Opinion: Our government subsidizes all modes of transportation

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Commentary by Larry Lannan

The City of Fishers has notified the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority (CIRTA) that local subsidies for the commuter bus, running to and from downtown Indianapolis during the morning and evening rush hours, will end in May. That spells the end of the service.

The buses were down to three runs in the morning commute and three in the afternoon commuting time. The cost had risen to $5 per trip after the end of subsidies. The fare had been as low as $2 per trip, with more daily trips available.

As the government subsidies ended, Miller Transportation, the private contractor providing the bus service, told Fishers government officials that 116 riders per day were required just to break even on the operation.   Despite efforts by local officials, Miller Transportation and CIRTA, the commuter bus service was unable to attract enough riders to erase the financial losses.

This service died for two reasons. First, the federal government subsidies ran out, requiring fares to rise. $5 is a lot for many riders to pay. Second, gasoline prices are at their lowest ebb in a very long time.

Both factors, and a few others, combined to bring an end to the local subsidies, which will bring an end to the downtown Indy commuter bus service.

I’ve seen and heard lots of comments about government subsidies for transportation services like the Fishers commuter bus to downtown Indy. Many argue that if the bus service isn’t making money, there should be no government subsidies at any level to prop it up.

I understand that argument. There is only one problem with it. Government subsidizes virtually all transportation in this country.

Air travel and commercial airlines would not exist if government did not provide support such as airports and an air traffic control system. When the airline industry was about to collectively go out of business shortly after 9/11, the federal government provided direct subsidies to keep the planes flying.

Streets, roads, interstate highways and traffic signals are all forms of government subsidies to transportation. We couldn’t use our vehicles without all this infrastructure constructed with government money.

I am not making an argument for or against subsidizing certain modes of transportation. But for any transportation system to be viable, it needs government help. Government must wisely decide when such subsidies make sense and when such spending does not make sense.


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