With Ridership on the Rise, Will Congress Step Up and Invest in Transit?

Yesterday the American Public Transportation Association reported that Americans made more transit trips in 2013 than in any other year since 1956. Of course, per capita ridership is still low compared to the 1950s, and we’re nowhere near the ridership peaks of the 1940s. But when transit trips increase 1.1 percent while population rises 0.7 percent, you know change is afoot.

Transit expansions, like LA's expo line, which opened in 2012, helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##
Transit expansions, like LA’s expo line, which opened in 2012, have helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ExpoLineFan, via ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##

APTA, which is meeting in Washington this week for its legislative conference, has some ideas about how to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

It goes a little something like this: Pass a transportation bill. Make it a six-year bill — not a measly two years like the current MAP-21 bill. Raise the gas tax, pass a VMT fee, do whatever you need to do to provide a steady funding source. And then invest $100.4 billion over the next six years in transit.

This year, transit got $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund and another $2.1 billion from the general fund — mostly for New Starts capital grants — for a combined total of $10.7 billion. APTA wants to see that number grow to $12.1 billion in 2015 and $22.2 billion in 2020.

While APTA’s proposal would mark a major improvement, it’s not as big a jump as President Obama envisions. The White House budget proposal would bring transit funding up to $17.6 billion in 2015 — which APTA doesn’t call for until 2018. APTA would have funding grow more incrementally over time, while Obama envisions a big increase next year and then stability.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced yesterday that the administration would submit a transportation bill proposal to Congress, which it has not done previously.

While APTA is pushing for a six-year bill, the administration has rolled out a four-year bill, because that’s what its proposed funding method will support. Foxx told transit agency officials assembled for the APTA conference yesterday that he empathized with the need for long-term legislation.

“We as a nation have got to have a stable and predictable funding and policy,” Foxx said. “When you go from year to year off of continuing resolutions — or even MAP-21, which was politically a huge lift but a two-year bill — what happens to transit systems, what happens to our entire transportation system, is that folks don’t know how to plan. You don’t know whether to go forward with that engineering study because you’re not sure what’s going to happen down the road.”

After Foxx spoke, local leaders from around the country highlighted the importance of federal funding. Although the cumbersome federal process adds time and expense to projects, said Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, local money will never be sufficient to fund projects like the Tucson streetcar.

And forget state assistance. The current transportation chair of the Arizona statehouse is a Tea Partier more interested in holding hearings to investigate Agenda 21 than in funding mobility options for her constituents.

“As you might expect,” Farley said, “the Arizona legislature hasn’t been entirely helpful when it comes to moving our state forward in transportation projects.” So it’s a good thing the federal government stepped in and awarded a $63 million TIGER grant to the Tucson streetcar in 2012 — the largest award the program had ever made.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman had the same story about the notoriously anti-transit governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. “On every front where there is an opportunity to expand or improve public transit,” Bauman said, “the state is active — active — in its opposition.” The Milwaukee streetcar is being funded with about 85 percent federal funds.

And while Virginia just increased transportation spending, Alexandria Mayor William Euille said it’s often a better idea to approach the Federal Transit Administration, rather than the state, when looking for transit money.

While some places, like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, have recently been able to raise more local funds to pay for transit expansions, these testimonials highlight how the FTA provides a crucial pipeline for transit funding that would disappear in many states if the federal transportation program went bankrupt.

The question now is whether Congress will respond to the upward trend in ridership growth by devoting more resources to transit.

“Will the record increase in public transit ridership finally convince Congress our nation must meet this growing demand?” said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in a statement responding to the APTA ridership report. “Despite more and more people riding transit, more young people forgoing cars and growing urban populations, commuters all over the country are waiting longer for crowded buses and trains, if they come at all, and paying higher fares in many places. If we fail to deal with this continuing record growth in ridership, there will be an even more serious national crisis facing our nation’s already overcrowded and cash-strapped transit systems.”

  • Dave Weckl

    Transit demand increases by 1.1%; how much did transit supply increase? A lot more than that! How much did VMT increase…0.6%? How much did roadway supply increase? Hardly at all. Why not the same outcry?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Of course, per capita ridership is still low compared to the 1950s.”

    Maybe not if you look at it differently. True we built a whole second America with another 150 million people since then. But most of those places don’t have much transit, and many of the places transit is have lost population.

  • Bolwerk

    Where are you getting numbers about transit supply increasing and roadway supply not increasing?

  • oooBooo

    Where will government get the wealth to consume in this manner?
    Will it tax drivers? Will it tax wages? Will it tax savers (monetary inflation which includes the fed buying treasury bonds)? Will it tax borrowers (borrowing money that already exists driving up interest rates)? Who pays? The article makes it clear this will be some sort of federal funding rather than just people the transit serves or from the fare-box.

    Cash strapped transit systems with crowded buses and trains? How’s that possible? We’ve been told for decades that if only the buses and trains could run full transit would pay its operating costs and have profits left over from the fare-box alone.

  • jacob

    Good questions. The fact is that unlike roads, which pay for themselves entirely and aren’t forced upon people by liberty-averse government elitists, transit doesn’t pay for itself but has to pick the driver’s pocket to do so. As a nation we’ve been headed down the road toward insolvency for six years now and soon won’t be able to afford these transit boondoggles.

