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Funding Amtrak is more cost-effective than subsidizing roads

Amtrak's federal grant, constituting just 0.05% of federal spending in 2010, is once again under attack. Its critics perennially point to the railroad's 24¢ per passenger mile (ppm) government subsidy, compare it to the 2¢ ppm direct subsidy for driving, and call Amtrak a waste.


Amtrak's Chicago-DC Capitol Ltd. crosses the Potomac at Harpers Ferry. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Comparing these direct subsidies, though, tells only part of the story. When indirect subsidies are considered, Amtrak's total subsidy comes out to a little less than 44¢ ppm, but motoring's subsidy rises up to almost 5645¢ ppm.

When considering all of the costs to society the argument for increasing Amtrak's subsidy (and/or the gasoline tax) becomes clear. This table compares the direct and indirect subsidy of Amtrak versus roads, per passenger mile:

Subsidy Amtrak Roads
Direct subsidy $0.240 $0.020
Air pollution $0.081 $0.118
Global warming $0.072 $0.109
Parking $0.000 $0.151 $0.041
Resource consumption $0.008 $0.040
Crash damage $0.007 $0.037
Congestion $0.000 $0.023
Lost tax revenue $0.006 $0.028
Land use $0.018 $0.020
Noise $0.006 $0.008
Transportation diversity $0.000 $0.004
Total $0.439 $0.557 $0.447

All values are adjusted for inflation and reported in 2010 dollars. Most of the road values are from 2007 but since then, driving is down more than 15% and road user fee receipts are down as well.

Here is how each cost contributes to the total, and how I arrived at each estimates:

Direct subsidy: In 2010, Amtrak received $563 million in operating subsidies and $1 billion in capital and debt service grants while carrying passengers a total of 6.52 billion passenger miles, for a direct subsidy of 24¢ ppm. Meanwhile, in 2007 roads received a $94.6 billion (49% of $193 billion) subsidy to carry automobile passengers (including drivers) 4.24 trillion miles for a direct subsidy of 2¢ per passenger mile.

This is where a lot of people like to end the story. And doing so makes Amtrak seem like a bad deal, but if we consider all the external costs of both, it becomes a very different story.

Air pollution: According to McCubbin and Delucchi (1996), the external cost of air pollution caused by driving was $0.112 per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) in 1990 dollars. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are approximately 1.59 passengers per vehicle. So dividing the VMT by passengers per vehicle and adjusting for inflation gives a value of $0.118 ppm.

While a similar analysis is not available for Amtrak, we do have the energy intensity ppm for passenger cars (3501 Btu ppm) and Amtrak (2398 Btu ppm) which can serve as a reasonable proxy for air pollution emissions. If anything, this ratio is unfair to Amtrak, since the bulk of its energy use (carrying Northeast Corridor riders) is electricity which produces fewer emission per BTU than gasoline does due to the use of nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas and renewables. Using this ratio, the cost of air pollution caused by Amtrak is $0.081 ppm.

Global warming: In addition to air pollution, the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline or coal creates an assortment of greenhouse gases which have been shown to add to global warming. According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI), the external cost per vehicle mile of GHG creation is $0.164 in $2007 which is equivalent to $0.109 ppm in $2010. Meanwhile, Carbon Fund calculates rail travel as creating 0.42 lbs CO2 per passenger mile.

The EPA calculates that the annual emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Dividing that by the 12,000 miles the average car travels in a year (also from the EPA) results in 1.01 lbs per vmt or 0.64 lbs ppm. Using the lbs ppm to create a ratio (0.42/0.64) and multiplying it by the value for cars gives us the value for rail travel of $0.072.

Parking: While some parking costs are paid by users, others are external because, for example, of tax-exempt "free" employee parking or because of municipal parking minimums. Shoup (2005) sets the external cost of parking at $0.22 $0.05-$0.14 per vehicle mile in $2005. VTPI determines a value of $0.062 pvm. Accounting for inflation and passengers per vehicle this becomes $0.151$0.041 ppm. Amtrak, on the other hand, pays for its rail yards where it parks its trains, which means its parking is covered in its direct costs. Its subsidy is $0 ppm.

Resource consumption: The external costs of resource consumption refers primarily to the cost of producing, importing and distributing petroleum that are not passed directly to users. It includes the military costs associated with protecting oil supplies, macroeconomic costs of oil dependence, uncompensated ecological costs (like loss of a species), subsidies for drilling and costs associated with depleting a non-renewable resource. VTPI prices this at 76¢ per gallon or 4¢ ppm (in 2010) for roads.

