Daily Bread for 4.14.23: Free Rides Aren’t Free Rides

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of 79. Sunrise is 6:13 AM and sunset 7:36 PM for 13h 22m 52s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 37.5% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1912, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic and begins to sink.

It’s an economic axiom that free rides aren’t free. That’s true of literal rides on public transit and figurative rides through other government programs. While Whitewater neither has nor needs a public transit system, an article from Nicholas Dagen Bloom illustrates the value of income-targeted subsidies over blanket subsidies to all riders in Low-cost, high-quality public transportation will serve the public better than free rides.

(In Whitewater, an attempt in the early 2010s to fund a bus — and the serial justifications for it — is a good example of bad, and sometimes mendacious, public policy. Looking back, the late Aughts and early Teens were a time of weak public policy in the city. When Whitewater most needed good public policy ideas during and after the Great Recession, she sadly found herself with under-performing and over-promising city, district, and university officials.) 

Bloom writes

Despite flashing warning signs, political support for public transit remains weak, especially among conservatives. So it’s not clear that relying on government to make up for free fares is sustainable or a priority.

For example, in Washington, conflict is brewing within the city government over how to fund a free bus initiative. Kansas City, the largest U.S. system to adopt fare-free transit, faces a new challenge: finding funding to expand its small network, which just 3% of its residents use

A better model

Other cities are using more targeted strategies to make public transit accessible to everyone. For example, “Fair fare” programs in San Francisco, New York and Boston offer discounts based on income, while still collecting full fares from those who can afford to pay. Income-based discounts like these reduce the political liability of giving free rides to everyone, including affluent transit users.

There we are: public services like transit should (and can) be supported on the basis of riders’ incomes. ‘Reducing the cost’ for all riders neither truly reduces the cost nor distributes those costs fairly.

A call to let’s do this! matters less than how are you going to do it? The latter is harder to achieve, and more important to a community, than the former. 

First-ever black hole image ‘sharpened’ using machine learning:

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