Will high gas prices get Pa. drivers out of their cars and on the bus? | Wednesday Morning Coffee

Past precedent points the way to yes, according to researchers

March 16, 2022 7:13 am

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Here’s some good news for strap-hangers in Pennsylvania’s largest city: SEPTA will receive $9.8 million in federal assistance to build a pair of bus transportation centers in South Philadelphia.

The projects are included in a $409 million allocation under the new federal infrastructure law that will pay for 70 transportation projects in 39 states, the Biden administration announced Monday.

The infrastructure law will boost bus transit funding nationwide by $10 billion over the next five years, as it pays for upgrades aimed at modernizing and electrifying the nation’s bus fleet, the administration said in a statement.

The grants will “help people in communities large and small get to work, get to school, and access the services they need,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in that statement, adding that everyone deserves access to safe, reliable, clean public transportation.”

The money bound for South Philly will pay for the construction of “dedicated end-of-line bus facilities for up to 9 routes, featuring ADA accessible bus stops with critical infrastructure and safety enhancements,” according to a summary posted to the Federal Transit Administration’s website.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Other projects nationwide that are in line for federal funding include an $11.4 million allocation that will allow officials in Connecticut to buy battery-electric buses to replace diesel buses that have outlived their shelf life; $15 million for Atlanta’s metropolitan transit authority to build a new maintenance facility in Clayton County, Ga.; $14.7 million for Laketran, which serves Lake County, Ohio, to expand a bus garage, and other upgrades, and nearly $5 million for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to pay for new hydrogen fuel-cell buses, officials said.

“Transit agencies are replacing aging buses and facilities with newer, cleaner infrastructure that is more efficient to operate and maintain,” FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez said in a statement. “Modern buses, especially those powered with electric batteries or fuel cells, improve air quality and help us address the climate crisis.”

(Getty Images)

With gas prices spiking nationwide, and in Pennsylvania, the funding announcement comes at a particularly fortuitous time. Though the jury is still out, public transit could get a boost in ridership because of the current pain at the pump, according to Marketplace.

“When we want to try to move people from driving alone to transit use, car use disincentives tend to work better,” Chandra Bhat, of the University of Texas at Austin’s engineering school, told Marketplace.

That’s been the case in the past.

An analysis of mass transit use in major urban areas by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, conducted between 2002 and 2011, found “evidence … for positive short-term effects” for bus ridership “in response to a 10 percent increase in current gasoline prices.”

“The effects at the higher gasoline price level of over $3 per gallon were found to be more substantial, with a ridership increase of 1.67 percent for bus, 2.05 percent for commuter rail, and 1.80 percent for the aggregate for the same level of gasoline price changes,” the analysis found.

“Light rail shows even a higher rate of increase of 9.34 percent for gasoline prices over $4 [per-gallon]. In addition, a positive threshold boost effect at the $3 mark of gasoline prices was found for commuter and heavy rails, resulting in a substantially higher rate of ridership increase,” the analysis found.

Speaking of light rail, officials in Montgomery, Chester, and Berks counties are consider a new passenger rail authority, with an eye toward restoring a passenger line connecting Reading, Phoenixville, Pottstown, Norristown, and Philadelphia, WHYY-FM reports.

It’s a great idea. But will it get people out of their cars? Well, this could be an ideal time to find out.

In an interview with MarketplaceBobby Sisneros, of Albuquerque, N.M.’s Transit Department, said the spike in prices is a chance for public transit agencies to make the sale to Americans who are now returning to the office.

“In the current situation that we’re in with gas prices rising, we get out and we want to remind folks that there’s ways to save money. One of those ways is to jump on our bus,” Sisneros told Marketplace.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
The petitions are in. So here’s a look, courtesy of Stephen Caruso and Marley Parish, at the 2022 candidate field for the closely watched races for U.S. Senate and governor.

This morning, we’re running part two, of a three-part series from our friends at the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, examining deaths at the Allegheny County Jail. This morning’s installment follows families and local officials as they search for answers and accountability.

The Pennsylvania House and Senate Education committees voted Tuesday to urge a regulatory panel to reject proposed charter school regulations drafted by the Wolf administrationMarley Parish also reports.

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, and state officials and lawmakers called for fixes to close the pay gap between men and women, with a particular focus on raising Pennsylvania’s $7.25/hr. minimum wage, Cassie Miller reports.

The Biden administration is warning that the United States would not be prepared for another COVID-19 variant or surge in cases if Congress doesn’t approve billions in stalled emergency funding, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt reports.

Because this is what he does, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.could end up torpedoing one of President Joe Biden’s picks for the Federal Reserve Board. You can also count U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., among the skeptics, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler writes.

Later in the day on Tuesday, the nominee, Sarah Bloom Raskin, of Maryland, withdrew her nomination.

Seventeen Republican members of Congress have sued the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seeking an end to the federal rule requiring passengers on commercial flights and in airports to wear masks, Jacob Fischler also reports.

On our Commentary Page: Opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz wonders if he’d be brave enough to step up and fight like the ordinary Ukrainians who are defending their country against the Russian invasion. And decades later, FDR’s ‘four freedoms’ are on the line in Ukraine, contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli, of Carlisle, writes.

Republican David McCormick has entered the 2022 race for Pennsylvania U.S. Senate. (AdImpact Screenshot)

The Inquirer takes a closer look at Republican Bill McSwain’s campaign for governor.

The Associated Press profiles GOP U.S. Senate hopeful David McCormick (via WITF-FM).

City & State Pa. profiles GOP U.S. Senate hopeful Jeff Bartos.

PennDOT will spend $317 million in infrastructure projects around the Pittsburgh region, the Tribune-Review reports.

Concerned Harrisburg residents met in Midtown on Tuesday night to talk about recent homicides in the cityPennLive reports.

LancasterOnline profiles John Burkhart, the former Lancaster County Drug Task Force chief, who’s been charged with theft.

Paving work is set to begin on Interstates 78 and 81 in Dauphin and Lebanon counties, the York Daily Record reports.

An innocuous school spirit sign has prompted a debate over what teachers in one Lehigh County school district should be allowed to post in their classrooms, the Morning Call reports.

The Times-Tribune talks to area lawmakers who are backing a proposed state gas tax holiday. And governors in other states are facing similar pressure to lower their gas taxesPolitico reports.

Pennsylvania faces a ‘historic’ police shortageWHYY-FM reports.

Erie County Community College has hired a board member’s son to lobby for state money, GoErie reports.

Lawmakers in at least 20 states are moving to restrict access to abortion pills that have been legal for decades, reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
10 a.m., Hearing Room 1 North Office Building: Senate Appropriations Committee (Dept. of Military & Veterans Affairs budget hearing)
2:30 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Appropriations Committee (Dept. of Drug & Alcohol Programs)

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Sharif Street
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Amen Brown
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a truly ridiculous $10,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Have a birthday — your own or someone else’s — you’d like to see shouted out in this space? Send me an email at [email protected], and we’ll get you on the list.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a recommendation that recently came across the desk. It’s Bartees Strange, and ‘Heavy Heart’.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The Toronto Maple Leafs blanked the Dallas Stars 4-0 on Tuesday night. In his first NHL start, ‘Leafs keeper Erik Kallgren made 35 saves on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.