  • Dave Weckl

    FHWA Highway Statistic Series–Net lane miles added (supply) between 2008 and 2011 in the US was 8,822 representing a 0.04%
    increase in supply.

    2012 Public Transportation Fact Book, Appendix A: Historical Table 8, Vehicle Total
    Miles Operated by Mode, showed a 68 percent increase between 1990 and 2010, and
    Table 10, Vehicle Total Hours Operated by Mode, showed a 55 percent increase
    between 1990 and 2010. Transit supply (service provision) increased.

    I should probably do a direct comparison but this whole conversation and discussion is boring me at this point. Unfortunately, Streetsblog is a like a train wreck that I just cannot not read.

  • DFD

    That’s kind of a misleading statistic since roads are created first and then buses created to run on them. It’s fun with numbers but you can’t draw a conclusion worth anything from it.

  • oooBooo

    I’ve already been over (repeatedly) the fact that the accounting of roads transit advocates use is intentionally constructed to show what they desire to show rather than the reality of what cash cows drivers are for governments. Road funds and other taxation on drivers are where the money is. Where do you think 12% of the FTA’s money comes from? The way roads are done is far from perfect, but, it’s a cash source, not a sink so long as there are many many people using private passenger automobiles. If trucking paid its way then it would really rake in the cash.

    Federal government insolvency, which is decades if not a century in the making, comes from welfare (individual and corporate), wars, and various forms of crony capitalism, bailouts, etc. The too-big-to-fail banks and wall street have had so much money conjured into existence for them that a tiny fraction would have rebuilt all the transportation infrastructure in this country. Instead the articles here don’t put any focus on the squandering of the nation’s wealth bailing out the 0.01% No, it focuses on demeaning people who live in suburbs, big box stores, drivers, in other words the people paying taxes to subsidize transit. Of course this is of no surprise to anyone with a clue of the bigger game plan.

    So I ask again, government is going to transfer who’s wealth to fund this?

  • Joe R.

    The issue here isn’t that transit can’t at least cover its costs with sufficient ridership, but rather the politics of transit. Look at Amtrak for example. The Acela and most of the other trains Amtrak runs in the Northeast at least cover their costs, if not make money. This issue is that Amtrak funding is politicized. If some Senator in a flyover state doesn’t get a money-losing long distance train to stop in his state, he won’t vote for Amtrak to be funded in the Northeast. Same thing with local transit systems. Most of the big money losers in NYC are local buses, especially those with relatively low ridership. Politically, it’s next to impossible to get rid of money-losing lines which drain the system. And socially it might not make sense anyway because what you’ll save in spending if you cut the line will be more than offset by additional welfare spending on people who can now no longer get to their jobs.

    I’ve said repeatedly that transportation (in all forms) doesn’t have to make a profit, or even cover its costs, provided it serves some larger useful purpose which generates more tax revenue. Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to figure out how much taxes government might take in with and without any particular transit line. You can’t generate an alternate reality to easily find out this information.

    What we need to do (and I’ve discussed this repeatedly as well) is reign in costs. Infrastructure costs in the US are 2 to 10 times those in other places. Operating costs for transit are often much higher as well. The issue isn’t that we can’t afford to build a lot more transit. It’s that we can’t afford to do so at current inflated prices. Incidentally, it’s not just transit which is affected by this, but roads as well. Capital projects just cost way more than they should.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s something to think about-roads generate HUGE externalities which road users don’t pay for, but which society in general does. I won’t go over them in any detail other than to say they include costs due to collisions, pollution, opportunity costs of land used for roads instead of other things, opportunity costs of parking space, time wasted due to congestion, etc. In short, when you look at everything they’re not the cash cows you think they are. Consider that ALL of these external costs are greatly mitigated if a former driver switches to mass transit. Transit costs money, but my larger question is will all the money saved on the externalities I mentioned more than make up for it? I tend to think the answer is a resounding yes when you look at the magnitude of some of the numbers.

    Another issue is private automobiles are by their nature not suited to urban areas. Arguably once cities reach certain densities you NEED to build mass transit for them to grow further. Certainly this was the case with NYC. If the subways hadn’t been built in the early 20th century NYC just couldn’t have grown in population and economic power to the extent it did. That subway cost a pittance compared to the wealth it helped generate.

    You’re looking at this like it’s a zero sum game. Ironically, the only zero sum game these days are the types of activities done by Wall Street. Flipping stocks or real estate in the long haul only benefits the very small minority who make money doing so. An equal number lose money in these endeavors, and by their nature they create no new wealth. Transit on the other hand does. Build a transit line through a greenfield and 20 years later you’ll have dense development along it. It’s not a zero sum game. The only question is are the costs of building transportation networks outweighed by the net gains. Historically that was true, starting with the Roman roads. It’s somewhat less true now but only because costs of building infrastructure have greatly outpaced inflation.

  • Joe R.

