Another Swing (and a Miss) From Anderson Cooper’s Show on High-Speed Rail

My apologies, readers: Anderson Cooper did another segment slandering high-speed rail last month and it’s taken me this long to bring it to your attention.

And the truth is, I don’t mean to hammer on Anderson Cooper. His “Keeping Them Honest” series has done some good work recently, looking into the IRS scandal and the failure of law enforcement to investigate rape cases. But why he insists on targeting the nation’s high-speed rail program — a good program showing excellent results — as a national “boondoggle” is beyond me.

Part Three, aired June 14, examines the California high-speed rail project, which it snarkily calls the “crown jewel” and the “best hope” of the federal rail effort. And it’s about time Cooper’s program finally turns to California, after wasting time kvetching about good little projects in Vermont and Washington state. If they wanted to take a look at what’s going on with high-speed rail in America, I said at the time, they should look at California. And now, they have.

The problem is that Cooper (played in this episode by John King) and reporter Drew Griffin demand instant gratification when megaprojects like these take many years.

Griffin notes that California voters overwhelmingly approved a bond measure for “a bullet train connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco in a little more than two hours,” but then complains that “like many high-speed rail projects across the country, it hasn’t happened yet.”

Certainly, the California project has gotten bogged down in many political and financial controversies. Cost estimates have vacillated, legal challenges have been overcome, and along the way, the project has lost a good many supporters. But the fact that the 432-mile rail line “hasn’t happened yet” — less than five years after the bond measure passed — is not one of its flaws. The first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley is set to begin construction this summer, with a target completion date of December 2017. The full San Francisco-to-LA trip won’t be possible until 2029, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

In a desperate attempt to point out where the project has stumbled, John King mentions that the first part of the project “was supposed to break ground this summer.”

“Well summer’s almost here, a week away,” King said ominously (remember, this was June 14). “The groundbreaking date: now pushed back until late next month.” Meaning, July. That still counts as summer, fellas. Not even late summer.

The goal of getting between Los Angeles and San Fransisco in under three hours hasn’t changed either. (Griffin later clarifies that by “a little more than two hours” he means the trip will take “two hours and forty minutes.”) Which is still the goal, despite the grievous fact that, as Griffin notes, the trains will, in some places, travel at speeds lower than 220 miles per hour.

Griffin also calls attention to the “blended system,” which requires the fast trains to share track with others — but he doesn’t mention that the idea is for them to share track with other passenger trains, as Amtrak’s Acela trains do on the Northeast Corridor without too much trouble. Sharing track with commuter rail isn’t nearly as problematic as sharing with freight trains, as Amtrak does in many parts of the country. Plus, the plan to share tracks with Metrolink and Amtrak trains in California is, for now, only a temporary measure before more track gets built.

That’s not to say the “blended” plan is particularly popular. Lots of people would rather see dedicated track from the get-go. But the cost estimate of $98 billion shocked the bejeezus out of people and forced the Authority to cut some corners. This is one of them. They were able to bring the estimate down by almost a third.

Drew Griffin interviewed one person for his story: former California High-Speed Rail Authority chief Quentin Kopp, now a prominent skeptic. Kopp is a compelling voice, for sure — one of the project’s most ardent backers turned sour on the idea. But it wouldn’t have been hard to find someone to talk to who can speak to the promise of the project. I guess they just didn’t want to.

99 thoughts on Another Swing (and a Miss) From Anderson Cooper’s Show on High-Speed Rail

  1. Tanya, you’re obviously someone who believes in HSR no matter what the cost or what the voters agreed to when they voted for the California HSR on Prop 1A.
    We barely passed the law 52.7 to 47.3% – not as you inaccurately claim that it was “overwhelmingly approved.” Did you fail to research or mislead on purpose? How about the recent poll that shows that voters would repeal the law 54-43 if they could revote it with the true costs known. Did you omit that on purpose, too?

