More in Community Voices:
By Kat Gray–
The Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA) board is currently considering alternative transportation expenditure plans for a proposed new countywide sales tax measure for the November ballot.
This proposal would double the existing transportation sales tax from half a cent to a full cent, which is still much less than the 1.5 cent taxes in the Bay area and Los Angeles. This new sales tax measure would generate about $8.2 billion over 40 years and is necessary to fund critical transportation projects, with priority given to maintaining and fixing existing roads and modernizing Sacramento Regional Transit’s (SacRT) public transit system.
The STA is carefully considering polling results, community feedback, as well as business interests in drafting the plan. How the funds should best be spent is hotly debated, and rightly so, as this affects all of us.
Of particular interest is which percentage of the ‘pie’ should go to public transportation? This has been the source of much discussion, both behind the scenes and openly at STA board meetings. A coalition of civic, business, community, and business leaders — Sacramento Metro Advocates for Rail and Transit — believes it is important that the local elected officials who comprise the STA board approach these discussions with open minds, clear objectives, and base their decisions on available data and performance standards.
Unfortunately, Supervisor Sue Frost’s op ed last month falls short of the mark. It is counterproductive and disappointing when an elected official approaches an important decision, such as this one, with such an obvious bias as to use skewed statistics and objectives.
Frost’s article contains inaccuracies, fails to acknowledge the benefits of transit, relies on data from auto-centric sources such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and TRIP, and minimizes the STA’s own polling results that rank local traffic congestion as a significant concern for voters to instead fixate on dismissing transit, a significant part of our existing transportation system.
Frost fails to consider the role that improved transit plays in reducing traffic congestion. Studies have shown that for every one percent increase in transit use during peak periods, there is actually a five percent reduction in traffic congestion.
Transit plays an important role during peak travel periods. According to Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT), one bus has the capacity to take 60 cars off the road, one light rail vehicle takes 100 cars off the road, and a light rail train can take up to 600 cars off the road. Thus, freeway traffic would be even worse and even more people would be making trips by car resulting in far worse congestion — if not for transit.
Supervisor Frost may not personally value transit, as evidenced in her article, but it is important for voters to know that light rail tracks last longer, require less maintenance than paved road surfaces, carry more travelers per square foot, and are a better investment for tax payers. Investment in more bus routes only increases ridership, taking more cars off the road and reducing traffic injuries and fatalities both on the freeway and on residential/commercial corridors.
Frost also claims that transit travel is only 1% of total weekday trips. This claim is inaccurate. The 1% figure she cites is from a report of data from SACOG’s 2018 travel survey of 4,010 households located in the entire six-county SACOG region, including large rural areas with currently little to no transit availability.
According to SACOG’s 2017 Sacramento Area Regional Progress Report, the share of workers taking public transit has remained stable in the region, ranging from about 2.5 to 2.7 percent. STA’s proposed measure only applies to Sacramento County, and, according to SacRT, which serves most of the county, its ridership increased by close to 6% in 2019.
Frost also misled readers when she indicated that the STA’s draft plan proposed up to 50% funding to transit. Not a single draft proposed this much to transit, the draft plan proposed 41%. Currently the STA has backed away from this allocation, providing only 38.5% for SacRT, leaving the SacRT Board of Directors with difficult future decisions for either maintaining fare subsidies for seniors, students, and disabled residents or expanding bus, micro transit, and light trail services.
It is counterproductive and disappointing when an elected official approaches an important decision, such as this one, with such an obvious bias as to misrepresent statistics and or not locate what is easily available.
Voters should consider that mass transit and improving our roads, are the most important parts of the overall solution to reducing traffic congestion, increasing safety, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, meeting our local air quality mandates, and providing affordable transportation alternative options to families.
Vehicles are expensive to maintain and operate. Mass transit is a critical resource to the average family looking to reduce transportation costs and the public is catching on.
Kat Gray is a Transit Advocate with Sacramento Metro Advocates for Rail and Transit (SMART).
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