Monday, April 20, 2015

Transit opponents reach new low in quest to fight bus

I thought I was well versed in the myriad reasons people pull from their hat to oppose an expansion of transit. Thanks to a very helpful link provided by a comment in my recent post about a new bus service linking Fresno and Yosemite, I see I was wrong; there is much to learn about transit opposition. It really is fascinating how deep people will go to find a way to oppose even the most rudimentary improvement to transit(5 round trips a day).

The comment linked to a well written article in the Sierra Star about the new bus service. As a newspaper based in Oakhurst, they are by far the authority on happenings in the area, and were able to go into much greater detail than the Fresno-based news outlets on the new service. Part of that coverage included a history of opposition.

Before we get to the opposition, let's take a quick look at the reason why the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) wants to start the service:

“I have always thought that service on Highway 41 was a no-brainer,” Whittington said. “You have the largest city in the valley with the largest international airport in the valley, with Amtrak and Greyhound connections at one end of Highway 41, and Yosemite National Park on the other end, which now has four million visitors a year. A woman who works at the information booth at the Fresno airport told me she has people who often come to her asking about getting on a bus to Yosemite, saying they can’t drive, and she has to say, ‘Go downtown to Amtrak and go to Merced.’ How can that be good for anyone’s business in Madera County or Fresno County?”
Simple enough.The article also provides a bunch of other reasons to support the bus as well.

Now onto the innovative opposition!

We'll start with your run-of-the mill opposition, which trots out for anything transit related.

Opposition 1: Tea Party Logic

“Eighty-five percent of YARTS’ operating budget comes from the taxpayers,” former Oakhurst resident Lou Aceto said. “In the Tea Party, one goal is fiscal responsibility and to terminate grants for YARTS. If you’re a true Conservative or Tea Partier, then get rid of all these transit programs which are not profitable.”

Your standard "all taxes are bad" language. Not innovative at all. Quite logical of course, because we're talking about a subsidized bus running from a subsidized transportation terminal (Amtrak and Airport) to a subsidized National Park, via a subsidized institution (Fresno State), on a subsidized highway system (Highway 41), but the bus is the monster. Really though, cookie cutter stuff. 

Let's move on to the first of the head scratchers:

Opposition 2: It encourages less cars
“I still feel the National Park Service (NPS) intends to remove all automobile traffic from the valley,” Aceto said. “The immediate plan is to greatly reduce traffic there, by restricting automobile use ... and encouraging visitors to leave their automobiles at parking areas with bus service to the valley.”
Yes, the above comment is OPPOSITION to the bus, as it encourages people to park away from the famously beautiful and ecologically sensitive valley. I assume because that's an attack on freedom, and maybe Agenda 21?

Back to your standard opposition line: 

Opposition 3: No one will use it.
“YARTS is still bad for the taxpayers and Madera County,” Madera County Supervisor Rick Farinelli said recently. “Madera County Transportation Commission ran a study that showed that Madera County residents have no interest in riding YARTS, and it looks like that lack of interest remains high. Because of this, it is still highly subsidized by taxpayers. It’s a foreshadowing of the coming High Speed Rail debacle, if it’s (high speed rail) ever finished."
Standard line about lack of use. Of course, YARTS has years of real data on ridership on their other lines, and Amtrak sells 13,000 bus tickets a year to Yosemite, but alas, the gut instinct is strong. 

Moving on...

Opposition 4: Actually, some people will use it, but we don't care about them
“That statement (Madera County transit buses, though subsidized, provide a vital resource to Madera’s poorest citizens)  cannot be made about YARTS, which provides recreational access and employee shuttling – two purposes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for,”

Hm, so screw the park employees (who are not well paid at all), and screw people who dare enjoy a national resource.  Ok, fair enough, your "I have mine, screw you" response.

Now the REAL party begins! 

Opposition 5: Too many people will use it and that will kill local business

“The family road trip to Yosemite is the lifeblood of the local economies surrounding the park. Cars on their way to the park visit our shops, eat at our restaurants, and purchase gas at our stations. The taxpayer-subsidized operation and promotion of YARTS takes those travelers out of their cars and onto buses that pass Madera County by without stopping. That’s why most of the area’s businesses and chambers remain opposed to the system.”