    I think this entire trend needs to be framed a little differently. What I find very interesting aren’t the raw numbers themselves but the fact that we’re seeing a major change in people’s mind set. Despite the fact that the US has probably the lousiest transit system in the first world, a growing number of people are choosing transit over the private automobile. Yes, the numbers are still relatively low compared to other countries, but that’s more a product of the fact that in many cases public transit just isn’t a viable option compared to in other places where it is. That’s exactly why we need to build more transit-a lot more. People are speaking loud and clear saying they want to get out of their automobiles if only reasonable alternatives existed. Where they do, you see systems taxed to capacity (i.e. the NYC subway and the Northeast commuter railroads).

    20 years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. People loved their cars. It wouldn’t have mattered in many cases if world-class transit existed. People would have refused to use it. That’s no longer the case. A greater number of people are realizing auto transportation is costly, dangerous, slow, and stressful. They would ditch their cars entirely if some other means existed for them to go about their lives. It’s time for government to listen. The old adage build it and they will come couldn’t be more true. The key though is to build an integrated system, not useless bits and pieces. That means transit going to and from places people want to go to. It also means integrating modes. You should be able to seamlessly switch from high-speed train to subway and then to bike share if need be to get where you’re going. Integration is why transit works well elsewhere.

  • Dave Weckl

    If this is a misleading statistic then everything reported in this stupid blog is misleading.

    Also, the increase in transit supply includes rail…not just buses.

  • valar84

    That is 100% wrong.

    Roads do not pay for themselves. Far from it. Studies revealed that so-called “user fees” pay for only half of road spending, this despite the fact that local streets are paid for by local taxes yet the gas used to drive on them is taxed to pay for highways.


    The main issue here is the freeway, the current funding model is insanely bad with regards to them. Freeways are extremely expensive to build and maintain as they require a lot of bridges and tunnels. The result is that everywhere in the world, private freeways have to charge tolls in the 16 to 40 cent per mile range just to fund themselves.

    France’s freeways for instance charge on average 0,08 euro per km driven, that’s around 16 cents per mile. Ontario in Canada has a private freeway, the 407, which toll goes from 20 to 27 cents per km driven depending on time of day and portion of the road driven on, that’s 30 to 40 cents per mile, but there’s a 20% profit margin in there. In Japan, the average toll rate is about 25 yen per km, or 40 cents per mile.

    Those aren’t excessive costs built in to discourage the use of the freeways, that is what freeways cost to build and maintain when they aren’t subsidized by other funding sources. To preempt the argument: yes, urban highways are much more used so they can spread the costs on more users, but at the same time they are much, much more expensive to build and maintain than rural highways, so despite higher use, they may often actually cost more per vehicle-mile than rural highways.

    In comparison, the average gas tax in the US is around 45 cents per gallon, the highest is 70 cents per gallon. Let’s assume a typical highway fuel economy of 25 MPG (which is lowballing it, I used to do 30 in a 2002 Buick Century on the highway). That means that the average highway driver pays a mere 1,8 cent in “user fees” (gas tax) for every mile driven on a freeway, the highest will pay a mere 2,8 cents. Even assuming the lowest infrastructure cost of 16 cents per mile driven, that means that the average car driver in the US pays for only 11% of the infrastructure when traveling on a freeway. 89% of the infrastructure is paid by other people. That’s equivalent to a 13-14 cents per mile subsidy for every car on the freeway.

    Ironically, people who drive in the city end up paying more in user fees per mile driven because of worse fuel economy, but the streets and roads they drive on cost much, much less to build and maintain. That’s a perverse incentive, inciting people to use expensive infrastructure instead of cheaper alternatives.

    Just because half of that funding comes from car drivers who don’t drive on freeways doesn’t mean that it’s a wash. It would be like taxing fries to subsidize ribs. Sure, some fry-eaters would also eat ribs and people who eat ribs often order fries too, but that doesn’t mean that there is perfect symmetry and that people aren’t subsidized when they eat ribs. People who eat fries but not ribs receive a net tax, people who eat ribs with fries receive a net subsidy (as much more people order fries each day than ribs, the tax on the fries would be lower per person than the subsidy on ribs, just like more people drive on roads and streets other than freeways than on freeways).

    As to financial sustainability, well-used transit systems have the potential of costing three times less per mile than cars. That’s not the case in the US because of poor ridership. Transit also doesn’t require much space, so you can build denser and reduce travel distances. Overall, countries with strong transit systems spend less on transport both publicly (less government spending) and privately (less consumer spending on transport).

  • Bolwerk

    You originally compared the usage growth in 2013 to capacity growth (presumably in the same year or thereabouts). Granted, you’re right that provisioning more vehicles is a form of capacity growth for transit, but I was thinking more along the lines of new route-miles being created – as that would probably be the most “direct” comparison here.

    Personally, I consider a direct comparison rather useless. Considering that away from major arteries, roadways can easily be empty, there is a great deal of underutilized capacity that there is little demand for.

  • DFD

    Right but rail supply hasn’t significantly increased because it’s too expensive. I’m somewhat surprised that you don’t see that as an apples-to-oranges comparison but let’s discuss the merits of your theory.

    The date ranges, for one, are incomparable, roads are built with future demand in mind whereas addition of public transit assets for already made roads meet current demand. Additionally, if you really want to get down to it, the US has grossly underfunded all transportation so funds are being spent more on maintenance rather than expansion.

