Matthew Yglesias: BART strike: Here's how to think about it.:
The recent strike of Bay Area Rapid Transit workers looking for a raise has prompted a fascinating window in the (often-dark) souls of privileged Bay Area high-tech workers. That, in turn, has prompted an outpouring of self-righteousness from east coast writer types about the evils of the privileged Bay Area high-tech workers. But at the end of the day, a strike at BART or any other mass transit agency isn't about privileged high-tech workers it's about the mass transit system.
And here's how I think you should think about these cases. Imagine that you woke up one fine morning to find yourself as the head of your metro area's mass transit agency.... Your assistant tells you that the agency's accountants have discovered a ton of extra money.... Do you: 1. Pay your existing staff more? 2. Cut fares? 3. Hire more staff?...
[For] WMATA.... Any one of these... would be good for... people... underprivileged relative to the rich lobbyists and such who people think of when they think of a DC area person who they hate. But compared to option (3), I think option (1) looks pretty bad. Option (3) would reduce unemployment.... a boon to people who rely on mass transit.... Option (2) is also very much worth considering, as a fare cut can be a powerful tool.... That said, both Metrorail and many of the city's main bus lines run at very close to maximum capacity at key times. Cutting off-peak fares is a good idea. But I suspect that in many cases off-peak transit users are more in need of better service than of lower fares.
Obviously Option (1) isn't always the wrong choice.... Trying to expand the Midland-Odessa EZ Rider, for example, doesn't strike me as a very compelling proposition.... But if your city does have unemployed workers and mass transit needs, then hiring even more hard-working bus drivers so that hard-working nurses and waitresses can get to work more easily seems like the better idea. Whatever annoying things the local rich people may say, the cost of plowing money into higher salaries rather than improved services aren't borne by rich people—they're borne by transit riders and people who'd like to get hired as bus drivers.