Monday, October 24, 2005

Get on the bus, Gus; We've got a new plan, Stan.

As promised, here's a little bit on public transportation.

First of all, here's the ABH's story on the subject. Basically, Athens Transit has a shiny new plan, that isn't particularly shiny or new, in that it's more or less a compilation of the same things they've been trying to get the Mayor and Commission to pony up for for a few years now. Based on the somewhat limited coverage in the ABH, we're ready to say it's a good thing.

You know, if you listened to some folks around town (including us) you might come to the conclusion that the most important issues in ACC are the La Puerta del Sol zoning madness and the proposed three-laning of Prince Avenue. Those are important, to be sure, but take it from us, this trumps both of those issues.

You might remember about a month ago, when we lauded Super-Commissioner Elton Dodson for coming out swinging against poverty. Since then, he's been strangely quiet, perhaps in order to discourage States McCarter from leaving flaming bags of dog poo on his front doorstep. We hear those two don't get along. (We'd also point out that we sent him an email asking what he had in mind to combat poverty, but he hasn't responded yet. Must've been something we said.)

In any event, we humbly submit that if the Mayor and Commission is serious about tackling the problem and doing something to help the 28.6% of ACC residents that live below the poverty line (source here), then this would be a good first step. Is it the silver bullet? No, but have you seen gas prices lately? It's a good first step.

Not only would this be a good first battle in the war on poverty, it also helps out the more fortunate folks in ACC. Funding Athens Transit's requests according to the plan, combined with a campaign to encourage everyone to try the bus again, can cut down on traffic congestion, pollution, accidents, etc. That means safer neighborhoods all over Athens.

That's not to say there aren't problems with the plan as well. It could become a money pit. For whatever reason, and your crack editorial staff is guilty of this too, Southerners love driving places, and we sure haven't cottoned on to public transportation yet. Perhaps it's the lack of options, or the fact that Southern cities tend to be more sprawled out than other places. We're not experts, we don't rightly know.

There's this whole funding issue that we've got to address as well. First of all, the proposal in the State Legislature that would let cities besides Atlanta make their own transit authorities. We're in favor of that, assuming that the pols don't attach a bunch of silly riders on the bill as well. And we wouldn't mind adding an additional 0.25% sales tax to fund Athens Transit.

But we think it's worth a shot. So, as always, here's your call to action. Email your Commissioners, especially Elton D, who took a brave stand on poverty. Let 'em know how you feel.

Tips, scoops, gossip, unsubstantiated rumors? We're not picky. Send 'em here.

22 comments:

andyrusk said...

Like it or lump it, sooner or later, when petrol tops six or eight dollars a gallon... there's going to be whole lot more people standing around at the bus stop. Riding bikes and walking, too. Might as well prepare for this eventuality now, eh?

Been meaning to put up a little essay on just this topic over at my site, but have been mucho busy with work. Reckon I can start here.

Kudos to Alice Kinman for her sensible sidewalk ideas, and here's hoping that the M&C can find the resources to extend the bus service.
At the very least, as a public safety issue, a few latenight weekend routes going from downtown elsewhere might just save a few lives.
Where does the money come from? Not to toot my own horn, or anybody else's, but fueling our buses with biodiesel could save us a pile in day to day operating expenses and give us the financial flexibilty to adapt the bus system to better serve everyone.

Publius said...

Sorry, Andy. I meant to put in a plug for your biodiesel plan in the original post.

See it for yourself folks, at http://www.andyrusk.com

Sharon said...

A note to Any Rusk here on his biodiesel idea. I'm one of those people in town that drives a car that runs on vegetable oil and I know a little something about the whole biodiesel thing. You love to say how cheap it is, but your numbers don't add up. The 70ish cents you quote for biodiesel doesn't include the facility, workers, storage etc. The actual cost of biodiesel today is still higher than that of diesel fuel. A quick call to one of the few places that sell it, and you would know that that it currently runs $3.50 for a gallon. Please do your research. I'm on your side about switching but you lose all credibility when you make false and ridiculous statements.

RandomThoughts said...