    You obfuscate the truth about how much the HSR plan that voters agreed to was supposed to cost with your “cost estimates have vacillated” description. Voters agreed to a $40 billion project to build the 800-mile system and then it changed to $117 billion (if you read the fine print in the business plan) for just the LA to SF leg – only about 500 miles. Now we’re getting a “blended” system – again not what the voters agreed to.

    We also voted that a funding plan must be in place before building the system to ensure it won’t be stranded after construction begins. There is no funding anywhere in sight that will complete this project. How would you like your home, business or farm torn up for a project with no identifiable financing for completion?

    We were told on Prop 1A that a ticket would cost about $50 each way. It’s now up to $81 – a 60% increase and they haven’t even started construction. That’s $648 for a family of four, round-trip. That doesn’t include car rental at your destination to get where you want to go because the mass transit at both ends is still not adequate, and in LA, it may never be. That’s a ridiculous ticket price that very few can afford. Very few will choose to ride HSR when they can put their family in the car and get directly to their destination at a significantly lower cost and a not-much-longer travel time when you factor in non-express trains and all the bus transfers you’d have to take to get around in those vast cities w/o a car.)

    Also, you dismiss someone (Kopp) who was a huge advocate for HSR and who helped write the law to start the Rail Authority without even analyzing his stinging rebuke of the current HSR plan. He’s filed a 12-page brief on behalf of the plaintiffs suing the Rail Authority, making a very strong case against the current plan and outlining in detail why it violates the conditions voters agreed to in Prop 1A. That’s a bit more than “turning sour.” He’s also a former judge, so he probably knows the law just a little.

    Your bio reveals that you’re probably unconcerned with the costs of building a HSR system no matter if it was $1 trillion as long as it makes the planet “greener.” Am I right? Tell me what your upper limit on price would be before you would agree the project should be scrapped as too costly.

    Please do some research next time you feel inclined to opine on HSR and don’t be dishonest about the problems with HSR in California. You have the nerve to slam Anderson Cooper for “slandering,” yet you’re completely uninformed or dishonest (or both) in your depiction of HSR in California.

  2. Get Chinese workers to build the system for us. That will probably decrease it to well under the original estimate of $40 billion. It’ll get built a lot faster also.

  3. burnsilver, you misread Tanya’s criticism. She criticizing the reporting which is dishonest, one-sided and full of opinion. That may be fine in another context, but it’s not reporting. It’s like they had their thesis written before they did their research.

    She is not defending HSR in California or the way it was sold. So your comment is misplaced.

  4. If in fact a family of four can make the trip from LA to San Francisco round trip in 2029 for $648 it will be a screaming bargain. I doubt they’ll be able to do so, except perhaps during the daylight hours when electricity is less than 75 cents per kilowatt hour.

    You have no idea how much the decimation of the atmosphere is going to affect your life in those fifteen years.

    There is very likely the usual insider deal making between the highwaymen in charge of the project and their buddies in the concrete, steel and heavy construction industries ballooning the price. But if a clone of I-5 with the same eventual capacity were begun today it would cost as much or more, because the same scurrilous crew would be doing the building.

  5. The issue with that is that now you gotta sell California high-speed rail to the public with “made in China” stamped on it. Additionally, domestic steel industries have been suffering due to outsourcing to countries such as China, thus having the Chinese build the system for us would exclude our steel industries from a perfect opportunity to get back on their feet.

  6. I’m not seeing any reason we couldn’t purchase the raw materials from American companies and have the Chinese supply the labor and construction expertise. They should have plenty of both given the thousands of miles of HSR in China. I highly doubt the raw materials would be cheaper if China supplied them anyway given the distances they would need to be shipped. We could call it a joint US-China project, hopefully the first of many. I would love to do the same thing in NYC and add about 50 miles of subways to the outer boroughs. Those are probably more needed here than HSR is needed in California.

  7. Their experience with construction of high-speed rail would be very valuable, and in an ideal world, a joint venture would be a great option, but in today’s xenophobic America, I have concerns that the public will go ballistic if they find out that Chinese corporations are working on the system.

