There are few things more essential to a thriving community than high-quality public transit. A good transit system increases equity by ensuring that all members of the community can access jobs, schools, parks, shops and services, conveniently and with dignity, regardless of income or physical ability. It improves public health by increasing access to medical care and healthy food, and because most transit riders walk or bike to and from the transit stop. It improves safety, because transit is about 10 times safer than traveling by car. It improves the economy, with every $1 invested in transit yielding $4 in economic benefits. It provides precious free time for reading, daydreaming, or watching the scenery - but also a social space where people from different walks of life can interact in those serendipitous exchanges that are the heart of any community. Not least, riding transit generates a fraction of the climate pollution of driving a car, so every new rider helps protect the community from the storms, floods, and fires of the climate crisis.

If you’ve never ridden the bus in Humboldt County, I highly recommend that you give it a try. If you have, then you know the many joys of getting where you want to go without having to get behind the wheel of a car. But you also know the difficulties and frustrations that can be involved in getting to the nearest bus stop, waiting for the next bus to come, and planning carefully to ensure you don’t get stranded by missing the last bus of the day.

The Humboldt Transit Authority and other local transit operators do an admirable job of providing service under challenging conditions. For example, much of the region is developed at low densities that can’t provide the demand for frequent bus service, and much of our housing is separated from jobs and services by relatively long distances. These are things we need to work on, and are some of the many reasons to support affordable infill housing development.

But if we want better public transit any time soon, there’s another factor that can’t be ignored: funding. The majority of funding for our local transit system comes from state and federal government sources, and almost all of the rest comes from riders’ fares. Our local governments provide almost none of their own discretionary funds to support public transit. We’ll never have truly high-quality transit, with all of the benefits, if we don’t invest some of our local dollars.

The good news is that Humboldt County is already considering putting a transportation sales tax on the 2024 ballot. It’s crucially important that, if it passes, some of the money goes to supporting public transit improvements - things like more frequent buses, late-night and weekend service, and even on-demand service for lower-density areas. Recognizing the need for local transit investment, organizations including the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP), Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility (RCCER), Northcoast Environmental Center, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), and 350 Humboldt all support including transit funding in any transportation ballot measure, and will oppose any measure that doesn’t include that commitment.

Another good option for transit funding is parking meters. Parking meters may not be very popular with drivers, but a modern smart meter system in a downtown area can actually make it easier to find a parking space and even stimulate business by increasing turnover, all while generating money to support better alternatives to driving.

Humboldt County deserves a high-quality public transit system, with all the economic, social, environmental, health and safety benefits that come from having one. We’ve got a pretty good system already, but with strong local support it could be truly great. Let’s invest in the future of our communities. Let’s invest in public transit.


Colin Fiske is executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities.