The Right Note: Free Ride

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mark Kelly asked its readers this week to opine on whether or not riders on the new trolley line should have to pay for the ride — assuming the line is built that is.

When I took online the poll, just 54 percent of 1,000 respondents said “no” to subsidizing riders. 46 percent voted to subsidize it temporarily or permanently. While not a scientific poll, 46 percent seemed high based on the reasons we are told that new rapid transit buses on Columbia Pike are not the solution.

On top of that list of main selling points is that more people will WANT to ride the trolley who do not currently pay to take the bus. If people will gladly give up the frustrations of driving their car in favor of a shiny new trolley, why would we need to provide monetary incentives to entice them to do it?

Apparently, 46 percent of ARLnow readers are not convinced that if we build it, they will come. In fact, the more interesting question may have been, would you ride the trolley without a free fare?

Granted, this is an academic discussion for now. The notion of making the trolley a free ride came about from a debate about light rail in Virginia Beach. But, with ridership not meeting projections virtually everywhere across the U.S. this experiment has been tried, rest assured the thought of reduced or no fares has crossed someone’s mind in Arlington.

If we are going to give a preference to trolley riders, why not make the Metro free? Or bus rides free? Or at least, we could knock a $1 off of all those fares as well.

We do now live in a county that seems to be on a path to buy every child in Arlington’s schools a Macbook Air — or maybe just an iPad. Our budgets are so comfortably padded that we are apparently paying for this year’s Macbook Air purchase with money that was just lying around at APS unused.

Compared to the half-billion price tag to get the complete trolley line installed, the fare subsidy would really only be chump change. Of course, there’s an applicable old saying about government spending that goes something like this, “the problem is, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.”

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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