I would LOVE to be able to ride the bus to work every day. And I would. I've done it in other large cities and loved it. Now I drive alone because there is no one near me to car pool. It is about 2 miles to the nearest bus stop from where I live although the buses come within two blocks of my house, they don't stop along there. Maybe the transit system should do a survey on how many more riders they would get if they just stopped at more places. They would get me for sure.

Ned said...

Personally I think there needs to be a section of Athens where they actively focus on making it an area where you can have a comfortable life without a car. Currently the only part of Athens where you can live without a car and still have easy access to groceries, restaurants, bars, laundromats, pharmacies and other daily needs is 5 points, which isn't the cheapest part of town to live in. If you live anywhere else in town you are pretty much screwed. The Boulevard area is fine if you are content with shopping at the Daily Grocery or hitting up the Kangaroo for snacks, but there isn't anything like a real grocery store in that area.

My hope for the future of Athens is that somehow we end up with a grocery store close to downtown near where the train station is going to be. I think that whole area could be very special if the government came out and said they wanted it to be a place where residents of Athens can live and be comfortable without owning a car.

I lived in Japan for a year without a car and used a bicycle for most of my transportation. I was healthier, didn't have to spend money on insurance/gas/maintenance, and I could get drunk and ride my bicycle home. Now I live in New Jersey(I know...this is a terrible thing!) and have a terrible 30-45 minute commute each way and I hate every moment of it.

I know it sounds strange and all, but perhaps things could work out for everyone if they just picked an area of Athens and said: "Hey Hippies, live here" and it was an area where you could live well without cars.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

It's not exactly designed for "hippies", but there is a huge mixed-use, new urbanism development set to begin building soon and very soon off of Barnett Shoals Road called Lakewood. It's eventually (over the course of 10 years, according to the plan) supposed to be a 219-unit mixed use development that will be walkable. Unfortunately, like many mixed-use developments, the focus seems to be on higher end housing, but unlike many of those the plan does specifically include lower-priced townhouses and condos. However, those are not included in the initial 42-unit development. Yours truly is considering the possibility of building there.

By the way, where was the huge objection to this development? I mean, in many ways its apples and oranges, and I obviously don't oppose the development, but it seems to me if the concern is curtailing development on the east side, a development of this size would have raised a few eyebrows at least. Maybe it did and I just wasn't aware. Or maybe it's because Barnett Shoals is already considered "lost" anyway. Just seems curious to me that out of Lakewood, Ansonborough, Cedar Pointe, and LPDS, LPDS is the only one to cause such a fuss.

hillary said...

Interestingly, I'd have to say where I live is pretty darn walkable, at least distance-wise. Being on the Eastside but close in, I am easily walking distance from several grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, and probably laundromats. The only thing that's really lacking is bars.

Not that more frequent buses wouldn't be nice. I have a 45-minute commute _on_ public transit.

Fishplate said...

Laying aside the issue of the percent of folks under the poverty level*, I would say that the start of a rational transit plan is to get the surrounding counties involved, whether they like it or not. And I won't tolerate anyone voicing the fear that mass transit brings crime into a neighborhood...when was the last time a mugger or burglar made his/her getaway by bus?

Once you get Oconee, Madison and Jackson on the Bus, then you can begin to develop a transit plan that is both useful and rational. Just think of riding a bus from the Park & Ride lot on the Watkinsville Bypass to work at UGA every day...imagine the traffic congestion and parking problems that such a route could relieve every day, if only we had a true vision of the way things ought to be...

Clarke County is the smallest county in the state, and still the Bus doesn't cover much of it...I tried to view ATS' site for some map references, but their domain registration expired on 16 October. I reckon nobody's noticed yet...still, a couple of routes out into surrounding counties would go a lot farther than another mall or WalMart route. For that matter, if I was WalMart in Oconee County, I'd volunteer to let the Park & Ride be in my lot...

(* OK, I had to say something...the Clarke County poverty rate is ~twice~ the national average - any idea why? Could it be related to the fact that of the population 3 years and over enrolled in school, 67.3% of them are in college or graduate school? I have no idea, but I wonder what the poverty level is when you remove those students...)

