I have to tell you a story you may well find uninteresting but it's true nonetheless. We'll just call it a coincidence.Last Thursday while driving around town, I came upon a stranded Greyhound bus. I know nothing of the circumstances but the bus was parked on a small street and many of the passengers were outside milling about. I assume there was a minor mechanical problem or something.
As I drove by I watched the passengers as they began to slowly make their way back on board. Many were elderly, most were minority and, were I guessing, I would assume most were lower income. That's a terrible over-generalization but I'm just telling you what I saw. And I wondered as I drove by this bus why we in Missouri can subsidize Amtrak service but not the bus service that tends to be the transportation mode of the under-served in our society. I found my answer the following morning.
On Friday the Associated Press reported of efforts by our own Congressman Jo Ann Emerson to seek additional funding for bus service support. I was fairly amazed by the coincidence in timing. But I was more impressed by the Emerson proposal.
If we truly want to assist those most in need, why do we subsidize the airline industry and the rail industry and seemingly ignore the bus service? Bus transportation seems to me to generate a large number of their passengers from the lower income ranks, yet this service is generally ignored in Washington and Jefferson City. I'm not a fan of any government subsidy in general but if we're going to funnel money in the form of subsidies, then bus service is getting the short end of the stick.
Emerson has a great idea although it's not a headline grabber plan. Since the bus lines serve mostly lower income residents, their voices are often not as loud as the deep pockets of the airline industry or rail service. But that's exactly where the money should flow if we're going to be providing any transportation subsidies. Or so it seems to me.
Often the problem with government spending is not the amount of funds but rather the ways in which those dollars are spent. If we truly want to help those most in need, perhaps a subsidy for bus service might be a proper starting point. It may not impact those reading this column but it may impact those in need of help the most. And that, I believe, is the proper function of government.