Transit helps the poor and helps us all
In his op-ed, John Burns argues that passing Proposition A will benefit Washington University at the expense of the poor. But in reality, the cuts in service that will result from not passing Prop A will hurt the poor most of all.
Every day, more than 100,000 people use Metro services to commute to work and school and to get around the city. In particular, Metro helps people who do not own and cannot afford cars, many of whom are urban, working-class people who rely on Metro to get to their jobs. The Call-A-Ride service provides transportation to the elderly and disabled, many of whom have no other viable transportation options. If Prop A does not pass, Metro will be forced to cut back on bus routes and provide less-frequent MetroLink service, and the people who rely on Metro may be unable to continue relying on it. In addition, Metro employs many St. Louis residents, some of whom would be laid off if Prop A were not to pass.
Burns asserts that Prop A is a regressive tax that would hurt the poor. But this small increase in the sales tax rate (half of a percentage point increase in St. Louis County) would have very little impact compared to the negative economic effects of cutting Metro services. Since some bus routes may be cut, people who rely on these routes to commute would have to find a new way to get to work—probably by buying a car—and if this is not economically feasible, they might be fired or have to quit their jobs. In addition to Metro’s positive impact on individuals, the transit system helps spur the economy by promoting development in the areas surrounding MetroLink stops. Saint Louis University economists have estimated that every dollar invested in Metro transit operations returns $6 to the local economy. Not passing Prop A would have far worse impacts on the economy than a small increase in the sales tax would.
St. Louis city residents passed a similar initiative in 1997, and if Prop A passes, it will bring in $80 million in tax revenue, allowing Metro to restore service previously cut in 2009 and to expand service. This would not be a tax increase voted on by the county and imposed on the city, but rather a resolute commitment to transit voted on by all those whom the Metro services affect.
In addition to the economic and social benefits of adequately funding Metro, there are enormous environmental benefits to doing so. Having a far-reaching public-transit system allows people to drive less, thereby decreasing their consumption of fossil fuels. It is estimated that a household can reduce its carbon footprint by 25 to 30 percent if one person makes the switch from a commute via car to a commute via public transit. Such environmental benefits are only possible if the transportation system is adequately funded and has frequent service.
In conclusion, public transportation helps us all. It helps students get to school and explore the city. It helps working people commute to their jobs. It helps the elderly and disabled live independent, mobile lives. It helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It helps the local economy grow and prosper. Most of all, public transportation helps the poor, who do not have the resources to pay for other, more costly transportation options. In addition to contemplating how voting in favor of Prop A would benefit your own life, consider how it would benefit the lives of many St. Louis residents and Metro employees. Every successful, vibrant major city has an extensive public transportation system, and St. Louis should be no exception.
Amy is a junior in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].