RandomThoughts said...

I disagree. I believe you have to start in Athens-Clarke and then move outward. Once we have a valuable, viable system surrounding counties will want to join in and the system will naturally evolve.

I do agree that it would be a smart move to let Park and Ride use your parking lot....

Jmac said...

The poverty level still hovers above 20 percent with students removed, and the inclusion of students in the census data is one of the weakest links in the 'poverty rate isn't really that high' argument. The majority of students are filtered out through the census study through university housing and other variables which people don't take into account. So the difference isn't as much as one would think.

I do, however, like your idea fishplate of incorporating surrounding counties into the transit system. It can help defer costs and get low-income people in Athens-Clarke County increased opportunities to reach jobs in places like Oconee County and Madison County.

The non-profit I work with assists homeless families, and one of our success stories almost ended badly because of this exact reason. Guy was a single father with two young children and, while in our network, got hired as a cook at a place in Oconee County. He doesn't own a car and relied on either friends or public transportation (which didn't go where he needed it to go ... though he often would ride and then walk). As a result, he was late to work often and his employer dismissed him.

Turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he found a job within the exisiting bus routes, but the point is made. Expanding service - along with earlier and later routes and cheaper fares - can help a lot of people who rely on public transportation to get to and from.

A lot of us here - myself included at times - wax poetic about public transportation because better service means we may use it at our leisure a little bit more. The reality is many low-income citizens who lack a vehicle of their own are dependent on public transportation.

Dawg Corleone said...

I like my car. I work two jobs so I can afford it. It gets me where I want to go. I can share or not share the ride as I choose. I go on my schedule, listen to my music (or not) as I choose. More often than not I don't have to worry about how badly the person sitting next to me smells because usually there's no one sitting next to me. I stop when I want; I go when I want, 24-7, 365.

I like to call it "freedom," and I'm able and willing to pay for it.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Good for you. Unfortunately, many others don't have that "freedom".

We have to decide as a community whether we're "able and willing" to pay for a transportation system that affords them the freedom to get to and from a job, health care services, etc., etc.

Not only that, we have to decide as a society whether we're able and willing to pay the economic, social and environmental cost of most of us exercising your version of "freedom" every single day.

Ned said...

I hate my car. I work just one job because working extra to pay for a way to get from point A to point B, and on weekends point C seems kind of retarded. When I ride the bus I get to choose what music I listen to, I can read a book(try doing that when you are driving), I stay healthier because I walk to and from the bus stop.

A car may give you freedom, but a public transportation that works gives everybody a ton of freedom without having to work a 2nd job just to pay for it.

Publius said...

Corleone, that would be a fan-freakin'-tastic argument, if we were talking about somehow eliminating or hampering your ability to drive. But we aren't.

This is about options. I love my car too, and Lord knows I worked hard enough to afford the thing. And I like listening to my music, controlling my climate, and smoking a cigarette or two on my way from point A to point B. What I don't like is gas prices, and to a lesser extent, traffic.

Even if Athens Transit ran near my barrio and stopped at times that were convenient, I probably still wouldn't take the bus everywhere, but I'd certainly take it more often.

Don't worry, pal. No one wants to take your car away. As I mentioned before, this about creating more options for those who do have a car, and about providing just a single, workable option for those without.

Now that's what I call freedom.

hillary said...

Is the point car vs. public transportation? Or is it more that there is room for both?

Dawg Corleone said...

I don't think you want to take my car away. I worry that you won't let me build any new roads, or 3-lane the 4-lane roads we have now, or slap a three dollar per gallon tax on gas so we can fund research into whale fart fuel.

There's plenty of gas, there's plenty of oil, there's plenty of room for roads and plenty of demand for them, to boot. Anyone who says different is a Luddite who should have his 21st Century membership privileges revoked.

And anyone who wants to add to the gas tax for any reason whatsover might as well wear a big t-shirt that reads "I'm in favor of a downturn in the economy that will cost lots of jobs, maybe even yours."

Publius said...

Interesting, in the same post, you accuse people of being Luddites, and criticize research into new fuels by using an example so grossly exaggerated that, well...metaphors fail me this morning. But nonetheless you're exaggerating.

