Valdosta and subsidized public transportation: a bad solution without a problem

| October 13, 2015

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Gary M. Wisenbaker, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

October 1 marked the 107th anniversary of America’s marriage to the automobile, officiated by Henry Ford and his Model “T”. That day the world entered an era of personal transportation free of the horse, mule, ox, elephant and rickshaw boy.

The idea caught on here and with it broadened the average American’s sense of liberty and independence.

The United States DOT estimates that there are over 204 million personally owned vehicles in America, about 1.8 vehicles per household

Valdosta is no less prolific with three cars for every two households. More than that, roughly 90 percent of Valdosta’s population owns at least one vehicle. If one doesn’t own a car, they know someone who does.

Local transportation options, then, aren’t limited to Shank’s pony.

Yet last May the Lowndes County Democratic Party figured it’s time for taxpayer funded public transportation in Valdosta.

The concept is not new.

Back in 2006 a Metropolitan Planning Organization public transportation study concluded that a transit service would have a “fairly high probability of success”, whatever that means.

Two years later another MPO report confirmed that finding. No surprise there.

101115 2All this from the same traffic and engineering brain trust that gave us the Oak-Patterson-Ashley Streets-vehicular confluence at Five Points. Sheer genius on display.

The MPO, by the way, is a federally mandated and funded transportation policy junta made up of appointees from local governments and transportation authorities.

That a federally funded, unelected policy board would recommend the expansion of government based on a “fairly probable” outcome is something of a denouement.

In any event, the studies were tabled and Valdosta continued to grow and prosper, the absence of publicly funded transportation notwithstanding.

Now, nine years later, the MPO returns peddling another public transportation and truck traffic study. The county and city governments voted to pony up a fraction of the study costs while the feds picked up around 90 percent of the $280,000 price tag. Smart move.

The decision also made sense because, whether or not a system is implemented, the information gleaned from the study will no doubt be useful for other planning purposes.

This new study will no doubt conclude that a public transportation system might benefit Valdosta’s urban area and might have a “fairly high probability of success.” To buttress that argument the study will include results from a recently announced single vehicle shuttle pilot program fully funded by federal money offering free ridership for those who fill out an online form. One would be hard pressed to name any free service that failed.

Meanwhile, the local left, never to disappoint in pushing an agenda to expand the size and scope of government, is content to justify a multi-million dollar taxpayer subsidized public transportation scheme because, first, it would improve Valdosta’s quality of life and, second, a “reliable automobile” doesn’t exist for “many Lowndes employees” making them more likely to “miss or be late for work”.

The latter, they claim, is “one of the biggest complaints among employers. . .”

Really?

The Valdosta Lowndes County Development Authority recently conducted a survey that included interviews with local employers. Topics included the available workforce, local community quality of life, and governmental support services.

Those interviewed mentioned nothing about employee underperformance due to transportation.

“Overall, labor availability was not seen as a concern—relatively easy to identify and hire labor for most common needs,” the report said. It is axiomatic that labor availability depends on employees with adequate transportation.

More telling, perhaps, was the conclusion regarding “Local Community and Quality of Life” which was simply: “Extremely high praise”. Maybe the interviewees were unaware that Valdosta didn’t have a taxpayer subsidized public transportation system.

Then there’s this: public transportation only serves 1.5 percent of all personal trips. In other words, 98.5 percent of the time alternative transportation arrangements are made. Doesn’t seem to bode well for elective ridership.

The left’s call for taxpayer subsidized public transportation is nothing more than a siren song.

And while it may seem appealing, there is no broader public good or benefit justifying the additional burden on the taxpayer.


GARY WISENBAKERGary Wisenbaker, B.A., J.D. is a native of South Georgia where he practiced law in Valdosta and Savannah for 31 years. He has served as state chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans and Chairman of the Chatham County (Savannah) Republican Party. Gary is a past GOP nominee for State Senate, past delegate to the Republican National Convention and has consulted on numerous local Republican campaigns as well as chaired or co-chaired campaigns for President and US Senate on the county and district level. He is the principal and founder of Blackstone, LLC, a corporate communications and public relations concern as well as Wiregrass Mediation Services, LLC, a general civil litigation mediation firm.