Amtrak, meanwhile, used 62 billion gallons of diesel in 2009 to carry passengers 5.914 billion miles. Which puts its resource consumption external cost at $0.008 ppm in $2010. [(62B gallons*$0.80 per gallon)/5.914 billion miles]

Damage from crashes: While some crash costs are internal to the user, like insurance premiums or personal property damage, others are external because they're uncompensated or paid by an external user, such as when a pedestrian is injured in a hit and run crash. Looking at a series of studies and estimates of the external cost of automobile crashes, VTPI determined that the external cost per vehicle mile is $0.055 in $2007 which becomes $0.037 ppm.

Miller, Douglass and Pindus' 1994 paper on railroad injuries determines that per passenger mile, train injury costs comprise only one-fifth those of cars. There's reason to believe that less of the crash cost for rail is external than it is for autos because of Amtrak's greater ability to absorb such costs than an individual motorist. External Cost of Transport: Accident, Environmental and Congestion Costs in Western Europe puts the ratio for external costs of auto vs passenger rail at a much higher 41:1, so we can safely use the 5:1 ratio, making the external cost for rail $0.007 ppm

Congestion: Traffic congestion carries a very real transport cost that consists of incremental delay, vehicle operating costs (fuel and wear), pollution emissions and stress that result from interference among vehicles in the traffic stream. VTPI estimates the cost of congestion for roads at $0.035 pvm in $2007, which becomes $0.023 ppm in $2010. Unlike the highway system, most of our rail network is below capacity (Figure 13) which means Amtrak causes very little rail congestion.

While there has been little attempt to quantify the congestion Amtrak might cause, there is plenty about how it reduces congestion on roads and at airports. A USDOT study, in fact, determined that expanded rail service would have a net positive effect on congestion. And an Amtrak study put the benefit of the reduction of airport congestion along the Northeast Corridor alone at $104 million. Therefore I've conservatively set the Amtrak congestion charge at $0.00.

Lost tax revenue: Most of Amtrak's train routes use railroads owned by freight companies for which Amtrak pays rent and the owners pay property, sales and franchise tax. If roads and highways were similarly owned by private companies, they too would pay billions of dollars in taxes. TeleCommUnity set the value of the land used for roads in America at $7.1 trillion in $2007. Taxed at the average state property tax rate of 1.38% in $2010, roads would have contributed 2.8¢ ppm to states' coffers.

Before being made exempt in 1979, Amtrak paid state and local taxes which totaled $14 million in 1979. Adjusting for inflation and dividing by total passenger miles, lost tax revenue from Amtrak is 0.64¢ ppm.

Land use: ecological impacts: Building roads and railroads has an ecological impact that also carries a cost. These land use changes can, for example, cause a heat island effect, sever and fragment wildlife habitat and result in "roadkill." VTPI puts the cost of these ecological impacts for roads at $0.03 per vehicle mile in $2007 (or $0.0198 ppm in $2010).

Using the rail and road costs ppm defined in a 2005 Swiss ARE paper (from VTPI), we can determine a ratio between road and rail which is 0.7 centimes to 0.775 centimes per passenger kilometer (1.2 per vehicle kilometer/1.59 passengers per vehicle). This means that the ecological impact of passenger rail is 92.75% the value of the one for roads ppm. Multiplying this by $0.0198 gives a value for rail of $0.0184.

Noise: Noise from roads and rail can have real and measurable impacts on nearby land values. VTPI looked at several studies of the external cost of road noise and determined a value of $0.011 pvm ($0.0075 ppm in $2010). A study by INFRAS/IWW placed the ratio of ppm passenger rail noise costs to roadway noise costs at 3.9/5.2 (page 74). Multiplying this ratio times the cost for autos gives $0.0057.

Transportation diversity: Many communities are automobile dependent. This lack of diversity can often result in inefficiency and inequity, such as when people feel the need to drive for very short trips because they can't easily walk or bike on roads that don't accommodate that kind of travel. This eliminates options, leads to less physically active (and therefore less healthy) lifestyles, and can often trap people who can't, for whatever reason, drive. VTPI determines the value of the impact of roads on transportation diversity at $0.007 pvm ($0.0044 ppm). Amtrak doesn't create the same kinds of dependency, so it's cost is zero.

