Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Politics of Public Transportation, or Streetcar Blues

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 2:11 PM

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As plans for the streetcar connecting various corners of San Antonio move forward, the movement against these plans are picking up steam. The Let SA Vote group is collecting signatures to push forward a petition to put the streetcar issue on the November ballot. Setting aside that the matter has already been decided (and that this group wants to retroactively overturn the decision to do so), there's a certain tenor to their complaints. Thus, it's little surprise that those against the streetcar tend to come from the sides of town who are less likely to use the streetcar anyway.

The Pew Research Group recently released a rather large study breaking down political typology. The study looks at Americans not merely as conservative and liberal, but instead more precisely defines political alignments between eight different groups. The split is still between the typical left and right, but the divisions between Steadfast and Business Conservatives have particular pronounced differences like those on social issues. Young Outsiders tend to lean right but distrust political parties. However, those who are on the left—Next Generation and Faith & Family Left, and particularly Solid Liberals—are much more likely to use public transit than any other group. Thus, it would stand to reason that those who are most likely to use a new public transit alternative would be more likely to use a system like a streetcar. Even moreso, it's understandable why the groundswell of protest against the streetcar is coming from the car-loving Northside. While the figures about the streetcar project's environmental impact may be in dispute, the nature of the rhetoric around this movement and the very Northside address to which petitions against it must be sent are quite telling. The argument against and the decision to overturn elected officials' votes is primarily coming from conservative voters less likely to use public transportation.

The arguments for and against building a streetcar in San Antonio are certainly worth hearing, though less so as things are moving along and moves to overturn the decision to move forward have a slight whining tenor to them. However, it helps to remember what the origin of the complaints are and literally from whence they are coming. Context is everything.

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