By Noel T, Braymer
A good example of this is around the Bay Area. Ridership growth on BART took off shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989. With the earthquake came the collapse of a part of the Bay Bridge and of a viaduct for the I-880 freeway in Oakland. BART wasn’t running on the night of October 17th because electrical power needed to run its trains was shut off for most of the Bay Area because of the earthquake. By the morning of the 18th, the BART system was checked and no major damage was found. As soon as power was restored, BART was running again. But for months the Bay Bridge was out of service. Soon ridership on BART jumped because of the shut down of the Bay Bridge. But even after the Bay Bridge was reopened ridership continued to grow on BART.
With Caltrain, it was one of the few forms of transportation working the night of October 17, 1989. One problem was the safes that held ticket stock for Caltrain had electric locks. Without power the safes couldn’t be opened so there were no tickets that could be sold. But the decision was made to forgo charging passengers that night and many people rode Caltrain that night with no other options available. Between BART and Caltrain, ridership has continued to grow and with that the problems of overcrowding on its trains. Of course the freeways in the Bay Area are also often jammed. The Bay Area also has a problem most regions would love to have. The economic engine of the Silicon Valley centered around the city of Palo Alto has created so many jobs, that it is difficult for its employees to find decent, affordable housing and makes commuting challenging. Not only are Caltrain and BART often jammed in the Bay Area. Ridership is often heavy on the Altamont Corridor Express, a commuter rail service between San Jose and Stockton. As for San Francisco’s Muni, crowding is common on its Muni Metro trains and city buses.
But crowded trains are to be found elsewhere in California. The Capitol Corridor trains between San Jose and Sacramento often have full trains. So does the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner Amtrak trains. These trains are usually crowded on weekends and during major holidays. More equipment is needed for these services to meet demand and bring in more revenue. Holding back these improvements is lack of funding for track improvements and more equipment. In Southern California rail transit is generally doing well. The extension of the Purple Line in Los Angeles 9 miles to Westwood will cost $7.9 billion dollars. Finished by 2028 for the busiest transportation corridor in Los Angeles this extension is expected to increase Red/Purple Lines daily ridership to over 300,000 passengers a day. The Light Rail Lines are doing well with ridership much higher now on the recently expanded Expo and Gold Lines. With some Los Angeles County sales tax revenue dedicated to transportation spending, several other projects are also under construction or will be in the near future. Where ridership is declining is on the local bus lines. But traffic is getting so bad, the buses are often late and with it its passenger arriving late for work. This doesn’t have to be. In downtown Seattle the number of jobs has grown recently. But fewer people are driving to work. Instead more people are using improved public transportation.
So who are these people who love to call rail passenger service a boondoggle? The same people who’s solution to every problem is cutting taxes. So how has that worked? Federal Income Taxes hit their lowest rates in the late 1920’s as did Federal spending. At the same time there was a major speculative bubble at the New York Stock Exchange. With lending institutions willing to finance people to buy stocks, many people who knew nothing about the stock market bought stock on credit as prices rose and they dreamed of their seemingly growing wealth. Speculative bubbles are nothing new and even smart people can get caught up in them. Most people who know who Sir Issac Newton was would agree that he was a very smart scientist. In 1720 there was a financial bubble based on the stock of the South Sea Company of England. Newton bought its stock when it was cheap and watched its price rise. Finally when he thought the stock had peaked, he sold it making a fortune. But seeing the stock price of the South Sea Company continue to rise he put his money back into that stock. Soon there after the price of the stock crashed and Newton lost a fortune.
Well much the same thing happened in 1929 after the market crashed which set off the Great Depression, not just for the United States but also for much of the world. With the coming of World War 2, taxes and government spending in the United States reached record highs. Even after the war, the post War economy set record levels of economic growth up to the early 1970’s even with these high taxes. And generally they stayed that way until the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Based on the work of Economist Arthur Laffer, the assumption was that lowering taxes would cause companies and wealthy people to invest in expanding old and starting new businesses which would stimulate the economy and create more revenue for the Government than with higher taxes. One of the first acts of President Reagan was to push through a major tax cut. In 1981 and 82 the county went into the worst post World War 2 recession only being surpassed later in 2007 which was also preceded by Federal Tax cuts which did little to stimulate the economy during the George W. Bush administration. The Reagan administration was forced to raise some taxes. There was steady economic growth after 1983 along with record breaking Federal deficits. In the 1992 elections a major issue was the recession of 1991 during the administration of George H. W. Bush which was a factor in the election that year of Bill Clinton. Clinton raise income taxes, created a budget surplus and paid down some of the National debt and left office with one of the lowest national unemployment rates since the 1960’s
California’s Governor Brown gets a great deal of criticism from outside of California for raising taxes. But he has turned the State’s massive budget deficit into a major surplus which he guards for use during the next recession which is likely not a question of if but when. Over the last 6 years California has enjoyed record economic growth with higher taxes. California’s biggest problems are transportation and the high cost of housing. Californians in urban areas have voted several times to increase local taxes for things that they want like improved transportation including rail service. Since the National elections of 2016 many campaign promises have been broken. What most voters want from any party is job security, social security for old age or disability, affordable housing, affordable heath care and good transportation. Since 2016 most of the special elections to date have been lost by the party which passed the recent major tax cut, but have not addressed the other more pressing concerns of the voters.