  8. Yes, Tanya and her colleagues at Streetsblog are unabashed cheerleaders for high speed rail. And, like any good cheerleader, she will deny reality in support of her team, no matter how badly it’s doing.

    Dollar for dollar, high speed rail is the biggest waste of taxpayer money on the transportation landscape today.

    As if to underscore the fraud that’s pervasive in the CAHSRA, they no longer talk to any media who would dare to criticize them. When a publicly financed operation refuses to talk to the press because “they don’t like the tone” of its coverage, you can bet there’s something to hide. And, that’s obvious to all but the most ardent cheerleaders.

  9. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Do the construction companies hire people in China, transport them to the United States in a container, store them in a box overnight, and pay them Chinese wages in blatant violation of labor law in the location that they’re working?

  10. Wow, nice rant.

    it’s been mentioned that your rant is misplaced, since the article actually deals with the inaccurate and lazy reporting done by AC360’s crew, but you already knew that.

    a $162 r/t ticket to SF is a good deal these days. in 15 years it’ll be the best deal available.

    anger and fear are not your friends — try learning and reading comprehension going forward — the future is bright!!

  11. thank God you weren’t around during Eisenhower’s day — we’d all be driving 30mph on the backroads of America, just waiting to hit a pot-hole that broke our axles.

    pessimism, anger, but no vision. no big-picture comprehension.

    i’m ok waiting for your first ride, and letting that surprised smile be the judge of this project’s success.

  12. No, we tell the Chinese company exactly where the railroad will go. They tell us how much raw materials they need. We buy those raw materials from American companies. The Chinese company gives us a quote for the construction. We pay the Chinese company. They in turn pay their workers whatever they pay them, just as a US company working abroad with US workers would pay them whatever salary they normally would get in the US, even if it’s lower than the wages workers in that country get for doing the same job. Local labor laws only apply to the locals, not foreign nationals working for a foreign company.

  13. There are two main problems with the “high speed rail” plan.

    First… the plan was to link SF and LA, however if you look at the map there are nearly a dozen stops between the two. The significantly slows down the travel time and really isn’t what the voters intended. If they wanted to take a trip between two major cities while stopping in several small cities on the way, they can already use the freeways for that and make the trip a nice leisurely trip. The high speed rail plan was to connect two major American cities with high speed rail, so that one could easily take a trip back and forth between them in a single day with ease.

    Second… this so-called “high speed rail” may have been considered so back 20 or 30 years ago when European and Asian countries were building and implementing them. But this technology is decades old, 20th Century technology. If California and the United States want to really lead in the 21st Century, we must use the latest technology for our high speed rail network. That technology undoubtedly is Maglev Trains. Built on their own track, impossible to derail, potential to be 100% solar powered, and easily capable of reaching speed above 300mph. You build that new train, which would create thousands of jobs, hundreds of permanent jobs, and link it directly between SF and LA (Maybe… MAYBE make one stop in Fresno and that’s it) you could cut the proposed time of 2hr 40min to about 1hr 30min. Meaning you could travel from LA to SF in less time than it takes to drive from LA to SD (Which LA to SD would be the obvious second leg of the route, and that corridor trip would take only about 20-30minutes!)

    You do that, and not only will you have the fastest, most efficient bullet trains in the world, ready for decades of use in the 21st Century, but you would dramatically change and grow the economy of California. If you had a train that could take you from SF to LA in 1.5 hrs or LA to SD in .5 hrs, you could literally live in one city and work in another. Or say you’re in LA and you’re a dodgers fan, there’s a night game up in SF between the Giants and Dodgers? No problem, just take off a little early and catch the 6pm train to SF and you’re at the stadium in time for the first pitch. And when the game is over, hop on the train again and you’re back home in time to catch Letterman in your bed.

    The positive consequences like these are numerous, but they only happen if you make it a truly direct route and if you use 21st Century MagLev trains, not 20th Century (really 19th Century) rail trains.