Gary hosts his own blog at www.garywisenbaker.com and recently published his first fictional work, “How Great is His Mercy: The Plea”, on Amazon.com. His opinions are regularly published on ValdostaToday.com and the Valdosta Daily Times.

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11 Comments on "Valdosta and subsidized public transportation: a bad solution without a problem"

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  1. The Lonehorseman says:

    Excellent article. I would contend that it is more likely that workers in our area miss work due to hangovers than due to transportation.

  2. Tom Hochschild says:

    As Chairman for the Lowndes County Democratic Party and as a Professor of Sociology at VSU, I have talked with hundreds of local citizens and students who have expressed a desire for public transportation in Lowndes County. In fact, many VSU students from other cities and states are shocked that a city our size does not have public transportation. At our public transportation forum a few months ago, President of the Valdosta/Lowndes Chamber of Commerce Myrna Ballard concurred that a common complaint from employers is that workers lacking reliable transportation are more likely to be miss, or be late for, work. At the same meeting, Mayor John Gayle expressed that he is “embarrassed” that we do not have public transportation. Corey Hull, Transportation Planner for the South Georgia Regional Planning Commission, has cited data indicating that there are a variety of benefits associated with lower unemployment: higher wages, higher educational attainment, and fewer people on public assistance. I would add that public transportation will be good for local business, VSU, our military personnel, and local cultural events. Additionally public transportation will make it easier for poor and working-class families to access health services, libraries, parks, and other community resources. Public transportation is an idea whose time has come in Lowndes County!

  3. Tom Hochschild says:

    As Chairman for the Lowndes County Democratic Party and as a professor at VSU, I have talked with hundreds of local citizens and students who have expressed a desire for public transportation in Lowndes County. In fact, many VSU students from other cities and states are shocked that a city our size does not have public transportation. At our public transportation forum a few months ago, President of the Valdosta/Lowndes Chamber of Commerce Myrna Ballard concurred that a common complaint from employers is that workers lacking reliable transportation are more likely to be miss, or be late for, work. At the same meeting, Mayor John Gayle expressed that he is “embarrassed” that we do not have public transportation. Corey Hull, Transportation Planner for the South Georgia Regional Planning Commission, has cited data indicating that there are a variety of benefits associated with public transportation: lower unemployment, higher wages, higher educational attainment, and fewer people on public assistance. I would add that public transportation will be good for local business, VSU, our military personnel, and local cultural events. Additionally public transportation will make it easier for poor and working-class families to access health services, libraries, parks, and other community resources. Public transportation is an idea whose time has come in Lowndes County!

  4. M says:

    So, if I read correctly, the author contends that people have vehicles and thus don’t need public transportation. However, I contend that people don’t want to continue to pay well over $40 a week in gas prices(what I pay to fill my minivan is actually over 60$ a week), when a public transportation device can be used at a cost of $2 per ride. It’s better for the environment when you think that if 40 people ride at one time, that is 39 less vehicles on the road. Bikers can ride public transportation and feel safer than they do riding their bicycles around Valdosta. I talk to many who would prefer to do the “eco-friendly” and “healthy” option of cycling to work or walking to work, but don’t feel safe because traffic is insane and they don’t want to get hit by a car. Consider people trying to cross Inner Perimeter in any part of town. It’s a nightmare. Public transportation would provide them with a safer option.

    We moved here a few years back from an area that had public transportation and it was the blistering sore thumb on Valdosta for us. We love the people, the opportunities, the town. But we are saddened by the lack of interest in public transportation or making things easier on everyone. “Just buy a second car,” we were told by so many people. Why was the solution to my family’s problems something that had to cost 20K? Why couldn’t we just utilize the same public systems that we’d used before. In asking around, we have found that we are NOT ALONE in this query, and we are by far NOT the only ones who would utilize this service.

