Ron Paul: Stop Subsidizing Highways, Let “Transits” Flourish

Before the Iowa caucuses, we wrote briefly about the candidates’ positions on transportation, but we’d missed this tidbit. (Thanks to an anonymous reader for bringing it to our attention.)

In this video from 2009, Ron Paul responds to a supporter’s angst about light rail – he wants to oppose anything that was built with government money but it’s just so darn useful! Paul’s response is nuanced and quite refreshing (if also detached from political reality).

After declaring that he’s never been on the DC metro and doesn’t plan to ever use it, Paul muses about what would have happened if there had never been “government interference” in transportation:

First, if you didn’t have government subsidized highways, at least at the federal level – and have all these wonderful superhighways sailing from city to city and downtown – there would have been a greater incentive for the market to develop transits, trains going back and forth. Before the government got involved, before Penn Central and these other railroads were destroyed by regulations and union wages and featherbedding, we did have private transportation. By subsidizing highways and destroying mass transit, we ended up with this monstrosity.

He said subsidized transit is wasteful, since it spends more than it makes, and that makes it morally “wrong.” But still, his point is an interesting one: Transit is subsidized, in part, because it has to compete with highly-subsidized roadways. If we didn’t subsidize those roads, they would cost more to use – Paul puts in a plug for tolling – and been on a more level playing field with other modes. Ryan Avent wrote something similar on this blog right around the time Rep. Paul made this video.

Would Paul’s free-market utopia really result in a better transportation system — or a better anything? We all have our own opinions on that. But it’s nice to see that he gets that roads don’t pay for themselves, and that his vision is mode-inclusive: If only we’d kept government out of it, he said, “We would have had less fancy highways, more mass transits, more interstate highways that would have been privately owned.”

Of course, the world doesn’t run according to the principles that Paul espouses, and so his fierce opposition to public transportation funding has to be evaluated in the real world, where highways are propped up by enormous subsidies. In the end, Paul’s record on transit funding, fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions treaties, carbon taxes, and land use restrictions for conservation still adds up to one abysmal environmental position.