Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Mass Transit Racket

The population is exploding, congestion is growing, there seems to be no end in sight. What is the solution? For some it is population control, i.e. don't have any more kids, and for some it is ride your bicycle to work. But the current hip money-making scheme for politicians is mass transit. Because who doesn't know someone who is dying to sell their car if only a train passed by somewhere within the 20-mile radius of their home. The idea of mass transit is popular with the masses, at least based on voter preference, which baffles me, seeing as the masses do not utilize it.

Patrick Bedard contributes to the magazine "Car and Driver". You can find his columns under the features section of He has two excellent columns posted entitled "Mass Transit Gets Its Big Chance" and "Take the Car or Hop a Choo-Choo". In the following, I will post some of his key points.

A traffic study by the Reason Foundation has found that "in highly decentralized Los Angeles, where just 4.8 percent of people use transit to commute, over half of the long-range-plan money, $66.9 billion, is being spent on transit." Bedard continues, "that $66.9 billion, if shifted from transit, which commuters shun, to highways, where they swarm, would almost cover the entire $67.7 billion needed to relieve L.A.'s severe congestion. "

"The economic value that society places on light-rail transit is reflected, in part, by people's willingness to pay for it," says a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Fare revenue covers only 28.2 percent of operating costs in St. Louis, 19.4 percent in Baltimore, and 21.4 percent in Buffalo." The taxpayers carry the rest of the load, after they've coughed up the full price of building the systems in the first place.

The New York subway system, popularly called the “electric sewer” in my 19 years as a Manhattan cliff dweller, hauls the masses and is arguably the most cost-efficient transit system in the country. Passengers pay 68 percent of operating costs. The numbers drop from there, as does ridership. Around the country, San Francisco is next best at 57 percent, then Washington, D.C., at 48 percent, followed by Boston riders who pay 41 percent, 36 percent in Chicago, 31 percent in Atlanta, 28 percent in Los Angeles, and 20 percent in Denver.

The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole points to commuter rail as the big hole in the fiscal bucket. He cites General Accounting ­Office figures, saying the cost to build a rail line can be 50 times that of starting a bus service with comparable frequency and capacity. While buses run on streets already in place, light rail has to construct the track system before the first train can enter the station. Cheapie layouts that run on a level grade—that means the trains will stop traffic as they cut across streets—cost $25 million to $50 million a mile.

So rail systems run on borrowed money, and bondholders must be paid, mostly from sales-tax revenues.

The riders never value the service enough to pay its full cost. O’Toole, in this 2006 study, quotes 2003 numbers showing that subsidies for transit beyond the expense covered by fares amounted to $31 billion. That same year, subsidies to highways less user fees paid by motorists that were diverted to nonhighway uses such as mass transit came out to $15 billion. “Yet highways account for about 100 times as many passenger-miles and infinitely more freight movement than transit.”

These paragraphs from Patrick Bedard cited some specific cities, but the general idea is applicable to all cities with mass transit systems. It is always a racket.

Utah currently has a commuter light rail in place with plans of expansions being constructed through 2015. This is the big plan to ease congestion. With round-trip TRAX fare at $4.50, it would often be less expensive to drive your own car on any given trip. Now this varies depending on how far you are going, how much gas costs at a given time, and the gas mileage of your vehicle. However, TRAX does increase its fares if the cost of gas goes up to a certain amount. If you have more than one person in the car, TRAX becomes an even more expensive alternative. All of this does not even include the taxes that are spent on TRAX. $312 million was spent for the initial TRAX construction. This does not incude all of the extensions. $290 million has recently been pledged just for the airport extension. There is also always the inconvenience factor. You probably need to drive to get to a TRAX station. If you are already driving there, it would be much faster to just continue driving to your final destination. TRAX is a wonderful alternative for those who do not own a vehicle. But then, to me, this just becomes another welfare program.

I do not understand the positive mass transit opinion of an average taxpayer. Your average taxpayer will not use TRAX, and for sure will not use it regularly. My husband's car was in the shop at a point in which we lived in an apartment building with a bus stop right in front of it. There was also a bus stop a block from his place of employment. So he rode the bus to work. And then he made me drive him to work for the rest of the week because even though the bus stops were right next to his home and work, it just took too long to get there!

Hundreds of millions have been spent constructing the TRAX tracks here in Utah. More will be spent through 2015 with expansions in place or planned through to Layton, Draper, the University of Utah, and the Salt Lake City International Airport. Taxpayer money will continue to be spent each year to supplement the operating costs. If we could just stop building and paying for TRAX, we could get the congestion on I-15 settled once and for all.

1 comment:

  1. Using the D.C. public transit system, it took us one hour to travel 2 miles to get to church . It took us two and a half hours to travel around 8 miles to get to the D.C. temple. I will never go anywhere without my car again.