(Editor’s Note: This week Fox and Hounds is running a five part series by Norm King dealing with transportation issues based on his years of experience as a city manager and transportation consultant)

Willingness to fund transit is up; willingness to use it is down.

Be realistic about the impossibility of increasing taxes enough to increase transit ridership sufficiently to make a measurable impact on the environment or mobility.

Transit is highly subsidized by non-users. Transit users pay on average around 25% of the operating cost and nothing for capital costs, which for rail is at least 50% of the total lifetime cost of producing a transit trip. Even with unlikely hefty fare increases paid by transit passengers, new transit investment will occur only by the willingness of those who don’t or rarely take transit to pay more for transit investment.

The most recent 20 year Regional Transportation Plan adopted by SCAG projects using around 55% of total transportation funds to support transit. Think about it. If we are spending over 50% of our resources to capture less than 5% of the total trip market share how much more will have to be spent to increase ridership by 20%, the increase needed to achieve a 6% market share?

If transit ridership is to increase at all, much less nearly quadrupling, a task which would be necessary to meet Metro’s CEO Phillip Washington’s goal to convert 20-25% of the county’s population into regular transit riders, most new riders will have to be “choice” riders. Choice passengers, those who have access to a car and yet choose to ride transit, presently constitute less than 20% of Metro ridership. Because the non-choice market is saturated, in order to achieve just a 10% overall increase in transit ridership will require a 50% increase in the number of choice riders.

I would submit that there is no possibility that there will be enough money to make transit systems fast enough and convenient enough to entice choice riders in numbers that will make a significant impact on mobility and greenhouse gas reduction.

Convenience and economics are the issues for choice riders. For most people a car is more convenient than transit – offering point to point service, cutting their commute time by one-half compared to the average transit commute trip and providing many more job opportunities within a given commute time frame than transit.

Deferred rail maintenance, particularly for subways, is the elephant on the tracks. BART is proposing a $3.5 billion bond issue for replacement; the Washington DC Metro faces closure because of safety issues. Chicago has closed some of their tracks. The newer Los Angles system is not quite yet facing these issues but soon will.

Say “No” to the proposed transportation sales tax ballot in LA County.

Yes, you may win but to what purpose. At the seminar we heard from Michael Manville, a Cornell professor and soon to come to UCLA, who phrased our predicament this way: “Willingness to fund transit is up; willingness to use it is down.”

In view of rail’s over-all lack of performance to increase transit ridership and or to increase market share over the past 30 years it seems incomprehensible that Metro is again proposing to increase the transportation sales tax by an additional ½ cent and extending a previous ½ cent measure, raising $120 billion over 40 years. Like the three previous ½ cent taxes the bulk of these funds would be spent on non-street and highways projects. The proposed ½ cent would bring LA County’s transportation sales taxes to 2 cents. Only one other county in California has a rate as high as 1 cent, though the Bay Area counties in the BART system pay an additional ½ cent.

Front-loading the expenditure of these funds limits options available to future Los Angeles generations and locks in existing technologies and policies, which are likely to become outdated before the bonds are paid off.