Transit supporters in the Triangle have yet another victory to celebrate this morning. Nearly 59 percent of voters in Orange County approved adding a half-cent sales tax increase to the local sales tax rate to expand public transit investments, including additional bus routes and service hours and new light rail. This approval came on the heels of a successful sales tax referendum in Durham County last year. Whether Wake County will follow suit is up in the air and largely dependent on whether County Commissioners will give voters a choice in 2013 to decide.
With this approval, voters are acknowledging that transportation policies that favor highway investments over public transit are no longer sustainable amidst rapid population growth, widespread traffic congestion, and climbing gas prices and vehicle emissions. This approval also sends the message that most voters agree that investments in public transportation pays dividends. Specifically, accessible and affordable transportation creates healthy, connected neighborhoods by improving access to employment, education, and social opportunities—a win for both residents and local businesses.
With this approval also comes great responsibility for the local policymakers making the land-use plans around the bus routes and light rail stops. We must be certain that these vital investments benefit everyone in these counties. This sales tax increase will fall more heavily upon lower-income residents due to its regressive nature, and as a result, it is important that lower-income residents—folks that disproportionately use public transit—benefit from the expanded services. This result diminishes without proper planning across policy silos, according to national research. In order for transit investments to benefit all residents and for transit to be successful, transit plans should be coordinated with affordable housing policies before transit stations become operational.
Indeed, this is a victory for transit supporters but there is more work to be done to ensure that these investments build greater transportation equity in the Triangle.