    And if you complain about smaller cities being left out.. Well, smaller cities were left out of the automobile and paved roads and electrical grid first too. But you built first in the major, busy areas and then once they are successful and making money, you build new lines going directly from Bakersfield to SF or direct from Fresno to LA, etc. And after a couple decades you have a statewide network and most anyone is able to get around the entire state in no more than 2 hours time. But you have to start where the people and demand are first, meaning the first lines need to be direct routes from LA to SF with MagLev Trains.

  14. Exactly how then are people supposed to travel intercity distances in reasonable amounts of time? Flying is slower than high-speed rail up to at least 500 miles, perhaps even up to 1000 miles in certain situations. Driving is always slower. Besides that, not everyone drives or own a car. A significant subset of the population won’t or can’t fly. I fall into that category. Airports are on the outskirts of cities and I don’t drive. I also happen to be allergic to aromatic hydrocarbons, which means flying and long car trips are out. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this condition. As more of the population ages flying will no longer be an option for them, either. High-speed rail is the best way to travel medium, and perhaps even long, distances. When cities separated by 300 miles are less than 2 hours apart, it will be a boon to the economy.

    The biggest waste of transportation money today is shoehorning cars into every possible transportation scenario, including those for which they’re ill-suited.

  15. What makes you think I WASN’T around during Eisenhower’s day?

    Here’s the difference between Ike’s Interstate and O’s folly: Ike offered a superhighway system that virtually everybody wanted and he paid for it with fees paid by people who used it, as it was built. The Interstate Highway Program passed the Senate, something like 98 to 1 and the House by a similar lopsided margin.

    O, on the other hand, wants to build a very expensive disconnected boondoggle that would only be of use to a select group of self-entitled whiners for an insignificant percentage of travel and he would finance it with money taken from people who will never have any use for the damned thing. O can’t even get a reliable 51 percent of Congress to support it.

  16. What makes you think I WASN’T around during Eisenhower’s day?

    Here’s the difference between Ike’s Interstate and O’s folly: Ike offered a superhighway system that virtually everybody wanted and he paid for it with fees paid by people who used it, as it was built. The Interstate Highway Program passed the Senate, something like 98 to 1 and the House by a similar lopsided margin.

    O, on the other hand, wants to build a very expensive disconnected boondoggle that would only be of use to a select group of self-entitled whiners for an insignificant percentage of travel and he would finance it with money taken from people who will never have any use for the damned thing. O can’t even get a reliable 51 percent of Congress to support it.

  17. What makes you think I WASN’T around during Eisenhower’s day?

    Here’s the difference between Ike’s Interstate and O’s folly: Ike offered a superhighway system that virtually everybody wanted and he paid for it with fees paid by people who used it, as it was built. The Interstate Highway Program passed the Senate, something like 98 to 1 and the House by a similar lopsided margin.

    O, on the other hand, wants to build a very expensive disconnected boondoggle that would only be of use to a select group of self-entitled whiners for an insignificant percentage of travel and he would finance it with money taken from people who will never have any use for the damned thing. O can’t even get a reliable 51 percent of Congress to support it.

  18. What makes you think I WASN’T around during Eisenhower’s day?

    Here’s the difference between Ike’s Interstate and O’s folly: Ike offered a superhighway system that virtually everybody wanted and he paid for it with fees paid by people who used it, as it was built. The Interstate Highway Program passed the Senate, something like 98 to 1 and the House by a similar lopsided margin.

    O, on the other hand, wants to build a very expensive disconnected boondoggle that would only be of use to a select group of self-entitled whiners for an insignificant percentage of travel and he would finance it with money taken from people who will never have any use for the damned thing. O can’t even get a reliable 51 percent of Congress to support it.

  19. What makes you think I WASN’T around during Eisenhower’s day?

    Here’s the difference between Ike’s Interstate and O’s folly: Ike offered a superhighway system that virtually everybody wanted and he paid for it with fees paid by people who used it, as it was built. The Interstate Highway Program passed the Senate, something like 98 to 1 and the House by a similar lopsided margin.

