OPINION: Do The Rich Need To Pay For Public Transit?

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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CEO of moovel, one of Daimler’s mobility brands, recently said that wealthy people need to invest more in public transportation. But why would they?

“If you’re driving your Mercedes or your BMW to Catlin Gabel you are still stuck in traffic … Giving everyone quick and easy access [to public transportation] lifts all boats.”

Back in mid-May, CEO of moovel (soon to be joined with BMW’s Reach Now, as a part of Daimler’s and BMW’s mobility merger) Matt Parker was speaking at TechFest NW. For those not aware of moovel, it is a company that works to lower barriers to public transportation ridership through, in part, ticket digitalization, in order to curb climate change through limiting greenhouse gasses released through or current transportation system. To put it in his words, “Our vision is truly, to create a planet without traffic jams.”

At TechFest NW, Parker was asked about what attitude shifts commuters — specifically residents of Portland, Oregon (moovel’s hometown) — should make in order to spur the growth of public transport, he replied, “[I am] Not saying categorically you can’t have a car, but saying, you know what, if you’re going to drive to a Blazers game why not take the light rail?”

That’s a fair assessment. I agree with on that point. In fact, when I attend Blazer games, I take light rail to the arena. However, from there, Parker got a bit more aggressive, so to speak, and started to almost bite the hand that feeds; you’ll see what I mean in a second.

“We need rich people to invest in the stuff that moves everybody, not just themselves,” Parker said. “If you’re driving your Mercedes or your BMW to Catlin Gabel (an exclusive K-12 private school) you are still stuck in traffic … Giving everyone quick and easy access [to public transportation] lifts all boats.”

He added that, currently, mass-transit investment “floats with the health of the economy,” which is one of the hurdles in the way of growing and improving public transport.

The moovel ap
The moovel app combines several mobility options in one application to help riders get to where they need to go, | Photo: moovel

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Parker’s sentiment the last few days. At first blush, I wholeheartedly agree with him. The more I thought about it, though, I started to disagree. And the main question lingering in mind is: Why would rich people invest in public transportation? BMWs and Mercedes are really nice places to be (nudge, nudge, Mr. Parker)  — even if you are stuck in traffic.

More importantly, though: With the current state of mass transit — even in a city like Portland teeming with mass-transit options  — why would the rich want anything to do with it? What’s their incentive to be inconvenienced, slowed down, and confronted by many awful smells (sorry not sorry) while they take their kids to school or commute to work?

Parker followed up his feelings about wealthy Americans taking buses and trains by pointing out: “Studies have shown that TNCs (Transportation Networking Companies) in fact are adding to congestion. 60% of the people who use Uber or Lyft said that they would have taken public transportation if Uber or Lyft were not an option.”

Yeah, exactly. Being alone in a car is way nicer than public transport.

Reach Now BMW i3
A BMW i3, which is a part of BMW’s Reach Now ride-sharing business. | Photo: BMW

 

Ignoring the fact that Parker has a vested interest in more people taking public transportation, let’s assume Parker is most interested in cutting greenhouse emissions associated with transportation. If curbing greenhouse gas emissions is the name of the game, why do wealthy need to hop on buses and light-rail trains? Can’t they ride in electrified vehicles, be it their personally owned ones or ride-sharing EVs? After all, that’s the end goal of the whole ride-hailing business: pure-electric robotaxis.

OK so if we are going to insist people, wealthy and the rest, not take Lyft or Uber and instead prefer they take public transit, two things need to happen.

  1. Public transit needs to get, way, way, way nicer and more widespread.
  2. We need to force them through legislation.

I don’t foresee number two happening (well, maybe in San Francisco or Portland). So, it needs to be the latter. And if the rich aren’t going to just willingly invest in mass transit, because clearly they aren’t now, we need to tax them and invest those funds for them.

Maybe that’s what Parker meant? I assume BMW and Mercedes would balk at one of their subsidiary’s CEOs calling for taxing the rich. So, he likely can’t go there. Rather, he has to call the rich to action, I guess, through mild public shaming (not a great strategy).

If moovel, Reach Now, and Parker want to grow the popularity and ridership of public transportation, they need to not demonize commuters in their cars — or Uber and Lyft riders. Remember, it seems all carmakers are working toward going pure electric, so, too, are all robotaxis.

In my mind, if people don’t want to take a bus and choose an environmentally friendly alternative, I say that’s fine. Don’t forget, Mr. Parker, your German overlords are investing big time in EVs that they want to sell to individuals — rich individuals. So maybe lay off the rich shaming, yeah?


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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