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Shifting the Costs of Public Transit

During the MAS panel on Wednesday evening, Don Phillips predicted that California would be first state to develop high-speed rail. “They are ten years ahead of us in most things, including rail,” he said. The lack of federal support for rail has been a consistent theme in our recent coverage, but across the country “smart cities and states” are getting creative in how they fund rail – including California. So how is California doing it? Planetizen has a brand new podcast on how California is “shifting the costs of public transit to drivers.” Sound familiar?
Greenhouse gases – those pollutants that are being blamed for heating up the planet and destroying the environment – are increasingly on the minds of politicians. Outlawing them isn’t a realistic option, and entirely removing them from the atmosphere is impossible. So, many lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases people produce. A major source of these greenhouse gas emissions is the automobile, and cities across the country and around the world are coming around to the idea that cutting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions means cutting the amount of cars on the road. For many, this means improving public transit. But while the idea of improving public transit is easy to think, funding those improvements is not so easy to actually do. So some municipalities are looking at new and innovative approaches to raising the massive funding required to run and improve public transit systems. These new approaches all revolve around a central idea: tack on some extra fees or taxes to everyday activities like driving and shopping and use that money to pay for transit and other transportation projects. From road tolling to congestion pricing to increases in sales taxes, lawmakers are getting creative in their attempts to generate funding and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In California, a bill in the state assembly is seeking to create the option for Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to place a new fee before voters that would help fund the county’s public transportation system as well as programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Assemblymember Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat and author of Assembly Bill 2558, says voters are ready to pay the price their driving habits are costing the environment.