  • Bolwerk

    I suspect no passenger transportation can cover its own full costs, actually. The only passenger mode I’ve ever seen that shows evidence of being regularly capable of profiting without ongoing government support seems to be HSR of all things. (Though, airlines might be possible if you discount expensive and often subsidized short-haul flights.)

    It might be satisfying for transit advocates to know at least larger transit systems perform better financially than the road system, but it indeed is a frivolous concern. Roads and transit aren’t in competition with each other, and can’t even offer the same kind of services.

  • valar84

    Of course passenger transport can cover its own costs. Why wouldn’t it be able to? The first streetcar companies were private and profitable for instance. Japan is an example of a country where every transport is asked to pull its own weight.

    The issue is, are the people ready to pay the full price of their transport? Because people have been spoiled by subsidized transport for decades, people don’t even know how expensive transport is anymore. But if there is a strong political will, the entire transport sector could be modified to have users pay the full cost of their use. However, it would spell the death of exurbs and have a significant effect on regular habits.

    It wouldn’t be a bad thing though. When transport is cheap, it leads to waste. With transport priced how it should be to fund itself, people will be encouraged to reduce this waste.

  • Bolwerk

    Back when passenger transport covered its own costs, the infrastructure was new, workers were treated like slaves, bankruptcies were frequent, land was stolen from natives and given to railroads, and safety regulation…left much to be desired. Highways were originally financed largely on the backs of railroads because people still detested them so much (granted, it was a little late by then).

    Maybe modern local railroads could cover their own costs with automation and labor reduction, at least on larger systems. Maybe really busy ones could cover their own costs with just labor reduction. Though I doubt they could ever be profitable in their own right, maybe buses and trams and light rail could even provide a positive contribution margin to a profitable modernized transit system.

    I’d much rather just have a useful system though. I drive a few times a year, but I know roads benefit me because I do buy things delivered by trucks. Transit benefits plenty of people indirectly too.

  • Bolwerk

    Rail is probably cheaper to supply than roads, certainly in the built environment. Government financing happens to be biased toward funding green field roads over anything else.

  • valar84

    The context is irrelevant. Passenger transport can cover its own costs if it’s decided to stop subsidizing transport. It won’t be at the same price and the same level of service, but it can.

    Now, of course, if you think passenger transport is only transit, then yes, there may be an argument to make that transit needs subsidies to compete with cars. But that’s only because cars are heavily subsidized. Everywhere in the world, when highways are tolled and forced to pay their own way, tolls are at least 15 cents per mile, and up to 40 cents. You know how much car drivers pay in gas taxes per mile driven on the highway? Around 2 cents per mile. People pay less to drive on highways, which are extremely expensive, than on city streets. Plus, highways allow excessively high speeds that transit can’t compete against. In cities, the main subsidies cars get is free or subsidized parking. When people have to pay the full cost of parking, this makes going anywhere in a city quite expensive, making transit look much better in comparison.

    So if you have an highly developed highway system which use is extremely subsidized and free or subsidized parking at destinations, of course transit can’t compete without high subsidies of its own. But if you put tolls on highways or just not build highways in urban areas, then transit can compete with cars with both modes paying their own ways.

    This isn’t just a theory, it works in Japan. Every mode of transport pays its own way in Japan, so transport is quite expensive, and the result is that people are less tolerant with long commutes and long distances to businesses and shops. It also means that transit use is much higher. Ironically, because transport is much more expensive per distance unit, the Japanese end up paying much, much less on transport than Americans, where transport is highly subsidized.

  • Dave Weckl

    From Randall O’Toole

    “It turns out that all of the increase in transit ridership took place in New York City. New York City subway and bus ridership grew by 120 million trips in 2013; nationally, transit ridership grew by just 115 million trips.”

    God forbid a blogger actually does any type of research to verify the legitamacy of the bad data being reported. Journalism appears to be dead.

  • Dave Weckl

    Truth hurts. Sorry.

    Transit supply is transit supply be it bus or rail. The data on demand is transit ridership. The data on supply is all transit.

  • Bolwerk

    Japan is kind of what I had in mind: high[er] levels of automation and reasonably low labor costs. Not to mention high use. IIRC, even Japanese transit outside Tokyo often if not usually has farebox recovery under 100%. Operating profit is expected, while HSR and regional rail are even profitable (often at great expense for the passengers and cattle car conditions). I don’t know about roads, but I think local transit still typically takes a small capital subsidy. But then, they control capital costs better than Americans.

    Overall, even if passenger transport can cover its own costs, I suspect capital
    costs are always going to be huge and burdensome. Therefore I would
    reject the idea that it’s even inherently desirable to make them cover
    their own costs, especially when you consider you have to cater to the settlement patterns you have rather than the ones Japan has.

    Road economics are just different. Congestion is inefficiency, damaging to health while wasting productivity. All things being equal, more road use is less efficient, while more transit use is more efficient. An additional transit passenger typically reduces per-passenger externalities, while an additional car+driver increases them linearly if not more than linearly.

  • valar84

    Actually, that is O’Toole torturing the data to get them to say what he wants, quite typical of him. He tries to give the impression that apart from New York, transit is down everywhere else. But that’s not true. Articles about this pointed out that buses’ ridership in cities below 100 000 population increased 3,8%.

