For city, county, and state governments, the question is one of determining what to do in response to higher gas prices that are likely coming to the U.S. during the summer months. $4 a gallon gas prices should of course motivate all citizens to look into alternative forms of transportation like taking public transit. However, what might prevent someone from taking public transit is fee hikes, which seem to be going up annually in light of the poor state of the economy.
Even with the poor state of the economy, however, some places are not increasing their public transit fares. For example, instead of increasing the price of transit, Long Beach is defying the conventional wisdom by spending less money on maintenance of their bus fleet in part because of their hybrid fleets which resulted in a 43 percent reduction in maintenance costs relative to what they spent on the diesel buses.
As such, what Long Beach Transit is doing that other public transit agencies like New York, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Texas all of whom have decided to hike fares in light of higher gas prices and maintenance costs is spend money and resources on not only a fuel efficient fleet, but also a fleet that will not lead to higher fares for the average citizen. Therefore, what Long Beach Transit shows others is that higher fuel prices should not be an excuse to increase fares for citizens.
Rather, higher gas prices as a result of what is often external forces beyond a local government’s control should be seen as an opportunity to find and look for ways to make public transit more rather than less affordable for their citizens. Public transit should, after all, be a cheaper alternative than driving one’s car. However, it is not cheap if fare prices increase, which in turn leads to lower than average ridership.
To avoid lower ridership, the Long Beach Transit system has figured out a way to respond to higher fuel prices–a hybrid fleet that not only consumes less fuel, but also requires less maintenance costs. Lower maintenance costs are definitely something all transit systems should look into as they meet the demands of the 21st Century where driving a car becomes more and more of a hassle and individuals look to alternative forms of transportation. Thus, rather than increasing the cost of public transit, Long Beach has done the opposite of what many of its peers are doing–maintaining a highly efficient and relatively low cost fare for passengers. Hopefully, that lesson will be learned by other transit authorities as they increase ridership and offer individuals an alternative to driving.
Article by Patrick Kenney, appearing courtesy Justmeans.