Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Value and Values of Public Transit

“If you think the sale of Anheuser-Busch or the closing of the Chrysler plant was a problem for St. Louis,” observed an editorial in Sunday’s St. Louis Post Dispatch, “wait'll you see what happens if Prop M fails.”

Prop M is the proposed half-cent sales tax increase for St. Louis County that would provide support for the operation of the Metro bus, light rail, and call-a-ride services.

The Post Dispatch editorial continued: “Simply put, the outcome of the sales tax vote will influence whether St. Louis remains competitive among metropolitan regions that are trying to attract top talent, top jobs and other economic opportunities.”

According to the writers, “Dynamic public transportation — systems that are smart, efficient and convenient — is a key indicator of a community's confidence and vibrancy.”

The authors of the “Yes to Proposition MPost Dispatch editorial, along with other writers and organizations in the region that have been advocating for the passage of the sales tax increase, have rightly identified the economic benefits of public transportation and the vital attributes of an efficient transit system for getting commuters to their places of employment in the region.

Since our reasons for implementing this light rail project correspond to our interests in the arts and humanities, we are inclined to also consider the cultural implications of public transportation in the region. We’re in the early stages of identifying and examining the cultural benefits of light rail travel.

In order to fully appreciate what “dynamic public transportation” might mean for the existence of “a community’s confidence and vibrancy,” we’ll want to think through and beyond the economic and employment factors associated with the transit system.

The experience and idea of a broad range of people in this region utilizing the light rail as a shared mode of travel come with its own sets of value and values. But how do we quantify that value, and in what ways can we measure those values?

Image: Train arriving at the East Riverfront station. Courtesy of H.R. for Along the Light Rail.

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