Empire editorial: An appropriate holiday gesture

Posted: Friday, December 24, 2004

Perhaps it was the holiday spirit that moved the Juneau Assembly to action. Maybe the months-long onslaught of pleading and public criticism brought members around. Whatever the motivation, the city spread goodwill for the new year this week when it reversed course and gave seniors and low-income disabled riders a break on Capital Transit buses.

The Assembly saw some budget problems last summer and tried to lessen them with a $12 monthly pass for passengers who previously rode for free. Seniors and the disabled make up an estimated 20 percent of the city bus system's ridership, and the measure was expected to raise $40,000 a year. On paper it may have seemed a reasonable move, and none too onerous, but on the pavement it suggested a need to assess priorities.

Advocates for the affected riders made compelling arguments. They pointed out that for the disabled on limited incomes, mass transit is a vital part of life. And as Assembly member Jeff Bush pointed out, the community would do well to encourage its seniors to remain active and involved. Easing mobility is an important part of that effort.

The Assembly responded and should be commended. But the debate offers a chance to look at the larger role of transit in the community, and rededicate the community to keeping it moving.

To those who never ride the buses, reliable service may seem a luxury provided at public expense. A common refrain among the motoring public is that taxes at the pump support road construction and maintenance. But roads get public subsidies, too, and with good reason. Transportation in any form - locally by automobile, bus, bike, sidewalk or stairs - is a private necessity and a public good. Supporting any mode in the mix takes pressure off the others, and hassle out of the commute. If the city has to find $40,000 somewhere else in its budget to support buses, it's money well spent for the whole community and not just the needy or those who choose not to drive. Those who don't ride buses should consider this when they seek funds for, say, a second crossing of Gastineau Channel.

Mobility for all is a priority for all of Juneau. Thanks to the Assembly for recognizing it.

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