    O, on the other hand, wants to build a very expensive disconnected boondoggle that would only be of use to a select group of self-entitled whiners for an insignificant percentage of travel and he would finance it with money taken from people who will never have any use for the damned thing. O can’t even get a reliable 51 percent of Congress to support it.

  20. If the US had a high-speed rail system which connected as many places as the Interstate highways such a system would be even more useful to more people than the Interstates. Sure, the first few links will be disconnected because the rest of the system has yet to be built. A complete system would replace just about all domestic air travel, along with most long-distance highway travel.

  21. Geez Joe! Are you serious? Allergic to aromatic hydrocarbons? WTF? And you think that entitles you to your own high speed rail?! You’re afraid to fly? You don’t like to drive? So, you think your neighbors and people you’ve never met should fork over their earnings so you can be whisked off to wherever you want to go at pennies on the dollar of real cost, while reading the funnies on your iPad?

    Suppose I can’t sit on a flat cushion, Joe. Suppose I can only ride horseback. Suppose “I’m not the only one with this condition”. Should that entitle me and my other horses-are-my-only-option colleagues to a nationwide network of equestrian trails. Will you pay for that, Joe?

    Joe. Get a grip. You’re living in Fantasy Land.

  22. No, high-speed rail isn’t just for me personally or a small minority. It would have enormous benefits for >80% of the population. As I said, a lot of people can’t or won’t fly for various reasons. As the population ages, fewer people will be able to drive. Cars and roads are not affordable for many people right now. In the future they will become less affordable. Even if I wanted to drive, I couldn’t afford it.

    The best case though for high-speed rail isn’t that it gives mobility to those who otherwise wouldn’t have it. That alone is a good enough reason to build it but an even better reason is the fact that it’s a better option than flying or driving for most trips for everyone. Seriously, I don’t get how you don’t understand that. Simple math-it’s better to take 2 hours or less to go 300 miles than to take at least 4 hours, often 6 or more, to make the same trip by highway or air. The energy savings/pollution reduction is an additional bonus.

  23. High speed rail is also of use to those who believe they will never ride it. Reduced reliance on fossil fuels, reduced air pollution, and more travel options are in everyone’s interest.

  24. Your failed attempt at condescension is misplaced and disappointing as good people can disagree about the wisdom of California’s HSR project as currently planned.

    Tanya’s headline mentions Cooper’s story and sections of the article do address her problems with his reporting, but I accurately called her out for her lazy and (it seems to me) willfully inaccurate editorializing about the HSR project in other places in the article. If you can’t tell that some of the article is her characterization of HSR and some is a criticism of AC360, then I’m afraid it’s your reading comprehension that is lacking.

    It’s interesting that you say that $162 round trip in 15 years is going to be a good deal, yet there’s no funding to build the train, so unless something dramatically changes, you’ll be standing in a field in the Central Valley waiting forever for a train that hasn’t been built yet.

    Let me ask you this: If you went to a BMW dealership and signed paperwork and paid for a brand-new 5 series car and were delivered a car made out of the front end of a 1982 Honda Accord welded to the back end of a ’97 chevy pickup, would you be angry or would you just say, “Oh, well. I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles”? I’m pretty sure you’d be angry. Well that’s what we’re dealing with here in CA. A complete bait and switch. We voted for a lie and now they’re ramming it down our throats and being highly incompetent while they do it.

    So yes, anger is justified and government organizations not following the letter of the law is something to be feared. A plain reading of the text of Prop 1A as presented to voters shows this plan is half-as-nice for twice the price. Why wouldn’t you be angry? Isn’t following the law important to you, or is HSR so good and so right that it doesn’t matter who gets trampled on in the process? Doesn’t it mean anything that the voters would repeal the law if they were voting on the plan as currently proposed but the Democrats who completely control the government here won’t allow a revote?

