Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith in his April 11 op-ed reminds us of the cost-plus municipal decisions regarding rapid transit, while balancing the necessary subsidization of existing systems with the benefits accrued to the citizens.
However, his overview holds a warning regarding building bus lines to solve the issues brought on by traffic congestion and city density. Specifically, he posits: “The decline in U.S. transit (ridership) comes almost entirely from buses” while “both commuter rail and light rail ridership are at all-time highs.”
Smith makes great points as to urban density dictating the need for commuter rail and gives New York City as a model. I would point to geography as an additional factor in the argument.
Charleston’s transit access is limited by its peninsular status. Looking for similar situations, San Francisco and New York present themselves, both with relatively successful and necessary commuter rail systems.
While I applaud our efforts to address rapid transit with our bus line proposal, we address only three legs of the four-legged stool. These are traffic congestion, reducing pollution and providing affordable transport for our economically challenged citizens. A bus system addresses these to a far lesser extent than would commuter rail.
The irreplaceable fourth leg of the argument is economic development around commuter rail systems. This leg is unique to this form of rapid transit, but it should be essential in making a long-term economic case for implementing any form of municipal system.
A window is open to bring commuter rail to Charleston. We have a physical path available in old rail beds, power line corridors and public rights of way.
With creative vision, we could even have a future connection across two rivers with spurs through the high-density areas of Mount Pleasant and West Ashley.