    So you have a few cities where transit ridership is declining, others where it is increasing, but overall the trend is positive. And what possible justification is there to take New York out of the equation? If we take New York out, can we also take cities with decreases in ridership like Chicago (that eliminated bus routes for austerity) out too? If no, why not?

    Basically, O’Toole is saying “If we take out the cities with increases in transit ridership, the average transit ridership trend is negative!”. What an A-grade moron.

  • valar84

    Japan transit is not automated at all. They even have much more workers affected to tasks like cleaning and tidying up than North American transit operators. The only reduction in labor they have is that they mostly run trains instead of buses, and trains require a lot less labor per passenger than buses.

    The regional JR train companies are pretty much all profitable. As are subway companies, not only in Tokyo but in all major cities. There are still private rail companies around in certain less inhabited areas.

    Bus use is pretty low in Japan however. That’s mainly because Japanese build things densely and in a walkable way, and the speed of traffic is pretty low. Which means that buses tend not to be that useful anyway in most urban areas, they go at 6 to 8 mph only. People are better off biking, or even walking once you take into account the wait for the bus. So walking and biking eat most of buses’ potential mode share.

    Still, the point is: nothing prevents people from deciding collectively that transport, all modes of transport, including cars, will now pay their full costs from now on. It’s political suicide, but it can be done technically, and transport would still work… people would just not want to travel over long distances regularly as much. It won’t necessarily lead to transit though, but it would lead to denser cities where trips are shorter, so that walking and biking become viable for many trips.

  • Bolwerk

    FWIW, automation doesn’t necessarily mean unmanned. It may even demand more labor in some ways because more trains can run closer together and still need a sitter – or, in New York, two sitters!

    Anyway, I never meant to imply a particular line or even system can’t be profitable. But on the whole, I still think it’s a pretty far-fetched proposal at least for now to expect across every useful example of the mode. And that’s not a complaint.

    Even with highways, which are on the whole huge money sinks, there are certainly profitable toll roads.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m not sure what that has to do with what I said.

  • oooBooo

    Oh we must not forget the externalities! Otherwise known as costs arbitrarily added to support the desired conclusion. All externalities are solved by getting rid of government meddling. But even externality costs can be canceled with externality revenues. How much did Chicago get for leasing the parking meters again? Oh they squandered it already and got ripped off? How much revenue does the park district bring in for parking? Sure, they could tear up those lots around McCormick Place and Solider field.. but I am guessing the city likes that revenue more than another park.

    Spare me the smart growth agenda 21 lecture. Transit takes up zero space and runs on pixie dust and who the hell doesn’t want to live in several hundred unit high rise and live their entire life within the boundaries government defines for them?

    Your government bailed out Wall Street, the money was conjured and is gone. So I ask again, I ask a simple question, who pays for this utopia?

  • oooBooo

    I see a lot of words, but no answer. Who pays? It costs more, so what, cronies cost money.

    Your transit does not need to make a profit, does not break even, cannot pay for its infrastructure through the fare box but it still requires wealth to function. The gun is in your hand, who do you point it at to get the funds to keep the trains running on time?

  • Joe R.

    Who pays? Everyone in the form of sales taxes, and transit users themselves at the fare box. Remember that transit in aggregate generates wealth which in turn makes the pool government can tax larger. Even without raising tax rates, in the long haul transit can more than pay for itself in the form of increased tax revenue.

    The only caveat is that you need to build transit wisely, where it’s in demand and will be used. Seeing a lot of transit projects in the US, I can only conclude in many cases they were intentionally “lines to nowhere” which were built solely to demonstrate that transit isn’t viable.

  • Joe R.

    Arguably, the money spent bailing out Wall Street should instead have been spent either bailing out old student loans, or building infrastructure, or both. At least the economic effects would have been tangible. Instead, we paid people 100 cents on the dollar to cover credit default swaps and other risky investments. Too big to fail? We should have let them fail. Instead, we chose the mantra of private profits, public risk.

    The externalities I mentioned are very real and must ultimately be paid for. China is now being forced to come to grips with its extensive environmental pollution. You can paper over external costs all you want, but they’re not going away. I’ll even grant that mass transit has externalities also, but they’re much smaller per user than for motor vehicles.

    You could charge for externalities as you proposed but they would add up to something like $10 per gallon of gasoline. In the end charging for externalities would price driving out of the means of everyone except the wealthy. Same thing if you priced suburban living at its true cost.

    There are many living options besides several hundred unit high rises which are infinitely better than McMansions in the exurbs. Why do these discussions always need to devolve into extremes? Single or 2-family homes on 20×100 or 40×100 lots aren’t a bad way to live, and they even allow enough density for viable transit.

    The difference between American and European cities isn’t in the city itself. Arguably, most of Paris or London is less dense than Manhattan. The difference is once you get much past city limits in Europe, all you have is farmland until the next small or medium-sized town/city. In the US you just have endless miles of huge frame houses on 1 to 5 acre lots. Stop framing this argument into an either/or proposition. You can live in a transit accessible place without it looking like Manhattan. However, you can’t have a large fraction of the population living in the middle of nowhere and still expect transit to be viable.

  • oooBooo

    Still avoiding answering the basic question.