    The author doesn’t want a rise in taxes. Then stick to that as your argument, sir. Don’t make blanket assumptions for the community that people wouldn’t use this service simply because they already have a personal vehicle. You don’t know people’s minds.

  5. Pancho Rambo says:

    Gary Wisenbaker illustrates the problem with our current strain of politicians on the right. Instead of having a lucid discussion about the pros and cons of the transportation issue, Wisenbaker resorts to insults and name calling. filled with subtle innuendo (Rickshaw Boy, Shaw’s Pony, brain trust). Perhaps he believes he is being clever and the average reader will let it go but should we, really? He is pandering to his constituency, instilling the fear of loss of freedom and liberty if we dare to even breathe the term public transportation. He is still in the bigger is better mindset of the late 20th century that encouraged white flight from the inner city, the world of endless consumption. MORE IS BETTER in his book.

    What Wisenbaker forgets is that he is the representative of all the people not just who got him elected. His articles routinely show his bigoted and hateful thinking, if you’re poor it is your fault. He sees public transportation not as way to broaden and expand economic growth in Valdosta and Lowndes County but a way of ripping off the taxpayer. This isn’t a a new song and dance, it has worked successfully since Reagan, and gives him a chance to play the “big government” card. It is tiresome and trite and disingenuous of him.

    Valdosta had a tradition of public transportation in early 1900’s, streetcars ran up and down Patterson’s lovely and wide promenade. People had carriages and horses, the occasional automobile is pictured in the Lowndes County Historical societies archives. The people accepted this method of transportation as a prudent and appropriate use of public money. What changed? The automobile allowed growth and expansion of the city grid to houses that promised a yard and picket fence. In short the American Dream was built upon that concept funded and perpetuated by the auto industry and big oil. Today we have neighborhoods miles away from any services in Lowndes County, either you drive or you don’t get there. Walking, biking and public transportation are stigmatized as the transportation methods of the poor. That is here, not everywhere.

    Look at the bustling and growing urban areas of the United States and you see a far different picture. Cities like Portland, Oregon or Denver, Colorado are investing billions of dollars to public transportation, even building bicycle only thoroughfares, that attract businesses and residents along their lines. This isn’t fantasy, it is the truth. What comes along with these taxpayer supported systems is private sector investment, infill in the city centers, the vibrant and healthy neighborhoods that are the envy of other metropolitan areas.

    You can continue your name calling and your belittling Mr. Wisenbaker, because you sir are a dinosaur. The world is changing and South Georgia will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

    • Well Said says:

      Well said Pancho. Gary is a typical South GA dummy. And then we wonder why this area is 10 years behind most of the country….excluding south Alabama and Mississippi.

  6. Robert. E. Forrest says:

    I can see public transport going over like a lead balloon in Valdosta.

  7. The Lonehorseman says:

    The taxes here are heavy folks. In addition, we are an area with a population heavy on public assistance which means fewer people actually paying taxes and contributing to the public welfare. Increasing taxes will drive companies and people away which could be our undoing. Public transportation is not realistic because we are too spread out. It just isn’t realistic. I know most people here have not lived in big cities or seen the world so I understand how public transportation sounds great. I would encourage people to review major studies by The Brookings Institution which has great data and information about public transportation.
    It is important to think about origins and destinations of trips. You can’t have 500 bus stops. Designated stops need to have a fair amount of traffic to make any sense. The mall and the college are obvious ones. Where are all of the jobs that hypothetical workers cannot get to? If they are supposedly reliable workers, how do they not have cars or friends that they can carpool with? Forgive me for being cynical. I don’t see people waiting in the rain for the bus around here. If you think Valdosta is going to have fancy stops with enclosures and benches, you are kidding yourself.
    http://valdostatoday.com/2015/07/letters-public-transportation-in-valdosta/

  8. I’d love to get your feedback on the GlidewayPRT. It’s a fully automated, electric personal rail transportation system for cities and suburbs that allows for two separate switching systems (single rail non-leveling, and multi-rail leveling). Visit http://www.glidewayprt.com for more information on this system.