The Yin and the Yang of Senior Transit in Atlanta

First there was Yin in the AJC:

Metro Atlanta seniors beware:  By 2015, 90 percent of area residents 65 and older are expected to live in neighborhoods with poor or nonexistent access to mass transit.  That’s the worst showing among metropolitan areas with more than 3 million people, according to a new study released Tuesday, “Aging in Place: Stuck Without Options.”

The study was conducted by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and released by Transportation for America, groups that advocate for sustainable development.

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According to the American Association of Retired Persons, when older people lose transportation options they make 15 percent fewer trips to the doctor and far fewer trips to family, friends and other places.

The groups called for a federal investment in mass transit expansion.

You can read the whole Yin here.

Then there was Yang from the CATO Institute:

Most seniors don’t ride transit. Census data show that more than 12.5 percent of all Americans are over 65, yet data from the American Public Transportation Association show that only 6.7 percent of transit trips are taken by senior citizens. The average American rides transit less than 34 times a year; the average senior citizen less than 18 times a year.

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Transportation for America wants transit agencies to extend frequent bus or rail service to every remote suburb where there might be a few people over 65 — not because those people want to ride transit, but to simply give them “options.” In order to pay for service extensions to suburbs, many transit agencies have reduced transit service in the central cities where most transit riders are actually located. As a result, since 1985, per-capita transit ridership has plummeted in such major urban areas as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Congress expects to pass legislation this year that will decide how to spend $40 billion in annual federal gas tax revenues over the next six years. In recent years, 20 percent of those gas taxes have been spent on transit. Transportation for America’s goal is to further increase that share. But after decades of huge transit subsidies, per-capita transit ridership today is no greater than it was in 1970 — mainly because the subsidies have focused on extending transit service to those who don’t need it rather than providing better service to those who do.

Americans will be better off by privatizing transit. Private operators will provide better service to those willing to live in denser, transit-friendly neighborhoods without wasting a lot of money trying to attract a few suburbanites out of their cars.

You can read the whole Yang here.

I remember attending a transportation charade charrette once where I had a discussion about senior transportation with Alpharetta’s Director of Engineering and Public Works, Pete Sewczwicz. Pete suggested that it would good if the city of Alpharetta could use excess capacity in shopping center parking lots as transit stops for seniors that weren’t able to drive to the doctor’s office. I then pointed out to Pete that if seniors couldn’t drive to the doctor’s office they couldn’t drive to the shopping center either and it was doubtful they would be walking the several miles from their homes to catch a bus.

As the Yang points out, most seniors have no intention of giving up their cars and the only transit helpful to those unable to drive is the kind that picks them up at their house. MARTA already spends millions providing door-to-door transportation for some elderly residents but Georgia’s taxpayers simply can’t be expected to provide door-to-door transportation for every senior citizen in the metro Atlanta area. It might be nice if every senior citizen could get free transportation but unfortunately the service wouldn’t be free, it would be paid for by taxpayers that are already facing 10% unemployment in the worst economic environment of our lifetimes.

Yin may seem like a sympathetic cause but government’s attempt to provide for every possible need of its citizens is simply not sustainable nor desirable. Put me down for Yang on this one.

Kyle Wingfield: “One conservative’s approach to mass transit: Control costs”

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield has a great column on the astronomical expense of public transit projects. Read the whole thing here.

This is a sample:

  • For a five-phase light rail line parallel to I-85, from Doraville to the Gwinnett Arena: $70 million per mile.
  • For a combination heavy- and light-rail line from the Lindbergh MARTA station to Emory University, $92 million per mile.
  • Some kind of “fixed guideway” transit — light rail or possibly bus rapid transit — from Doraville across the top end of I-285 to the Cobb Galleria area, at $67 million per mile