    China has environmental pollution because it’s a rich country with an all powerful government that could get away not having even 1970s technology to prevent almost all of it. The environment is only as clean as people are able to hold a government accountable. Or how willing a corporatist system is to using environmental regulations to maintain market share, but that usually comes well after the accountability.

    China’s horrid pollution is largely due to global trade agreements and more that resulted in moving production of goods from places like Ohio to China. Those who care about the environment should have acted politically to keep production in the USA and Europe where people at least can hold pollution in check. Instead they acted politically in the name of the environment to encourage it to move to China. Wonder why that might be? It can’t be cause CO2 emitted in China is ok while CO2 emitted in Ohio is bad. That would just be ridiculous. Perhaps it’s because people with less money are less able to resist utopia.

    Assigning arbitrary taxes to arbitrary made up costs is nothing more than finding excuses and methods to push an agenda. Want people to pay the ‘true costs’ of things? Stop the government meddling. Let everything be provided on by a free market. A real free market. Then everyone pays their ‘true costs’. Problem solved.

    Anyway, go live next to an ‘L’ line in Chicago or similiar and then we can have a realistic conversation about “externalities”. (been there, done that BTW)

    Single family homes are not compatible with the new urbanism, did you not get the memo? You can’t have those and get rid of the suburbs. The people have to go somewhere. Well I suppose that one could just get rid of the people instead.

    There are numerous suburbs around older big US cities with small brick homes BTW.

    I haven’t framed the discussion as anything. I am asking a question. Instead of answering the question you follow Jacob’s lead into this old ‘motorists don’t pay for the roads’ nonsense diversion. It’s irrelevant to the question I posed. Just answer the question of who is going to pay for the transit that can’t be paid for by the users? If it still runs at a loss let alone recovering infrastructure costs with the buses and trains full, then someone has to pay, who pays?

  • oooBooo

    So you want to externalize the costs and expect government to build transit wisely so it encourages economic growth that supposedly wouldn’t happen otherwise. In other words you want your neighbors to subsidize what you want and think that government is going to act in your best interests instead of government’s best interests.

    Government in the USA builds things that largely benefit government. That’s why you get trains to nowhere. There are also roads to nowhere, but roads, being roads, tend to be flexible enough for the market to adapt and find ways to utilize them even if they are sub optimal government creations of political grandstanding.

  • Joe R.

    It’s not all that difficult to find places in need of more transit where it will in fact be successful. I’ve read about so many boondoggle multibillion dollar “light rail” projects which failed miserably precisely because they were built where anyone with half a brain could have seen they were next to useless. Why didn’t they spend the same few billion dollars to build more subways in NYC’s outer boroughs? Those subways would undoubtedly have been heavily used. I’ll tell you why-politics. It annoys some people on the right that transit works anywhere, so you obviously can’t fund transit projects you know will be successful. This is why the Northeast in general has to beg for every transit dollar it gets while you have politicians all too eager to break ground on a light rail project in some tiny city in a big midwestern state. So yes, in a sense you’re right-these projects benefit government-specifically those in government with the ideology that transit is always a waste of money.

  • Joe R.

    If you want a real answer of who pays, it’s obviously going to be those who have the most disposable income-namely the wealthy. For decades now we’ve obsessed over having the wealthy pay as little in taxes as possible. I don’t care where the money comes from but those days should end. It could be an income tax, a sales tax on luxury goods, a rent tax on rents over a certain amount, whatever. If you look at the deficits you’ll quickly realize if the wealthy had been paying what they were paying in taxes 40 or 50 years ago, those deficits wouldn’t exist. In a nutshell then the answer is those who should pay are those who have the most.

    All this of course presupposes your assumption that full buses and trains will still require subsidies. They might in the sense that the farebox doesn’t cover infrastructure or even operating costs, but that’s only looking at transit in isolation. If you look at the activities transit enables which otherwise would cost more to do (or not be feasible at all), plus the taxes on those activities, you’ll almost always find you’re ahead of the game even if you must subsidize transit.

    One more thing-please tell me why this is even an issue when transit in all forms consumes a relatively tiny fraction of the budget? If you want to argue that we’re broke and need to cut spending, fine, but at least choose an area to cut which is likely to make a difference. Let’s start with defense. Do we need to spend as much on defense as the next ten of fifteen countries combined? Moreover, defense against what? Ourselves? Seriously, it’s 2014. The world should have long been united under one government by now, or at least should have reached the point where national boundaries were seen as anachronistic. We’ve had how many millenia to realize war in general is a very poor, very expensive, very temporary way to solve problems? So why are the world’s nations spending even a dime on militaries? The same money spent on R&D may well have solved some of the very problems which led to war in the past.

    Since you talked about global trade agreements and the like, that makes yet another case for my argument above. Countries like China where you’re free to pollute shouldn’t even exist. Same thing with countries where you can underpay workers or mistreat them. It’s not “us” who send manufacturing to places like this. It’s the greedy SOBs who run corporations. And they do it because we let them do it. I’ve long said that if we can’t pass a total ban on outsourcing manufacturing at the very least we can prohibit deducting business expenses if they’re incurred in countries with lax standards. That would give these countries an incentive to come up to first world standards. It would also as a result make them a lot less competitive as they would have to meet the same regulations as a company doing business in the US might. While we might be decades or more from some sort of worldwide government where regulations/taxes/standards are pretty much the same everywhere, ideas like I mentioned will at least push us further in that direction.