    Some pro-HSR Democrats voted against allowing the plan to move forward because they can see that this is likely to be an epic failure and it’s not what the voters agreed to. The plan and price tag are the problem with California’s HSR system, not HSR in and of itself.

  25. I didn’t misread her article. She criticizes AC360’s reporting as well as making her own points and editorializing, which is what I commented on.

  26. I didn’t misread her article. She criticizes AC360’s reporting as well as making her own points and editorializing, which is what I commented on.

  27. You can’t afford to drive? Get a bike. Want to save energy? …reduce pollution? Walk.

    But, if you want to travel at 200+ mph between cities that are 500-1000 miles apart? Get a job. Pay for it yourself. Suck it up and pay your own way.

    Believe me, I totally understand the concept of travel alternatives. What I don’t understand is the concept that taxpayers should pay for all of them…even the ones that have no socially redeeming values.

  28. Who said I want to travel free? Of course I’m willing to pay for my own ticket if I use high-speed rail. Same thing for all the other users. That’s what pays for the system’s operating costs. All the government is paying for here is the initial infrastructure, just as they did when they built the Interstate highways. At least HSR covers its operating costs, as demonstrated on nearly every HSR line around the world. Right now the gas tax doesn’t even come close to covering the operating costs of our highways.

    If HSR has no socially redeeming values then highways have even fewer. Per passenger mile highway and air travel costs far more than HSR once externalities are accounted for.

    HSR isn’t a travel “alternative”, either. Once built out as a complete system, it’s a replacement for both highway and air travel over distances up to at least 500 miles, possibly even much further. We’ll be able to close or downside airports, put some of that land to better use. We’ll also be able to shut down many segments of the Interstate highway system, saving tons of money.

  29. Personally, I think we should reallocate all funds for HSR to local transit projects. That will have a bigger impact than HSR, imho.

  30. We can do both. HSR needs good local transit at stations in order to succeed. We should reallocate a lot of road funding to local transit, preferably rail transit.

  31. You know what your problem is…well, one of them anyway? I don’t think you have any concept of scale.

    California’s HSR will cost $157 million per mile…if you believe the fairy tale cost estimates. Do you have any concept of what it would cost to build HSR that “connected as many places as the Interstate highway system? About $6.7 TRILLION!

    Do you have any concept of what that is to the average American? About $21,200 for every man woman and child in America…$64,000 for a family of 3.

    And that’s before the first union train driver takes his first nap at the controls.

    You say you can’t afford to drive a car?

  32. Psst. Hey Joe. Don’t look now but road revenue is already funding transit. You’re proposing cutting up the healthy chickens and feeding them to the sick chickens.

  33. Psst. Hey John. The absolute value of road revenue funds going transit is a tiny fraction of the taxpayer subsidies roads need to stay afloat. You’re, uh, making stuff up.

  34. “All the government is paying for here is the initial infrastructure, just as they did when they built the Interstate highways.”

    Here’s the difference Joe. When the Government paid for the initial infrastructure of the Interstate System, it did it with revenues derived from users of the Interstate System…while those people also paid for their own operating costs.

    With rail, the infrastructure would be paid for with money borrowed from future generations and users would pay only a tiny fraction of the operation costs.

    The rest of your comment is so full of BS I’m beginning to think you’re just pulling our leg.

  35. Why are you using the ridiculous price of $157 million per mile here? That’s a product of California’s dysfunctional politics. In the rest of the world HSR costs under $50 million per mile. And you don’t need to replace every single mile of highway with HSR. You can build a system useful to 80% of the population building only 1/3 of that. This and keeping the costs under $50 million per mile get you a system for about $1 trillion. We spent more than twice that on two wars which wouldn’t have even been needed if we had HSR. $1 trillion over 10 years is about $300 per person per year. That’s very feasible. We wouldn’t even need to raise taxes to do it if we cut military and highway spending.