Wait, what? This is the same guy who said nobody will ride the bus! He literally just said that! But now so many people will ride the bus rather than take their cars that the areas businesses are screwed!

Now let's think about this for a minute. 5 buses a day means, at most, 250 people. Yosemite sees over 10,000 visitors a day. The bus, quite frankly, is not significant. On the other hand, the car traffic is significant, and I'm sure local residents hate going up the mountain at 20mph.

Secondly, the bus riders are likely people who could not or would have visited the park before due to lack of vehicle or unwillingness to drive hours on mountain roads. You know, elderly folks, disabled people, people of lower incomes, or those who just rather be car-free. They were never stopping for gas anyway!

Oh, and not to mention they do plan to stop the bus at those towns along the way! 

Continuing on to the innovative opposition:

Opposition 6: The bus experience sucks

State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, then a member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors and the county transportation board, said busing would not promote a meaningful experience for Mountain Area and Yosemite visitors, and still feels the same today. “Busing will herd visitors between set locations like cattle, and will take away from leisurely travel time that helps the local economy, giving tourists more flexibility to shop and dine,” Bigelow said

This one is a new low for me. And I thought opposition point 5 was as deep as they could go. We shouldn't have a bus because we need to protect people from the horrendous experience of relaxing to and from a strenuous day of hiking? You can't make this stuff up!

What is amazing is that all these opposition points were repeated in an opinion letter than ran the next day in the paper.

My favorite line:
Since when is it the tax payers' responsibility to pay for transportation to doctor appointments, visit families, and get subsidized fares to and from airports for entertainment on the backs of tax payers?
Heavens forbid that our elderly population have a transportation option to reach the docto!

I didn't understand why the bus service between Fresno and Yoesmite didn't previously exist. I assumed it was your standard budget fight, I had no idea it went so deep. It really is scary how many hoops people will jump through to oppose a bus.

8 comments:

  1. As a retired bus service planner (not in California, I've heard it all. The most extreme (while trying to improve bus service in a suburban neighborhood):

    "They will get off the bus, rob our homes, abduct our children, and then escape on the next bus."

    (It was not at all clear who "they" were; but I can imagine what was in that suburban housewife's mind.)

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  2. As a retired bus service planner (not in California, I've heard it all. The most extreme (while trying to improve bus service in a suburban neighborhood):

    "They will get off the bus, rob our homes, abduct our children, and then escape on the next bus."

    (It was not at all clear who "they" were; but I can imagine what was in that suburban housewife's mind.)

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    1. The "thieves all use transit" thing seems to be a classic bizarro meme from the loony anti-transit fringe.

      [Anyone remember BigDon and "LOOT rail" from the transit newsgroups back in the day? Also, apocryphally that was one of the reasons for the original opposition to a DC Metro stop in Georgetown...]

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  3. It would be interesting to see a study done on the used of transit currently by foothill and mountain residents. I understand that nearly half of the ridership of the casino buses -er- "shuttles" are actual residents that are commuting into Fresno and surrounding communities and have no connection with employment or entertainment with the casinos that offer this service.

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  4. Since you wrote about EV charging stations in a previous post two months ago, I thought you might be interested in this:

    "Fresno State will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. to celebrate the opening of six electric vehicle charging (EVC) stations on campus."
    http://collegian.csufresno.edu/2015/04/30/electric-vehicle-charging-stations-coming-to-fresno-state/

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    1. Yeah I saw that in the paper. Its good to see...but the location is poor (within the campus), and you have to pay for your time AND for your electricity

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  5. A little off-topic (not sure how else to contact you), but James Fallows has been writing about Fresno and the upcoming "de-pedestrianization" of its downtown:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/could-more-room-for-cars-actually-help-a-downtown-the-unexpected-argument-yes/392285/

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    Replies
    1. Comments are a good contact place! Thanks for the link

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