimately lessen pollution. How could anything that betters the economy and environment be a bad thing?

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  4. Jeanne says:

    Amen Denise!

    When the Metropolitan Council in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota) first proposed light rail in the cities, there was fierce opposition and most of the opponents raised the tax specter. All this money, they said, taken out of the pockets of the average worker to support a few who live in the city.

    Now that it’s built and running…well, only the fringe on the right say it’s a bad use of tax dollars. Folks who want to go to sporting events in downtown Minneapolis love the rail that takes them from points in the southern suburbs (including the Mall of America and the airport) to the front steps of the Metrodome (and eventually the new Twins stadium) or to Nicollet mall for shopping or gives easy access to the airport and mall for people who live in the city.

    Business and housing is booming along the light rail corridor–just ask the developers who can’t build enough light shopping and apartment or condo buildings along the corridor to meet demand. During the housing bust, the communities along the light rail line have had the fewest foreclosures and the slowest drops in housing prices. And it wasn’t built in the nicest neighborhood in Minneapolis (also, not the worst).

    Now every community is clamoring for rail. And they’re happy to foot the bill in their taxes.

    Maybe specifics could help convince voters otherwise. A commercial made in places where expanded transit has helped the economy perhaps?

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