    Please, stop the FUD. HSR makes sense from every standpoint, including national security. You’ll be singing a different tune whe the next Middle East crisis sends gas prices past $10 per gallon, and our oil dependent transportation system mostly shuts down.

  36. Nice try. You’re comparing transit subsidies from highways to highway subsidies from general funds. Tell me this: How much money is transferred annually from transit users to highways?

    And, by the way, almost 15 percent of gas tax revenue goes into the Mass Transit Account. There has never been a reported case of transit revenue supporting highways.

  37. “How much money is transferred annually from transit users to highways?”

    Quite a bit, actually. Transit users are also taxpayers. Any money going from the general fund to subsidize highways is money transferred from the taxes transit users pay to highway users. I pay income tax. I don’t drive. I use transit occasionally. Some of the taxes I pay are being used to fund roads. Same thing with anyone else who uses transit but doesn’t drive.

    Drivers who pay a portion of gas tax towards transit are more than getting their money back from the general fund everybody pays into, including those who don’t drive.

    Fine, you don’t like subsidies then let’s end them. For everyone, not just for transit users. Everyone has to pay for the total costs of their mode of transport. That includes whatever additional government services are needed as a result. For motorists, you would need to account for police and emergency responders, medical costs of environmental pollution, structural deterioration from acid rain, the military costs of securing oil supplies, and the opportunity costs of land used for roads which could be used for something more lucrative. When all is said and done nobody but the rich will be able to afford to drive any more, but hey, at least they’ll be paying their own way.

  38. I’d love to be able to tell you, but since the major source of funds transferred from transit users to highway users comes in the form of appropriations from general funds, it could be impossible to say. We can get a whiff of the magnitude by the amount of money transferred to exclusively highway-dependent places from more transit-dependent ones. That’s tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.

    (At least before Obama’s day, it was easy to tell who was most dependent on other people’s money. Just look for red states.)

    almost 15 percent of gas tax revenue goes into the Mass Transit Account.

    So what? That may be a case for fiscal reform, but it’s hardly an argument against transit. Gas tax revenues are enough to fund a bit north of 20% of the highway system’s annual financial needs. The rest comes from a myriad of sources, including taxes paid by transit users.

    There has never been a reported case of transit revenue supporting highways.

    Not directly, recently. Indirectly, it happens all the time in the form of things like park ‘n ride or the general fund thing mentioned above.

    Going back further, privately owned rail transportation companies were taxed heavily to fund roads. Damn socialists!

  39. What a crock. Joe, you can’t possibly believe the crap you write.

    People who earn income pay income taxes, whether they use highways or not and whether they use transit not. Right? Some of those taxes support highways and some of those taxes support transit. Right? Are we in agreement so far?

    Highway users ALSO pay highway user taxes, right? Some of those highway user taxes are spent on highways and some of those highway user taxes (almost 15 percent at the federal level) are spent on transit. Are you still with me, Joe?

    Now let’s look at transit.

    Do transit riders pay transit taxes? So you want to cal fares taxes? Okay, I’ll agree to that, for the purpose of discussion. Are there any cases anywhere where transit taxes and/or fare revenue have been collected from transit users and transferred to a highway account? You’ll have to prove it because I’ve never known of that happening.

  40. You’re hung up on a near irrelevancy, @Doyourmath:disqus . Say I pay $2.50 in transit fare. If my locality took 15% (38¢) of that money and used it to front something else, ANYTHING else, and then the transportation agency got back $1.63 from the state/feds in general revenue, you’d have an analogous situation to how highway financing works.

    So, replace the words “transit fare” above with “gas taxes.” That’s basically what you’re complaining about. It may be fiscal shenanigans, but it’s really just a shell game with cashflows, not a fundamental financial problem. The fundamental financial problem with either mode, especially highways, is they cost to operate than they produce in revenue.

