"At 1.3 people per car, there would be no traffic congestion on our Freeways", Roger Snoble of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (metro.net)
A little bit of history
In the 1970s Air Quality was very bad. Also in the 1970s there were problems with our Middle East oil supply resulting in an energy crisis. To solve the problems of bad air and too much energy consumption, our federal government began to create incentives for carpooling, and the funding for HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes was born. The original target for carpooling by the Environmental Protection Agency was 1.5 people per car. Remember that at 1.3 people per car there is no traffic congestion.
In 1981, a new administration took over the White House. Soon after the Federal incentives for carpooling or rideshare were removed. Then the state of California followed the Federal example and removed remaining incentives for carpooling or rideshare. Carpooling began to decline.
Birth of Transit Authorities and Special Transportation Sales Taxes
Since 1980, many Regional Transportation Authorities have been created in California. Typically these Transportation Authorities receive special sales tax revenues to support the transportation projects. In Los Angeles County for example, voters have approved a 1% sales tax that results in $1.3 Billion a year in revenue directly to the LA MTA.
The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) grants the Regional Transportation Authorities with oversight of rideshare programs and services. The theory is that the local regions are better equipped to know how best to manage their own transportation.
In 1988, fed up at the increasing traffic, Riverside County voters approved Measure A as a dedicated sales tax to fund the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC). In approving Measure A, the voters recognized the need for "computer assisted rideshare matching" to help move us toward the magical 1.3 riders per car. There was $31 million allocated in RCTC Measure A for specialized transportation programs; specialized programs such as carpooling. Over time, the funding spent on "computer assisted rideshare matching" again declined.
Riverside County Voter Mandate to Fund Rideshare Matching
In 2002, Riverside County voters re-approved Measure A as a dedicated sales tax to fund transportation to 2009. This time the voters mandated that a minimum of $50 million be spent by RCTC on the category of specialized transportation programs. So at this point, Riverside County should be putting about $10million per year toward the "rideshare matching services". Unfortunately, that is not the case. It is closer to a paltry $800,000.
Riverside County has the only voter mandated rideshare matching programs in the state of California.
Four Counties Raid Riverside Budget
Since the 2002 vote by the voters of Riverside County: LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, and the San Bernardino Associated Governments have practiced creative accounting so that they can use the RCTC Measure A funds in the operation of https://www.ridematch.info/service.asp. The total amount spent is only $2.5 million.
So while the voters of Riverside County have mandated that about $10million a year be spent on "rideshare matching programs", only $2.5 million spent in total. Now deducting Los Angeles paltry $367,000 contribution and likewise from other local counties; the Riverside County share of the operation of http://ridematch.info site is only $800,000 per year. Riverside county voters have mandated rideshare matching services be minimally funded. Unfortunately, currently, Ridematch.info receives less than 2% of the money from the category for commuter assistance funds from RCTC.
Decline of Carpooling Under MTA
Between 1980 and 2004, under the MTA, ridesharing dropped from 1.20 people per car to 1.12 people per car. And in the past 3 years, it�s dropped to only 1.09 people per car. The original California EPA rideshare target for air quality was 1.50 people per car. And at 1.3 people per car there is no traffic congestion. So, why is ridesharing dropping under the care of our elected officials???
The budget for rideshare matching programs continue to drop while the sales tax receipts and County administrative departments grow annually. This does not appear to be the will of the people of Riverside County.
Inequitable Funding of Rideshare Matching Services
LA County only spends about $367,000 a year on rideshare matching services. This represents 0.0092% of the $4 Billion annual budget for the LA MTA. Incidentally, most of the $4 Billion goes to about 600,000 rail and bus commuters at about $7,000 a year each. Currently, we are blessed to have $730 million granted to our area for the 405 carpool lane. In the end though, we will only spend a paltry fraction of that money on actually getting people together to use the HOV lane. Wouldn�t we want to maximize our return on investment? Almost makes you wonder why we build the carpool lanes to begin with.
Carpool Related Sales Tax Issues
Why is rideshare so under-funded? Is it simply that our elected officials have oversight over so many projects, and they need help understanding its importance to our health and the economic vitality of the region? Or is it because our government is too reliant on sales tax revenue, and sees rideshare as a threat to that tax revenue?
To examine the sales tax issue, we need to understand the transportation options.
California has about 32 million cars. If the new cars are purchased every 4 years, then 8 million cars a year are purchased in California. This represents about $16 Billion in vehicle sales tax revenue alone. And at about 1500 gallons of fuel per car per year, there is an additional $5 Billion in gasoline taxes.
So what are the alternatives to cars?
To honor the bicycle, it is conceded that you could take the bike. However, for a long distance this is not practical for the average commuter.
