Are DASH subsidies worth the cost?

Are DASH subsidies worth the cost?

To the editor: 

In 26 column inches, Meronne Teklu and Jim Durham “Celebrating free and frequent transit” in the August 31 Alexandria Times dance around the one fact which surely will trigger an avalanche of letters: If DASH has a $31.7 million budget – mentioned in the letter’s eighth paragraph – with 4.5 million boardings – trumpeted in the letter’s second paragraph – free city bus service means a taxpayer subsidy of $7.44 per boarding. 

Since some boardings would have been free transfers under the former fare system, the taxpayer subsidy could plausibly reach $10 per trip. 

The letter notes the Public Interest Research Group calculated gasoline taxes and vehicle user fees cover only about one-half of the cost of maintaining U.S. roadways. Fares cover 36% of the costs of typical transit bus systems, versus only 16% of Alexandria’s bus system before fares were eliminated. 

The avalanche of letters surely will decry the $427 per household annual subsidy maintaining the free bus system entails. The statistic which is missing, though, is the public benefit resulting from subsidizing the city’s bus system by so much more than other locales and roads private passenger vehicles mainly use. This statistic needs to be calculated to reassure the public that their tax dollars are well spent and counter the avalanche of objections. 

For a long time, there have been almost as many passenger vehicles in Alexandria as residents, so a good question becomes what happens if the several dozen city buses running around town at any given time were replaced by private passenger vehicles were the city to follow the avalanche of letters’ advice to “stop wasting taxpayer funds on a wasteful city bus system,” thereby making the bus riders drive instead. 

Were we to take the 4.5 million annual boardings, divide by 1.1 person average car occupancy we would come out with 11,208 additional cars per day on Alexandria’s streets. Would we then have an avalanche of letters about road congestion, cut-through traffic and objections to eminent domain to add road capacity? 

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria