We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for DC Council at-large. See all of the discussions here.
In our discussion about transportation, both Nate Bennett-Fleming and John Settles spoke about how lower-income residents find fares on the bus and train, or fees for car sharing and other transportation options, to be a significant barrier to getting to jobs and making a good living.
If you try to go from far Southeast to upper Northwest, the time and the cost is prohibitive. A lot of women who graduate from [the workforce development program at the Southeast Children’s Fund] get jobs in Northwest. They’re paying a bus fare to drop a kid at school, a second bus fare to get to Metro, then a Metro fare to get to their job in Northwest. Cumulatively, they’re spending $15-20 a day on transportation, and for someone that makes $10 an hour that’s prohibitive. And it doesn’t make sense.
Bennett-Fleming pointed to newer technology-based transportation options as one approach to help lower-income residents:
[N]ew things like Lyft and Uber — those are tools that can really be a bang for people that are economically distressed, and that’s an option for them, and how can we encourage more people to know about these tools, have awareness about these tools, and actually use them.
Because at the end of the day, the transportation cost in the District of Columbia is a form of regression tax. So many people don’t have the resources and they’re spending so much of their incomes getting around the city. So we have to make sure we have options to bring the cost of transportation down, make sure people are equipped, even our most vulnerable residents, with the options that they need to get around without fundamentally changing their budgets and ability to afford to live, to put food on their tables, etc.
Bennett-Fleming went on to talk about open government and open data. He cited tools like “Outline” which help residents see the effects of legislative proposals and contact their elected officials.
Settles praised new options like car sharing, but argued that these are not really going to significantly decrease costs for low-income residents:
We have to look at how we expand options. The Circulator has been effective at providing options downtown; we need to expand it east and west. And other multimodal options. A lot of people are driving in from Maryland and Virginia. Why don’t we have multimodal transportation hubs so they can park their car, pay us a parking fee, and get on public transportation so we’re reducing the cars and the on-street traffic.
For me personally, I can afford the multimodal uses ... [but] for lower income individuals the cost is prohibitive. They can’t spend the $10-12 an hour for Zipcar, Enterprise Car Share or car2go. So I think we have to get serious about having better transportation solutions.
Both Settles and Bennett-Fleming seem generally on board with the streetcar program, but have concerns about the way DDOT is planning it as they go, not to mention the many missed deadlines. Rubio said,
I’m glad we have it and I hope that we expand it more throughout the city. It’s definitely been a slow process and I’m disappointed with that. We’ve been waiting forever for the H Street streetcar. And I’d like to expand the streetcar to other neighborhoods.
He specifically cited Ivy City as a place the streetcar could benefit. Rubio also supports dedicated bus lanes: “I’ve taken the 16th Street bus ... but during rush hour your commute doubles, and I agree that we preserve a lane for just buses, and also for bike riders.”
Bennett-Fleming and Settles were generally positive about the idea of bus lanes, but didn’t explicitly endorse a 16th Street lane; rather, both called for studies to figure out if it can work.
On the topic of cycling, Bennett-Fleming suggested that to get more people bicycling, rather than adding cycle tracks DC needs to “change the culture” around transportation. He pointed to Berkeley, where he went to school, and where they have more bicycling but fewer miles of cycle tracks. Instead, there is just a strong culture of cycling, he said.
How can that happen? He pointed to driver education programs for young drivers, public information campaigns, and perhaps programs when people renew their licenses.
Watch the whole discussions with each candidate about transportation: