Recent events and COTA observations
In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been over the last several months, I’m still here. Â Moving downtown has had the effect of joining the witness protection program.Â Add to that the fact that I now have a new Rival brand Crock-Pot Slow Cooker and I couldn’t be more home-bound.Â So here’s an update from Bill.
I got a parking ticket last week from the good folks at the City of Columbus Parking Violations Bureau. I realize I’m ruining any future political aspirations by admitting this in such a public forum, but I have to explain how it happened.Â The short version of this story is, the meters on the new 670 cap are enforced from 7am until 10pm on Saturdays, except for the fact that they’re not enforced from 4pm to 6pm.Â (Logical for a day that doesn’t have a rush hour, isn’t it?) Anyway, I tried to get out of it because I didn’t bother to read the sticker carefully and because the meters just a hundred feet away shut off at six, but it didn’t work and they sent me a nice all-caps letter telling me to pay up.Â Oh well — it was my mistake.Â Anyway, gentle reader, be careful parking on that bridge.
I have to give a shout out to the good people at the Mozilla Organization.Â I got their new Firefox browser and it is really good.Â In fact, it is the first web browser since Netscape 2.0 I’ve liked better than Internet Explorer.Â It’s based on the old Netscape code, in fact, so it’s nice to come full circle.Â They’re pitching it as a good alternative to the security nightmare that is Internet Explorer.Â Even if you don’t worry about that, though, it’s really fast, and it has tabbed browsing, great keyboard shortcuts, and this wicked cool orange fire logo.Â Best of all, Windows SP2 makes it pretty seamless to replace IE with Firefox.Â So, click this button, and if you like it, then, all right.
I feel compelled to discuss the recent dust-up in the papers about COTA and its last-ditch attempt to save its light rail dreams.Â This week, MORPC agreed to help COTA borrow $4 million for an environmental study on the line.Â At the same time, the Federal Transit Administration reminded us that its support for the COTA rail plan came with an expiration date, and the support ends soon because COTA never came up with the local matching funds to build the line.
COTA is therefore taking one step forward and one step back.Â Some of my friends, and some letter writers in the Dispatch, have suggested that we need to get this sales tax moving so that we can regain federal approval.Â Faithful friends and readers of mine will know nobody likes the idea of urban rail transport — or anything that supplements the highway in our cities — more than I do.Â But as I’ve been saying for years, COTA’s been so mismanaged that I just can’t support a tax increase until it cleans up its act.Â Firing the censured manager Ron Barnes was a great first step, but the agency has a lot more to do to rebuild the public confidence.Â How about starting with firing drivers who run red lights?Â And fixing the signs that still don’t make sense?Â How about a web site that works?Â When COTA takes basic steps such as these and improves its existing operations, I’ll be able to push for the tax increase.Â Until then, I vote no.
And finally, on a related issue, I believe it’s a mistake for COTA to depend on the sales tax to raise its revenues.Â Because a light rail system is a fixed, physical infrastructure improvement, and it does primarily benefit those landowners in the region of the corridor, the economically optimal funding source would be a property tax — say on those landowners within two miles of the route plus all of Downtown.Â This undercuts some of the legitimate argument of those who say they would never use the system and shouldn’t have to pay for it.Â (However, any decreases in air pollution would benefit the region as a whole, so there should be some way to recover that benefit through a more broad-based tax.)Â The other main argument I have with a sales tax is that it is regressive, which means the poor spend the largest share of their income meeting the burden of the tax, and the irony of that is that better transit service benefits the poor more than anyone else.Â The sales tax giveth away and taketh back.
The last COTA levy, which was countywide, predictably had its greatest support along the North High Street corridor and lowest support in the low-density south.Â The tax increase could have passed comfortably in certain quarters of the city.Â COTA should explore a funding mechanism, some kind of special district, that would put the cost on those who would use the service and who demonstrably wanted it the most.