  41. You’re setting up a silly strawman here. Does it really matter whether or not there’s a case where transit taxes or revenues are used to pay for roads? How does that change the picture or add to the discussion? You seem to be philosophically against road users paying fees and having some of those fees used to fund transit. Fine, but you’re turning this discussion into a shell game. You could just as easily not have fees for road users or transit users, have higher taxes for everyone, and fund everything out of the general fund. In the end it doesn’t change the picture. Transit gets money and roads get money. It’s just a matter of how much you want to give to each. You could eliminate the portion of fees road users pay for transit, increase taxes on everyone, and fund transit entirely from the general fund. Road users will still be paying something towards transit that way.

    The reason why road fees are sometimes used to fund transit is simple. Most areas with transit have congestion problems. Transit takes some cars off the road, and makes the trip faster for those who drive. Making drivers pay a fee for transit returns a tangible benefit in exchange for that fee. Making transit users pay a fee for roads doesn’t give them a benefit. If anything, you want more people riding transit, not less, so the cost is spread out over more people. Fees to fund highways would increase fares and decrease ridership. This in turn would increase fares further. That’s why it makes no sense for transit to fund highways. It doesn’t benefit transit users in any way. It does benefit road users to fund transit users. If everyone in NYC who takes the subway suddenly drove, the roads would be gridlocked.

    I just saw Bolwerk’s response. He pretty much said the same thing that it’s all just a shell game.

  42. Yes. It really matters. Transit advocates say transit is better, more efficient, cheaper, etc., than highways while the truth is that transit needs highways to exist.

    The highway funding model is a healthier model as evidenced by the fact that road users subsidize transit users.

  43. “The highway funding model is a healthier model as evidenced by the fact that road users subsidize transit users.”

    And both massively fund highways through the general fund. If highways didn’t exist, there would be a lot more money in the general fund for transit. That money in turn could move a lot more people than the same money spent on highways would.

    And transit advocates don’t always say transit is cheaper or more efficient. They just say what mode you spend the most money on should be the mode which gives you the most bang for the buck in a given location. In Nebraska that would mean roads most of the time. In New York City it would mean subways, commuter rail, buses, and bicycles. The problem is the bulk of transportation spending is on roads regardless of location, even in places where that spending takes money away other modes which would be more efficient. Transportation is not a one size fits all solution, and the current mantra of “cars and aeroplanes good, everything else bad” belongs in the 1950s.

  44. Stops aren’t by themselves a problem. Using them all is the problem. If
    there are n stops on a route, there are n(n-1) potential pairs of stops
    to forge different service patterns. Some pairs should maybe only be
    used once or twice per day.

    And I dunno about maglevs.
    Conventional rail works pretty damn well, and has its advantages
    – the biggest being relatively low cost and compatibility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Another Slanted High-Speed Rail Story From Anderson Cooper

|
Not one to back away from a terrible argument, CNN’s Anderson Cooper is sticking with his series exposing the “boondoggle” of federal high-speed rail funding. In a segment aired Monday night, he and reporter Drew Griffin hammered away yet again at their argument that high-speed rail has been a waste of money. Under the tagline […]

Obama’s 2014 Transpo Budget Calls for Higher Spending, HSR

|
The Obama Administration has put forward an opening bid in what are sure to be contentious 2014 budget negotiations, issuing a solidly progressive transportation budget that calls for increased overall spending and continued investment in passenger rail. The $76 billion transportation budget would represent a 5.5 percent, or $4 billion, spending increase over 2012 levels. […]

What Boondoggle? Private Sector Wants in on HSR Action

|
President Obama’s proposed high speed rail initiative would have the US embarking on the biggest infrastructure project since the interstate highway system. And while the significance of this effort — and the need for more sustainable transportation options — may be lost on a few cranky governors, it is not going unnoticed by the private […]

Ray LaHood: “It’s Not Just About Emissions”

|
This is the third and final installment of our exit interview with departing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. In the first, he talked about his proudest accomplishments, why he decided to leave, and why it’s important to fund bike/ped improvements with federal dollars – and he made it clear he’s still not giving us […]