    Anyway, I’m getting tired. We’ll probably have to agree to disagree. I’ll just leave with with one more thought. We can both agree Americans spend a tremendous amount of money on their cars. I think the average figure over a lifetime is something like $300K. Seen in those terms, there is a lot of money to be spent on transit if people switched some of what they spend on cars to transit. This may even support valar84’s idea of having fares high enough to at least break even. Remember if a person spends $4000 a year on transit but that transit is so comprehensive they can ditch their car, they’re still ahead by a few thousand dollars.

    The only issue is what to do for those who still need transit, but can’t afford to pay $4000 per year. Maybe things like monthly transit passes should be charged on a sliding scale depending upon income? Or perhaps you could have no fares and instead just have a dedicated income tax to pay for transit. By its nature such a tax will mean those of means will pay a lot, while those who are poor will pay nothing. You also at the same time save a considerable amount of operating expenses by avoiding the need to collect fares or to catch cheaters.

  • oooBooo

    Government is not a productive enterprise and has no market feedback. Government does what is best for those running, working for, and close to government.

  • oooBooo

    LOL the wealthy will pay… yeah right. The wealthy are wealthy because they can influence the government. They don’t pay. We pay taxes to government for the benefit of the wealthy. The wealthy then use their influence and a portion of what they make from this condition to fund endeavors to shape society the way they want it to be. That’s why we get things to tell us how to love our impoverishment and live in dense cities and the like.

    The article above shows that transit still needs subsidies even when running ‘full’. When it comes to things like that I just use what streetsblog tells me directly or indirectly.

    I’ve mentioned the bigger wealth transfers to cronies countless times for wars, bailouts, and all the rest. Principle doesn’t know ‘small’ and ‘large’. however. Also because when authors deride those that pay the taxes and then demand they pay more, well…. I already work way too much of the year to pay for government and things other people want.

    China is the model for the rest of the world. And it’s not everyone who can pollute in China, just like in the USA, it’s just the people who are shall I say are more equal than others.

    How people spend their own money isn’t anyone’s business but their own. But the collectivist notion is to have leaders decide things, and then decide who pays and who gets the benefit then everyone be in everyone’s business. $4000/yr is more than enough for many people to own and operate a car even in the increasingly punitive environment of doing so. Furthermore, dependency on transit in the USA is foolish. Controlling how people get around is huge political, social, and economic weapon.

  • Joe R.

    Controlling how people get around is huge political, social, and economic weapon.

    Yes, and since the 1950s the government has essentially pushed people into private automobiles. Before you say people chose private automobiles, let me point out that advertising and the media has a heavy influence on people. I dare say most people are neutral when it comes to transportation. They’ll use whatever is available and most convenient. If through policy decisions we decide to make private auto the most convenient choice, then that’s what they’ll use.

    Yes, the wealthy use government for their own benefit. Remember back when we had streetcars, interurbans, and more comprehensive rail travel the system actually worked pretty well. The push to get people into private automobiles was because rail transportation didn’t use oil, rubber, asphalt, etc. People making these things, and auto manufacturers, in essence wanted a captive audience. First they helped decimate transit through influencing policy decisions. Next they encouraged building up areas where transit could never be feasible. Fast forward 50 years to where we are now.

    Auto dependency is worse than transit dependency. Using an auto requires a high price of entry, plus expensive continuous payments. Auto dependency essentially shuts out the poorer half of the population from many choices. That’s one reason why an autocentric transportation system is a bad thing. It’s the antithesis of democracy.

  • Joe R.

    True, except in theory we can vote out people in government when they’re not fulfilling the will of those who elected them. Granted, the system is rigged against this so it doesn’t happen until things get really bad, but it’s still a safety valve of sorts.

    Whether it’s people running corporations or government, everyone does what’s in their best interest. It’s human nature. The old adage “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is still true. Maybe the key is to not give any one person (or entity) a great deal of power.

  • Dave Weckl

    Most any analysis o transit systems excludes New York because of its unique characteristics. It is often an outlier in the data.

    Of course, this is data and people here tend to dislike the data if not supportive of their particular agenda.

  • valar84

    Every city has unique characteristics. If you want to do an analysis of similar cities, then create categories and analyze trends in each category. There are many cities that have more in common with New York than with cities like, say, Dallas, for instance, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco. All of these are closer to New York than to whatever you would consider a “typical” American city.

    An analysis that would categorize cities and try to see trends in them would be pretty great, I think… but just selecting one particular city to discard from the analysis is what is called “cherry-picking” in statistical analyses: arbitrarily selecting or discarding data in order to obtain a desired result, then trying to justify this arbitrary decision after the facts.

  • Dave Weckl

    Plot some data. Visualize the data. New York will almost always be a significant outlier. If you remove it then your analysis will likely have stronger significance, r^2, predictive power, etc. It is not cherry picking if it makes sense to remove it because you examined the data.

