Opinion

COVID-19 Offers an Opportunity to Make a Permanent Investment in Public Transportation

I once asked a sixteen-year-old Mercedes-owning friend what he thought of public transportation, and — I know, shocker — he immediately flared his nostrils, as if he could already smell the nauseating scent of a public bus. After a moment of reflection, he was able to recompose himself from the traumatic idea of setting foot on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and putting the idea far from his mind, smile.

    It took some convincing, but a few discussions later, I was able to show him that public transportation is the better option. Only one question remained. “Why on earth should I pay to take the bus?

Until recently, the fare to ride AC Transit was $2.35 for adults, and for youth/seniors/disabled riders, a ticket was $1.15. This may not seem like a lot, but to put it into perspective, a child taking the bus to and from home every day of the year would end up paying over eight hundred dollars. Fortunately, during the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, AC Transit has completely stopped charging its passengers. AC Transit must continue using this system even after a vaccine is found and the social restrictions of this pandemic are lifted. 

Although currently only a limited number of passengers are allowed on a bus due to social distancing regulations, we can assume that the buses will go back to being full, with almost every seat taken, once the pandemic is over. Ideally, passengers won’t have to pay a cent to ride the bus. 

What sensible person would say no to a completely free means of travel, especially if it’s helping save the earth? As shown in a 2010 study by the US Department of Transportation, on average, riding a bus emits about 33 percent less greenhouse gasses than a single occupancy vehicle. Even if it’s just local distance being covered, the amount of carbon emission that could be reduced by removing a couple buses’ worth of cars from the road would be remarkable. 

Although there are several points of concern relating to this idea, many of the most prominent arguments against making AC Transit fares permanently free — such as concerns over bus quality and drivers pay — can be solved by the same solution: government funding. According to a study by the California Budget Center, our state government spends about fifty  billion dollars a year on law enforcement. If a fraction of that money could instead be spent on public transportation, we would find there to be practically no problem paying the employees, and in regards to the cleanliness of the buses, well, the more people take them, the more of a public push there would be on the state government to ensure that the buses stay clean. This could, in turn, allow for more job openings. Free public transportation could also ensure a minimized number of vehicles on the road, and therefore a lesser need for traffic police.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the bigger picture. Climate change is one of today’s most urgent issues, and it’s one that affects us all, no matter how old you are, how much money you have, or where you live. We all grow up wanting to save the world, and now that we have a chance to, we need to take it. So the next time you wake up to go to work or school, ditch the Mercedes and instead, ride your local bus.

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