But hey, I'm bored, so I'll actually answer some of what you said. Now, going off the ABH article, I don't see anything at all in there about a raise in the gas tax. In fact, the article says, "House Resolution 168, which would hold a referendum on letting local governments outside metro Atlanta create MARTA-style transit authorities that can levy sales taxes to fund public transportation."

Sales tax =/= gas tax. The 0.25 percent sales tax that is mentioned in the ABH means that if you scamper out to Best Buy and spend $100 on consumer goods (books, computer games, Justin Timberlake cds, or what have you), your total (prior to the 0.25% tax) would be $107.00. After the sales tax addition to fund public transportation, you'd be shelling out $107.25. La dee frickin' da.

As far as building new roads, here's what I'll say. Last I checked, they weren't making buses with four-wheel drive and muddin' tires. Buses, emergency vehicles, and oh yeah, your personal car too, still have to have roads.

I'm scared they'll stop building new roads! All those evil buses are going to stop the development and repair of crucial infrastructure!

Please.

But you're right on one thing. Raising the gas tax would be bad for the economy right now.

Dawg Corleone said...

I believe alternative transportation is deciding which of my SUVs to drive.

Jmac said...

I wonder if corleone has ever composed a coherent argument in his life. Doesn't seem to be doing a bang-up job here.

Listen partner, I'm uber-proud of you for owning all sorts of cars and trucks and what-have-you. It's a free country so you can spend and own and splurge and waste until your little heart is content.

But it's an absolutely ridiculous argument to even suggest that increased spending on public transportation - more than likely through fixed revenues designated for that expenditure (i.e. fares, etc.) - would somehow decrease funding for roads. You apparently haven't been watching the news and seen how much money the state is pouring into renovating the 316 interchange with I-85 ... that sucker is going up by the second.

Folks drive cars more than they drive buses, and folks need safe roads to drive on. Even this public transportation you disdain shares these roads, so have no fear ... money will keep flowing for roads from all levels of government.

Now as to your bold assertion that our supplies of gas and oil are plentiful ... it seems to me you apparently have never taken a basic economics or geology class. Oil is a finite resource. There is only so much of it to go around. When there is a small - and ever-growing smaller - supply of it, coupled with an increasing demand, the price of it will go up.

The U.S. economy - and the global economy for that matter - is built on the false assumption that the oil supply will only increase. But as anyone on the planet could tell you, it will only decrease.

Currently the U.S. uses roughly 100 billion barrels of oil a year - roughly 1/5 of global demand. Add to this the rapidly growing economies in India and China which are aggressively moving into the energy market, and you're got more hands at the table fighting over what's on the plate. Plus, in the next 25 years, the economies of South American and Africa stand to grow stronger meaning there will be increased demand from those countries as well.

So what you're doing is perpetuating nothing more than a grand myth - and, by the way, the mantra of the current administration - by merely closing your eyes, ignoring the evidence and pretending everything is going to be OK.

Sure, we've got enough oil for now (higher costs aside), but we don't have enough oil forever.

Now you may not be trying to make a coherent argument and engage us in a rational dialogue. If not, and you're merely trying to be an ass, well then kudos to you.

Dawg Corleone said...

In 1913, our federal gov't declared that we would deplete the world's oil supplies in a decade. A similar pronouncement came in 1938, and, a few decades later, from Jimmy Carter himself.

Today, oil supplies are still viable, though Jimmy Carter is not.

Doomsayers will always have an audience. Hell, people are still quoting Paul "We'll All Starve To Death by the Mid '80s" Ehrlich as if he had not been, in fact, entirely discredited. You don't sell books or get on CNN by saying all is well.

But for every scientist who gets his name on the front page of the NY Times by saying my next fill-up will be my last, I can find you another scientist who will tell you that we have only begun to scratch the surface of available oil reserves. And I can even find you some who say oil is, indeed, a renewable resource and that we're creating it all the time.

I don't know. I just know that every time someone says we're running out, we don't run out. Every time the price goes up, it comes back down again (would that gov't welfare programs worked on the same model). Using today's dollars, we were paying more than $400 for oil in the 1860s.

