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Republicans will pay for Bush's bad transit policies

By Daniel G. Jennings
web posted October 6, 2003

Many Republican politicians are going to pay dearly for President George W. Bush's naive and poorly thought-out transit policies. Bush's transit policy is so outdated and badly designed that it could drive loyal Republican voters fed up with smog, high-fuel prices and gridlock to vote for Democrats that they loathe, simply because the Democrats are willing to build light rail lines.

At the prodding of highway interests and self-proclaimed experts working for highway interests the Bush Administration is pushing something called "Bus Rapid Transit" instead of the successful and popular rail transit. Bush's policy of promoting bus-only transit may sound great to wealthy politicos who drive new Mercedes and don't have to punch a time clock, but it won't appeal to ordinary Americans who are stuck in traffic in their used Toyotas and late for work.

One politician who may learn this lesson quickly is Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Earlier this year, Ehrlich helped derail plans to build the Purple Line (a light rail line in the Washington D.C. suburbs of Silver Spring and Bethesda, Md.). Instead state transportation experts are pushing something called the Bi-County Transitway, a bus-only line that would run along Interstate 410 (The Gazette Sept. 24, 2003, www.gazette.net).

Maryland Democrats have already come out with guns blazing and set their sights squarely on the transitway. City Councilman Bruce Williams of Takoma Park, Md. labeled the transitway an "unfunded mandate." He noted that the only way buses could run through the city at the speeds needed to provide transit service would be to provide police cars with sirens blaring to escort the buses ("Elected officials blast transitway idea", The Gazette, Sept. 24, 2003). Some Democrat state legislators have gone even farther accusing Ehrlich of opposing the Purple Line because it would cross the tony Columbia Country Club.

By going along with Bus Rapid Transit Ehrlich and other Republicans are playing right into the hands of the Democrats. They behave like the rich white bad guys giving the average person the shaft for the sake of special interest money. Maryland residents stuck in traffic on the 410 and wondering why there isn't an alternative like the Washington Metro subway get a clear message: The Democrats are willing to do something about transportation while the Republicans are willing to fight for the lousy status quo because it helps them get a few campaign contributions.

In virtually every American city where new rail transit systems have been constructed over the past thirty years overall mass transit ridership has increased. In many cities with rail transit, voters have been willing to pass tax increases to pay for more rail transit. At the same time, ridership on bus-only transit systems has fallen or remained stagnant. (See the Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind Free Congress Foundation, Washington, DC 2001, for more details.)

Just one particularly horrendous example from Washington DC, should show conservatives how terrible a policy Bus Rapid Transit is. In 1970 the Shirley Busway (a prototypical example of Bus Rapid Transit) opened on I-90 to serve the Pentagon, Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. Ridership on this line fell by 70 percent in the 1980s. Yet when Washington's Metrorail opened a new line in the same area ridership jumped by 450 percent even though the rail service was slower and cost more than the bus service. (Twelve Anti Transit Myths, page 18)

This example comes from a conservative and largely Republican suburban region. The average conservative Republicans in Northern Virginia embraced rail transit but abandoned bus transit. Nor is Northern Virginia the only area with many conservative Republicans where average people have embraced rail transit. The new rail systems in Salt Lake City and Denver, also areas with many Republicans, have attracted thousands of new riders. (Twelve Anti-Transit Myths)

The facts are obvious: Rail transit is popular with voters and riders alike, buses and Bus Rapid Transit are not. The question is, when will Republicans wake up and see what kind of transportation the American public prefers? I imagine it'll be when a popular and successful Republican loses his or her seat because he or she opposed rail and tried to push Bus Rapid Transit on voters who didn't want it in the first place.

Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in five states.

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