Gregg Garfin: Keep bus fares low to help riders, climate

Gregg Garfin, climatologist at the UA and member of the City’s Climatgarfine Change Committee, published a guest editorial in the Arizona Daily Star this morning. Gregg is a bus rider and advocates for affordable transit and incentives to encourage people to use mass transit.

Here’s the full text:

We know that global and regional temperatures are increasing as a consequence of human activities that add heat-trapping gases to the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the lower atmosphere, where we live, disrupt weather and climate episodes around the planet, and increase the chances that Tucson will experience heat waves of record length and intensity.

Nationally and locally, around one third of the emissions of heat-trapping gases is due to transportation—primarily from automobiles, and primarily as a result of single passenger automobile travel. Thus, reducing vehicle miles traveled—a unit of measuring progress in reducing emissions—is in our interest, locally and globally. Reducing vehicle miles traveled also reduces the amount of ozone in the lower atmosphere where it is a major cause of respiratory illness. Pima County ozone levels are on the borderline of being considered unsafe by the EPA.

To cut these problems off at their source—the emissions of heat-trapping and toxic gases—we need innovative transportation solutions in our arsenal of solutions to a global problem with strong local impacts. Generally, transportation solutions to reduce these gases include: investment in public transportation; the expansion of public transit options and; changing fuel sources to reduce emissions. The City of Tucson recognizes each approach as necessary for local impact on climate change mitigation. But, the major thing that will help Tucsonans do their part is reducing vehicle miles traveled through increased use of public transit, carpooling, and expanding options for bus transit that meet the needs of transit-dependent populations and attracts new riders. All of these aspirations are included in planning documents of the City of Tucson and Pima County but require renewed commitments to occur.

We can do these things through non-radical solutions by maintaining a low cost of public transit, and investing in public transit to make it more attractive to Tucsonans. Keeping fares down, and especially not raising fares as we are in the process of digging out of a deep economic recession, is low hanging fruit for our leaders to pick.  Alternatively, we can resort to more radical solutions to address the hidden costs of climate change, such as so-called “congestion pricing,” which is used by other cities to inhibit single passenger travel into the city. We could also, in a non-radical way, use incentives, such as offering that riders volunteer to pay high fares.  Voluntary measures are an option often offered to businesses, when the City wants to make progress on other environmental safety and resource conservation goals. Why not try this sort of incentive-based volunteer program with Sun Tran riders, rather than push our most economically vulnerable citizens to the wall by mandating that they pay higher fares?

We need to reduce Tucson’s emissions of heat-trapping gases in a way that is equitable to those least able to pay, and in a way that allows us to eliminate stresses like pollution and poverty, which exacerbate our vulnerability to climate change and other changes. As a citizen of our beautiful city, I urge our leaders to keep equitable fares and do everything possible to increase ridership—using even incentive or voluntary programs to subsidize those who cannot afford transit, or, if really needed, radical solutions like congestion pricing. The choice is with Tucson’s Mayor and Council on September 20.

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