    In the case of the APTA BS, it appears that New York, as usual, is an outlier and is not indicative of what is going on in the rest of the US. In fact, removing New York would likely tell a very different story. in this case one could argue that it should not be included. Once you remove it, group/combine/organize however you want.

  • valar84

    Do it yourself, plot the data, remove the outliers ON BOTH END. New York may be an outlier, but there may be a few data point outliers that drag the average down too, for instance, Chicago, which lost 12 million riders because it canceled a dozen of bus routes.

    But no, what that fool did was remove one specific data point to get a totally different result, and you support him because, hey, confirmation bias.

    Personally, I don’t care much whether the trend is up and down, it changes nothing to my arguments and to the reality I describe. It’s just O’toole’s and your dishonesty that gets under my skin.

  • oooBooo

    “since the 1950s the government has essentially pushed people into private automobiles. ”

    That statement is absolutely false. The only push was of the variety of VHS vs. Betamax. But if you wanted to live in a restrictive Betamax world you could choose to. Government has used the automobile as a new way to extract revenues, license, track, number, etc people from nearly the beginning. It’s invention allowed government to bring about new powers that people would have rightfully opposed if it had tried it prior.

    After the war americans had more wealth. They wanted out of the confines of the ‘dense’ city and the restrictive nature of transit. People didn’t want to live that way any more.

    So you think people are just too stupid and easily manipulated to know what is best for them. Well the same thing is happening with this “new urbanism” and the like. People are being sold on something that those who want to shape society want. This idea of packing people back into the urban cores wasn’t some new spontaneous idea. It’s at least 20 years old and it’s top down, not bottom up. It’s been sold very well, and yes some people chose it themselves.

    The industrialists ideas of creating utopia didn’t die in the 20th century. When hitting people over the head with economic and political power didn’t work they moved to the ideas of advertising, using the schools, etc and so forth. Look at how you reply to me with canned copy as if I haven’t encountered it before. Where did you get that?

  • oooBooo

    “Maybe the key is to not give any one person (or entity) a great deal of power.”

    Now you’re on the right track.

  • Nathanael

    You are making fatuous excuses for roads. Roads are very expensive, and “the market” doesn’t do anything with roads other than freeload on them.

  • Nathanael

    Back when passenger transport covered its own costs, the roads were TERRIBLE. Read about the state of the pre-Victorian-era private turnpikes — largely bought out and nationalized — and you’ll begin to understand why the government pays for transportation.

    If you want to travel a maximum of 60 miles a day, feel free to go back to unsubsidized passenger transport.

  • Nathanael

    Makin’ shit up again, oooBooo, makin’ shit up.

    Roads don’t produce any money directly, unless they’re toll roads. They’re paid for with property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, and *very occasionally* gas taxes.

    Also, it’s impossible for a sovereign government which prints currency to become “insolvent”. Literally impossible. You need to learn some very basic things about the way money works.

    If you’re talking about hyperinflation rather than insolvency, that can happen. But it requires very specific circumstances: it doesn’t happen merely due to printing money; you can print lots of money. It requires a government nobody trusts for some other reason (like, say, because they’re violating the Constitution, stealing elections, spying on everyone, leaving people starving and hungry, etc….)

    I know more about the state of crony capitalism than you do. You probably don’t realize the *other* set of blogs I read regularly (Naked Capitalism is one of the more prominent ones).

  • Joe R.

    Government has used the automobile as a new way to extract revenues, license, track, number, etc people from nearly the beginning. It’s invention allowed government to bring about new powers that people would have rightfully opposed if it had tried it prior.

    No kidding. And this is exactly one reason I’m against an autocentric society. I don’t want to or think we should force everyone to use transit, but neither should the dominant mode be automobiles because of the things you mentioned. One really onerous thing government does is using driver’s licenses (and voting records) to get names for the jury duty pool.

    So you think people are just too stupid and easily manipulated to know what is best for them. Well the same thing is happening with this “new urbanism” and the like. People are being sold on something that those who want to shape society want. This idea of packing people back into the urban cores wasn’t some new spontaneous idea.

    Ever think maybe some percentage of people are discovering on their own that auto ownership is a bum deal just like I did when I ran the numbers about 30 years ago? Also, consider that many urban cores these days are pleasant, albeit rather expensive, places to live compared to the tenements which existed after WWII which people tried to flee from.

    I totally agree there is also some outside influence here but in the end the new urbanism trend, like the previous suburban trend, reflects people’s reactions to the conditions which existed at the time. Remember back in the 1950s automobiles were the future, and the open road existed. Nowadays all too often the automobile is associated with gridlock, pollution, and endless expense. It went from a symbol of freedom to a ball-and-chain.

    Finally, in my opinion I think human power in all its forms (including very fast velomobiles) will take over a larger market share than either transit or automobiles, particularly for trips under about 10 miles. Bicycles give the convenience of an automobile without the huge expense or the government tracking.

  • Nathanael

    We print money to “pay for it”. That isn’t an issue, so you should stop repeating your idiotic question.

    That money is used to pay people who are currently unemployed — so a lack of labor isn’t an issue. If there’s a shortage of steel or concrete or their raw materials, then there might be some real issue.

    Those people then use the money to buy food. If there’s a food shortage, then there might be a real issue. (Right now, there isn’t.)


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