High gas prices show the need for Orlando to invest in a modern transportation system
The Ukraine-Russia conflict has been a terrible tragedy with global ramifications. One local repercussion is the shocking and swift rise of gas prices, hitting the working class hard.
Throughout the country including Florida, there have been discussions of suspending gas taxes to provide temporary relief for struggling citizens.
While this would be small but welcome assistance to many, this short-term fix does not address the underlying issue.
The fundamental problem is workers in Orlando are forced to pay rising prices at the pump because there are no viable transportation options beyond driving.
Orange County’s proposed transportation penny sales tax could help alleviate the costly burden of rising gas prices by building a world class transit system.
Cars are the only rational choice in our community because transit service is vastly underfunded, so it lacks the frequency and connectivity to move people effectively.
Half of all LYNX routes come every hour and only one fixed route operates every 15 minutes, the definition of frequent service. Routes are inefficient and there are not enough buses to meet demand.
People will never choose the bus if it takes 3 hours for a trip that would be 30 minutes by car, even with gas prices approaching $5 a gallon. Time is money, and no one with the means or ability to drive will put up with commute times almost as long as their work hours.
In addition to inadequate transit, our streets are extremely unsafe for bikes and pedestrians. The Orlando metropolitan area is regularly ranked the most dangerous in the country by the annual Dangerous by Design report by Smart Growth America.
Slow and unreliable transit and dangerous walking and biking conditions leaves driving as the only reasonable choice, harming the working class by mandating car ownership just to participate in society.
The failure of leaders to provide reliable mass transit and safe streets hurts us all even when gas is cheap. When gas is reaching record highs, the almost non-existent alternatives to cars are impossible to ignore.
While raising taxes might be a hard sell during a time of high inflation, the transportation sales tax could provide the funding needed to transform our region with fast and frequent transit and real road safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
We could bring the fast and comfortable experience of SunRail to buses with Bus Rapid Transit and have frequent bus routes on every major road.
We could expand SunRail operating hours and add additional lines to the airport, Apopka, and through coordination with Brightline, Disney and Universal.
In the long run, it could massively reduce transportation costs for households. The extra few hundred dollars it would cost annually pales in comparison to the average annual cost of owning a car, which is nearly $10,000 according to AAA.
Providing a transportation system that gives households the choice to go car free or car light would put thousands back in the pockets of residents. Money that could be spent locally, instead of funding oil exporting dictatorships like Russia or Venezuela.
Even people who would never consider giving up their cars would likely save money on transportation. Imagine never having to pay for expensive parking or rideshare to the airport or downtown.
The ongoing rise in gas prices is a crisis, but our response should not be doubling down on costly automobile dependence.
The current status quo of road widening and adding toll lanes will not prepare us for the next oil crisis.
If used wisely with citizen oversight, the penny sales tax would transform Orange County into a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous place. It would also reduce congestion, saving drivers as well as transit rider’s valuable time.
The best policy response for members of our community struggling with high gas prices is to provide long term solutions by investing in a modern transportation system – one that does not force people to rely on cars just to survive.