Bus passenger not a threat to Sales Tax
We could take the Bus. Buses are typically funded at about $1/mile per person. The typical rider is subsidized by taxpayers at about $500 per month. The typical rider does not own a car, so bus riders do not pose a threat to sales tax revenue. It would be a threat to tax revenue if a bus rider would stop needing a car they already have, but that is not usually the case.
Rail passenger not a threat to Sales Tax
We could take the Train. Trains are typically funded at about $2/mile per person. The typical rider is subsidized by taxpayers at about $1000 per month. The typical rail rider does own a car, and very likely drove that car to the metro park and ride lot to get to the train. The rail passenger is not a threat to reduced sales tax from vehicles as they still need their car to get to the train.
Vanpool passenger not a threat to Sales Tax
We could take the Vanpool. Vanpools are currently funded through heavy government subsidies. Los Angeles MTA spends about $20 million per year for about 600 vanpools with an average of about 6 persons per van. It turns out that Vanpools equate to about a $5,000 per year in handouts to the passengers in the vanpool. The vanpool passenger is not much of a threat to reduce sales tax from vehicles as they still need their car on the weekends. The van is only for commute miles.
Sales Tax Revenues threatened by 1.3 Riders Per Car
Lastly, there are rideshare matching services. Rideshare is a threat to tax revenue. For each passenger in a carpool represents the possibility of one less vehicle that needs to be purchased. If a person, that used to need a car just to get to work, joins a carpool, then that person may not need to own a car any longer. This represents a potential for loss in sales tax revenue due to lower vehicle sales. Not to mention less vehicle miles mean less gas and less gasoline taxes. And when we eliminate traffic by achieving that magical 1.3 riders per car; well that could result in 20% less vehicles on the road ... and 20% less vehicle taxes ... and 20% less registration fees ... and gasoline taxes.
And all of this is a big problem to the policymakers.
Governments Don't Do Free Market Well
While rideshare means lower tax revenue for the government, it is the most efficient solution for the taxpayer.
As we increase ridership in other mass transit (bus, rail, and vanpool) systems, the costs to taxpayers grows rapidly. Our state would go bankrupt if everyone used the government transit solutions. Only rideshare represents a true cost effective way to reduce traffic congestion. Only rideshare can scale with the market. Only ridesharing supports the mechanics of a market based solution for transportation.
Conflict of Interest?
So, rideshare has the capability to reduce sales tax revenue, and most of our local government officials get their salaries from the same sales tax revenues. Then it represents a conflict of interest for government officials to oversee rideshare programs and services. The effect of this unchecked conflict is why we are seeing a reduction in funding for rideshare matching.
Look, if the County Supervisors really wanted to fix traffic, they would fund rideshare matching services. Sites like ridebareX.com
are on their own trying to solve basic computer programming problems as the MTA has repeatedly declined interest in the projects. Yet they continue to flounder in their own efforts. But then again, maybe that is intentional.
The real solution to the problem is to have our government support market based approaches to rideshare. Sites like Match.com, MySpace.com and others are a common part of the internet experience and everyday life. Californians need better systems to find each other to rideshare and carpool.
RideshareX.com was created just for this purpose. Combining the market fundamentals of Ebay with rideshare matching to create a system where the driver and passenger can negotiate a price and establish a "contract" for payment easily. Establishing the money to be exchanged for the ride is a critical piece of making any carpool work. The government is just not setup to help individuals negotiate a price for a ride.
Take Action for a Better Southern California
We need to get our elected officials to take action and change business as usual!
We need to think about all the lost productivity due to the freeways. How often do you stop from going out because of traffic? How often do you shortcut work related errands because of traffic? All of this slows down the commerce in our region. Traffic congestion affects our ability to compete globally. Traffic congestion results in more smog because of the stop and go action activating more pollution belching behavior from our vehicles. When consuming 20% more oil than we should be, we should consider the effect on the world. We are spilling human blood to secure oil supplies. We are burning through our remaining oil 20% faster, and our grandchildren will have a greater struggle in their time. We are increasing consumption of corn based ethanol in California and that competes for the same corn in our food supplies resulting in higher prices for basic staples like tortillas. The fact is that 1.3 riders per car eliminates traffic and protects against all of the above, and at 1.3 riders per car, that gets California half way to Kyoto too. Rideshare could be the single largest Green House Gas reducing activity on the planet. Be cool, carpool.
Grow this Conversation
Please think of what you can do to help move Rideshare Matching forward. Tell your friends about the issue. Contact your legislators and tell them of your support for rideshare.
http://trafficbulldog.org has been formed as a Commuter Advocacy Group focused on solving our transportation crisis through 1.3 people per car.