Emergency response or real long term economic development

In the wake of the tornado epidemic, people came out in droves to provide food and water and clear the initial destruction. What’s most important now is restoring a semblance of normalcy for those who’ve been displaced from their homes, lost their vehicles, or have no workplace left to go to.

When re-homing households there are other issues. Trotwood schools may lose as many as 300+ students from their 2,800 student population as folks are moved to other communities. This cause ripple effects of lost state funds, re-balancing staffing, on both the losing district, Trotwood- and the gaining districts- everywhere else.

But, when it comes to bringing affordable housing back online quickly to replace Westbrooke Village Apartments for instance, it’s not just a question of finding a house- it’s also stocking it with the essentials. Furniture, beds, kitchen and cooking supplies, clothing, etc. And, then there is the car. A lot of people might have had a car that was under insured, or can’t be replaced for what they’ll get for it.

Half of putting people to work- is being able to get to work- and that’s where this idea comes into play: Maybe it’s time to bring the free “White Flyer” concept to the entire RTA? Eliminating the fare boxes entirely. Or- at least, issuing free public transit passes to those affected for as long as it takes them to get back to speed.

But, why not free public transit? We already pay a portion of our sales tax on everything to support public transit and fares account for less than 15% of RTA revenue- and probably less when you figure in the costs of collecting and accounting for the fares. Free public transit allows people to get to low wage warehouse jobs like the ones the City Commission is willing to ditch a public space, Paul Knoop Prarie, for, without overburdening streets with cars or requiring huge parking lots. With self-driving cars and eventually self-driving buses, the need for parking lots decreases overall- meaning high density workplaces like downtown become more viable. It also helps eliminate traffic jams, wear and tear on roads, and accidents and pollution. It’s the reason Paris decided to implement it.

And, best of all- free public transit means we pay for something that all of us can use- and benefit from. Not just giving our tax dollars away to people who donate to our politicians political campaigns like we’ve been doing in Dayton.

We’ve seen the Wright Flyer’s free ridership model grow like a weed- and get non-traditional bus riders onboard. Of course, there are those that are terrified of abuse of the policy- of people riding the bus and behaving badly (read DPS students), but, this is where we get to show young people how to be our best- much like the way we’ve come out for disaster relief. Modeling good behavior and getting people to interact that might not always “rub elbows” is a great way to help us start fighting our systemic racism and it’s impact on our city.

Compare the $10-$15M it might cost to replace fare revenue- with the added spending power of so many folks who no longer have to buy a car, pay for gas, insurance and maintenance. That money will be spent right here in Dayton- boosting tax revenues. A friend, Bill B. stopped driving years ago- and was able to leave a corporate job he hated- just because he saved so much money from not having a car. He also stayed in shape because he moved to a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation. How many more people could live downtown- if they didn’t have to park a car? How much more income tax revenue comes in? All of a sudden, does car share start making more sense? And how progressive does this make our city look?

I’m not the only one crazy enough to think this up (because in Dayton, you need a herd to be heard), it’s been on the map for years. See this site: Fare Free Public Transit. Forget putting money into ED/GE, the Dayton Development Coalition, or the Downtown Dayton Partnership- let’s turn buses into the true public mobility system they could be- and see what happens to our economy. Need something wonkier- read what the World Bank says about the impact of free transit and accessibility.

If you want to fight poverty and create access to jobs for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, freeing people from the costs of transit does more than any other change we can make. We’ve seen how much $4 a gallon gas puts a crimp on our economy- place a bet free transit will boost our regions fortunes exponentially.

And, for right now- while people are missing cars, it might just help us all get around a little better.

You have any better ideas? Share in comments.



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