Mass Transit Blamed for Being Popular

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Sometimes you have to wonder if mass transit will ever be properly appreciated in this country. The Portland public school system has given free TriMet passes to all high school students. That’s great right? My only complaint is that TriMet isn’t free for everyone. Instead people are complaining that TriMet did not plan adequately for the increase in ridership along lines frequented by students.

Solutions typically follow problems. Even the most ardent fan of highways doesn’t ask for more lanes until the current lanes are full. So let the buses be full. Force people to understand that mass transit is a community investment, that if they want to fix the “problem” that they will need a solution (adequate funding for mass transit). A similar “problem,” thick with irony, occurred in our nation’s capital recently.

In Portland the free passes have helped easy congestion near schools, resulting in less pollution, not to mention utilizing mass transit is safer than being driven to school. Perhaps we should best understand mass transit complains as demand for increased services. It seems that most complaints have to do with frequency of service and areas of service and not quality of service.

The following complaint in The Oregonian article seems to sum-up the misguided blame on mass transit particularly well. “This is not how you build confidence in the next generation of transit riders,” said Lael Pinney, whose daughter has given up on trying to catch the No. 10 to Cleveland. “How could they not see this coming? Why didn’t they add buses right away?”

On the surface these appear to be fair question. Overcrowding can be a serious issue, but providing free passes and then struggling to meet demand is not a recipe for future disaster, it’s the beginning of great success. This reminds me of a quote attributed to St. Louisian Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Perhaps one day the same will be said of mass transit in St. Louis and elsewhere. And it won’t be a problem.

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