BROWNFIELD, TIEDEMANN: Voters Don’t Want Public Transportation, But That Isn’t Stopping Cities From Pushing It

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Font Size:

Expanding public transit is a tough sell these days. As The Onion aptly jibed, “98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others.” And as cities and states struggle to convince voters to spend more money on services they don’t want, officials in Phoenix are turning to an illegal solution — spending public resources to advocate for, well, more public resources.

Across the country, the headlines tell a similar story: Public transportation isn’t working well, officials are looking for more money for it, and passengers are turning away. Transit officials in Boston are asking for more funding, pointing to delays and other service issues in the city’s subway system. Southeast Michigan transit leaders withdrew a multi-billion dollar plan to expand regional public transportation after it became apparent that voters weren’t going to get behind it. And in Los Angeles, commuters would rather drive in the region’s notorious traffic than deal with long wait times for the bus, and bus ridership has been falling as a result.

Now, in a little over a month, voters in Phoenix, Arizona, will go to the polls to vote on a proposition that could end future construction on the city’s unpopular light rail system. But it appears that Phoenix’s regional transit system has been using taxpayer money to sway these votes — and that’s against the law. 

Valley Metro provides public transit in Phoenix and its surrounding areas, including light rail. That system, which began operating just over 10 years ago, has faced ire from taxpayers, who have questioned the need for light rail in a metro area where suburbs, sprawl, and automobile commuting dominate. The emergence — and popularity — of ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft have only continued to fuel taxpayer objections to light rail. In 2018, light rail ridership dropped 4.4 percent from the previous year.

After city leaders approved an expansion of the light rail system into south Phoenix — which would have made traffic even worse in an already congested part of the city — taxpayers had had enough. Many signed on to a petition that ultimately garnered enough signatures to put Proposition 105 on the city ballot this August. Should the proposition pass, light rail expansion would be halted in Phoenix, with transportation revenues directed to other areas. 

Valley Metro clearly has a dog in this fight: As the city’s transit system, it obviously wants to see Phoenix light rail expansion continue. And so Valley Metro and its leaders have publicly spoken out against Proposition 105. It appears that Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith has spoken at public events during which he attempted to influence public opinion regarding Proposition 105. Furthermore, Valley Metro’s official website offers reasons as to why the proposition ought to be defeated. 

Smith told one publication that Valley Metro is simply engaging in a legal campaign to educate the public about light rail. But Valley Metro has taken a clear position, touting the benefits of light rail in an effort to change the public’s thinking about the system. That’s electioneering — and it violates Arizona state law.

The Valley Metro story is simply the latest example of an effort to push public transportation on people who don’t want it. And what’s even worse is that the light rail system’s biggest proponents — those who work for it — are now flouting the law, using taxpayer funds to advocate for its expansion. Next month, these taxpayers have the chance to say “thanks, but no thanks.” 

Mike Brownfield (@MikeBrownfield) is the communications director, and Jennifer Tiedemann is deputy communications director, for the nonprofit Goldwater Institute in Arizona.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.