• John Ley

REAL Risks of Mass Transit

Riding mass transit, be it crowded buses or light rail or subways, can be risky to your safety and health.

Both nationally and locally, mass transit ridership has been declining for a decade or two. At Portland’s TriMet, bus ridership peaked in 2009 and has declined by over 9 million annual boardings. At CTran, ridership peaked in 1999 and has declined by over 1 million annual boarding over two decades.

Enter the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. While Washington state was the start of the crisis, it was New York City that was decimated. With millions of people riding crowded subways and buses daily, the virus spread quickly. Any form of mass transit became a “covid carrier”.

Transit ridership plummeted nationally. Some estimates were an 80-90% decline. Ridership on the New York region’s Metro North commuter rail plummeted 95 percent. Metra – the commuter rail that serves suburban Chicago – is down 97 percent.

In the past week, Portland’s TriMet shut down mass transit service into downtown Portland. The riots triggered safety concerns. The Portland police shut down freeway exit ramps into downtown as well.

As the violence continued, one Portland City Commissioner demanded shutting down the police transit unit. She stated she had enough votes on the City Council to do it. Citizens already had concerns about crime and violence on TriMet – but especially on the MAX light rail. It became known as the “crime train” for many citizens. And that was with transit police.

Citizens have discovered their privately owned vehicles are much safer, and much more convenient to use for their transportation needs.

Over the past two years, citizens on both sides of the river are crying out for traffic congestion relief. What does the data say people want?

First — 94 percent of people want to use their privately owned vehicles according to the 2018 PEMCO transportation survey (viewed here).

When you are commuting to and from work or school, or out doing errands or other activities, what form of transportation do you most often use?

(PEMCO graphic)

Second — an April 2019 Oregon Transportation Commission survey found 51% of citizens want to “expand and improve interstates and interstate bridges.” Another 14% want expanded arterials.

Third — Metro’s 2019 poll showed people’s top priority is roads and highways. The Portland Tribune summarized: “On its own, improving public transit is a lower priority than making road improvements and the more overarching goal of easing traffic — voters still overwhelmingly rely on driving alone to get around,” reads the poll’s conclusions.

As reported by the Cascade Policy Institute (here): “More than 75% of residents in the Portland tri-county region commute to work by car. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a similar percentage of voters surveyed by Metro consider traffic congestion a serious problem (73%) and say that improving roads, bridges, and highways to ease traffic should be a regional goal (78%).”

It’s time to stop wasting scarce transportation dollars on mass transit. The COVID-19 pandemic shows transit can help spread deadly diseases. Fewer and fewer people use transit on a regular basis, in spite of a growing regional Portland metro area population.

It’s time the people who actually pay the bills, the gas taxes and the vehicle registration fees actually get some traffic congestion relief.


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