Frances Woolley has ably pointed out that modern public transit systems try to fulfil three mutually-antagonistic (probably not mutually exclusive) goals: Getting poor people to and from work cheaply; getting affluent people to and from work in what we all hope is a more environmentally-friendly way than single-occupancy SUVs; and providing safe and comfortable jobs for public-sector unionized employees.
By way of Reason‘s Nick Gillespie, we discover this article at Salon by Will Doig. Doig is upset by the sort of thing Gillespie writes about D.C.’s bike-sharing programme, whose demographics are overwhelmingly affluent, white, and highly educated — maybe not a tax-funded transportation programmer for the 1%, but easily a transfer to the 5%. Doig first points out the problem:
The ReasonTV report was prompted by a survey that showed 95 percent of the system’s regular users have college degrees, four-fifths are white, and only 7 percent make less than $25,000 a year. This ridership obviously doesn’t reflect the demographics of Washington, D.C. Despite this, the system has received $16 million in subsidies — $1 million of which was earmarked for transportation to benefit low-income residents.
And then airily waves it away:
It’s an argument that’s carefully calculated to befuddle people who are used to arguing against inequality, and who typically rage against the idea of government handouts for the well-off. Suddenly, bikeshare users are being asked to justify a publicly funded system that’s not used by everybody equally.
Except that we don’t have to justify it, because it’s public transportation.
You should click through to verify that I didn’t truncate that last paragraph, editing away context to make it look bad. “We don’t have to justify it, because it’s public transportation” might be the most breathtakingly honest retort to a regressive transfer I’ve ever seen. But while “It’s a shibboleth, now shut up” might be an honest statement of position, it’s not a particularly good argument.