Over the decades, we've gotten smarter about finding it and getting it out of the ground, and if the Left would sit down and shut up we could be a lot smarter about where we got it out of the ground, as well.

I think we'll keep getting smarter. We always have.

In the meantime, I'll drive what I want and pay my own way, and you can keep lobbying the taxpayers to pick up the tab for your trips.

Jmac said...

I'll give you props for engaging me in discussion corleone, even though I still disagree with you over a variety of things. But let me clarify one I thing I incorrectly quoted.

The U.S. consumes 7 billion barrels of oil a year, not the 500 billion I had cited earlier. I got numbers wrong in all of my citations apparently.

But I still find your arguments uncompelling. For instance, simply because you say that some folks said in 1913 oil would run out (and it didn't) and that some folks said in 1938 it would run out (and it didn't) and that some folks said in the 1970s it would run out (and it didn't) doesn't make your argument valid. If oil ran out tomorrow, it doesn't make the person would said it would any more right than the person who said it would in 1913.

Aside from some odd logic on your part, the technological advancements that have come in existence since 1913 (and even the 1970s) can help show us exactly how much oil is left. I agree with you 100 percent about the wonders of what the human race has been granted the ability to achieve technologically, as I do about the ability to stretch out existing oil supplies further (through things like hybrid cars).

Even the statistical arguments for the strong oil supply theory do more, in my humble opinion, to defeate their argument than the opposition. The most generous estimations say that Alaska contains 18 billion barrels of currently off-limits oil with an additional 30 billion barrels off our shores along the eastern coast. That's 48 billion barrels which we would plow through in 10 to 20 years. That's a short-term fix at best.

There are oil fields to be tapped in Alberta and in South America, but the problem again is the efficiency of our technology to extract that cheaply and effectively (we don't use all of the oil we pull out, remember). Plus, as I argued earlier, there are simply more consumers lining up to get a piece of the pie. China and India have rapidly growing energy appetites, and the development of African and South American economies will put a greater strain on the existing supply.

The rate of producing oil depends directly on the fraction of oil that has not yet been produced - and the more oil we take out, the more money it will cost to extract it.

Make no mistake - I'm no doomsday guy here. We have enough oil to satisfy our needs for the immediate future and our economy is able to absorb the increase in prices. But it is simply foolish to think that it is smart policy to literally bank our entire economy on a finite resource that will eventually be exhausted, will put an ever-growing strain our on economy, makes us dependent on foreign economies (including some hostile ones) and also is harmful to the environment.

As for bus service, it's difficult to argue with someone who fails to share a notion of the common good. Or someone who fails to recognize there are honest, hard-working people who don't have the economic means to own a car.

I drive what I want and I pay my own way as well. And I'll keep encouraging our society to share the responsibility of assisting all segments of our society and not this odd Social Darwinism you apparently subscribe to.

Anonymous said...

social darwinism? how 'bout elitist pigism? everybody pick an ism, they're going fast, here!
Come on. If the rich didn't have a vested interest in keeping the poor dependant on them transportation and funding for it right along with healthcare and education would be non-issues.
Clearly rich folks want only to keep making more money, and to keep it, no matter what it costs taxpayers. The myth of the small government republican is indeed a myth. What republicans really want is for us to pony up the food stamps, subsidized housing, medical coverage AND transportation that make it possible for them to continue to work people (who they then blame somehow for needing jobs in the first place) at sub-living wages. The rich are great at calling us commies when we point out that we are the ones that are actually paying for their hummers... and private "christian" aka "all white" schools. Where, by the way, Brian Kemp sends his kids... as he should! How else would he raise members of the entitled class to exploit everyone else properly?
Give me a break. Transit is the way, and it is going to be okay if it actually starts running during public meetings and forums in A-CC. Really, if Tom gets elected (Goddess forbid) he doesn't want any of we rabble rousing poor folks able to attend the meetings! And so the ruling class will continue to deny participation in government to we the people who pay for everything they have. With our blood sweat and tears. Can anyone say "economic slavery"?

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