Sacramento Is Ready to Try Anything to Boost Train Ridership

The city government of Sacramento, CA is considering a novel way to get more commuters to take its light rail system. You may be wondering what tack the city will attempt – will they offer tax breaks for development around train stations in attempt to attract more residents who may want to live and work near stations? Will they embark on a big PR campaign to attract new riders? Will they invest in infrastructure and make the trains run on time? Perhaps they will seek to make the rail system more attractive for commuters by expanding service, reducing prices, or adding amenities to trains?

Of course not – all of these solutions have been tried before, and are just entirely too predictable. Sacramento’s leadership intends to “think outside the box.” Here’s what they’re going to do, from Reason.com:

City staff there are drafting an ordinance that would ban building new gas stations, drive-throughs, and other auto-related businesses within a quarter mile of any of the city’s 23 light rail stations. (Also to be prohibited, for reasons unclear: marijuana cultivation sites.) Other businesses “not considered transit-supportive”—car lots, auto repair businesses, manufacturing sites, wholesale outlets—would still be allowed, but only if the city grants them a special permit.

It’s not entirely clear what the logic is here. Does Sacramento’s government think that if rail commuters so much as see a gas station, Burger King, or Jiffy Lube that they will realize the inferiority of the rails and jump back in their cars?

The drawbacks of this idea are so numerous, it’s difficult to decide which is the most egregious. Is it the chilling effect that the regulation would have on business development? What fast food restaurant would set up shop that would be barred from having a drive-through window? Furthermore, any other businesses – office parks, shopping centers, etc. – are unlikely to want to move into areas without the business infrastructure to support their office workers or shoppers. What about the disproportionate impact on the poor, who are more likely to patronize fast food restaurants? What about prospective employees of gas stations or any of the other allegedly undesirable businesses, who would now be unable to commute via the infrastructure the city is supposedly trying to support.

It’s almost as if the city is trying to depress ridership, rather than increase it. Consumers’ Research gives this proposed policy a solid “F.”

Image Source: Image, License Summary.

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