Thursday, February 5, 2015

When You Can Put a Face to Hardship

I always marvel at the generosity of people when it comes to strangers.  But especially to strangers who are shown to have a hardship on television or in the news.  So it came as no surprise this week that a Detroit man, James Robertson, who travels almost a marathon every day gets the attention of folks who really want to help.

I would however love to see the demographics and opinions of those generous people.  Perhaps the biggest thing I would ask is...

"Do you support paying more in taxes for a better transit network?"

The reason I would ask this questions is because while in urbanist circles we understand the connection between housing and transportation costs and supply and demand for affordable housing (apparently though in SF we still don't get it) I wonder how much people actually do understand. 

There's always so much push back to giving "those people" access but when there is a face put to the masses, they are more charitable with their money and time.

And people put up over $260K for a car for James, but that money would probably fund a few bus routes for more than just one person. 

I think Ben Adler at Grist puts it best when he says:
Only in America would we assume that Robertson’s 46-mile commute is the natural order of things and the problem is that some people don’t have cars. Robertson’s situation demonstrates that low-income residents of Detroit and other cities around the U.S. need two things: mass transit and affordable housing near jobs.
So what do we need to do to educate people about this? How do we explain the concept of economic competitiveness and access?

There was a great City Metric piece recently on this issue.  They explain how much transit means to EU economies.  It's pretty huge.

In fact, the sector accounts for €130-150bn of the EU’s GDP each year, as well as providing 1.2m jobs and indirectly creating the conditions for an estimated 2-2.5m more.

But not just that, it's about access, just like in James' case.

That’s why, in London, one of the major advocates for the soon-to-be completed Crossrail project was the business sector: it realised that investment in public transport is key to matching employers with appropriately skilled employees, and retailers with customers. 

Check out the piece, it makes a compelling case for other co-benefits as well. And if you want a US case, just check out New York.
The more jobs you can reasonably commute to within an hour, the more job opportunities you'll have, and the higher your wage will be.

In New York, mass transit is the path to economic mobility, not education, It’s far more important to have a MetroCard than a college degree.

And sure, we can connect people with cars.  But there's a tax on that.  There's roads to build, parking to provide and upkeep to the car for each individual.  And if you're sitting in traffic, your time is a tax.

James couldn't keep his car running because it cost too much.  But he and others wouldn't have to worry about that if they are paying into a larger system.  One where everyone benefits, not just those who happen to have a car.

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