I omitted some costs because adequate values were not available for both. This includes the delays, discomfort and lack of access that vehicle traffic imposes on nonmotorized modes; waste disposal; water pollution and hydrological impacts; and other land impacts such as reduced property values, reduced community cohesion, and the costs associated with sprawl. Together these constitute another 4¢ ppm for roads, with most of that cost related to sprawl.

Amtrak is unlikely to have a larger ppm cost for these factors. Amtrak isn't considered an engine for sprawl. Railroad surfaces are capable of absorbing twice as much rainwater as paved roadsand there is far less land dedicated to Amtrak rail than to roads per passenger mile. So it is reasonable to believe that the addition of these omitted values would not change the relative values between the two subsidies very much or change them to be further in favor of Amtrak.

Based on these numbers, it appears that roads are subsidized at almost 12 1¢ per passenger mile more than Amtrak. To bring the two into balance, the gas tax would either need to be raised from the national average of 48.1¢ per gallon to about $3.30 $0.96 per gallon, or the Amtrak subsidy would need to be increased from $1.565 billion to $2.348$1.630 billion.

Another way to think about this is to combine the subsidized cost with the portion paid by user fees to get a total public cost. (Drivers' user fee revenue in 2008 was $94.512 billion and miles travelled was 4.9 trillion passenger miles for an inflation adjusted contribution of $0.020.)

Total public cost, unpaid + paid
Amtrak: $0.439 + $0.318 = $0.757
Roads: $0.557 $0.447 + $0.020 = $0.577 $0.467

Which means that Amtrak users are paying 44.5% of their public costs, while drivers pay only 3.6% 4.3% of theirs.

To be clear, this does not mean that motoring is cheaper. Drivers are also paying their own internal costs (purchase and maintenance of a car and insurance) which the IRS estimates to be 51¢ per mile total (or 48.5¢ per mile, less tax). That increases the total cost of driving to $1.062 $0.952 per mile. That's without considering the travel time costs. Comparing all the costs, Amtrak becomes much cheaper than motoring.

We should not ignore the environmental, political, human and other non-obvious costs of transportation when discussing how to fund it. By focusing only on the direct costs, as many choose to do, we run the risk of making the wrong decisions. While a more thorough scholarly analysis would surely come up with different values and totals than my amateur one, it's more than possible that Amtrak is the bargain paying most of its own way, and roads are the resource-consuming boondoggle that need to have their subsidy cut.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for DC.  

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Just curious, does Amtrak pay taxes on the fuel it uses?

by andrew on Oct 31, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

Your Jedi mind tricks will not work on me, boy.

Some of the aggregation seems a little suspect. Rail clearly does not serves all transportation needs--roads are necessary to get those rail travellers to their final destination. So it offsets some, but not all, road demand with the accompanying subsidy.

by Crickey7 on Oct 31, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

@andrew

Probably not, government entities can apply for an exemption to fuel taxes. Transit agencies can do this (but not all do) I don't see why Amtrak wouldn't be exempt.

by MLD on Oct 31, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

Interesting analysis. Very detailed.

But, seems a little slanted.

First, it seems overly reliant on the parking ($0.15 of the gap). Including parking seems a little questionable to me, since that is largely a fixed cost. People are still going to have cars requardless of whether we expand Amtrak or not. People aren't going to be taking Amtrak to work/shopping. Plus, lots of people drive to Amtrak stations and park.

Furthermore, one could argue that expenditures on roads should be at least partially counted in the Amtrack subsidy. Many people supplement an Amtrak trip with cars on either end of the trip. Unlike roads, rail can't realistically offer point to point service. You can have roads without Amtrak, but you can't have Amtrak without roads.

by rick on Oct 31, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

Many of these so-called externalized costs are dubious. Such as, "macroeconomic costs of oil dependence" -- what does that mean? I dare say any energy supply will have a macroeconomic cost of dependence. Also, the passenger rail system does not exist in a vacuum. Most people drive to the stations, and since the auto-rail connection is what enables the practicality of train travel, this amounts to a subsidy for rail.

The subsidy list reminds me of why I normally do not take the train. In my last long train trip, a lady sitting near me drove me nuts by talking the entire 8-hour trip about her travels. Like her, you don't know when to stop.

by goldfish on Oct 31, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

@ rick:People are still going to have cars requardless of whether we expand Amtrak or not.

Some people will. Some don't. I never owned a car until I left the Netherlands when I was 28. I did everything by transit. Yes, the Netherlands is different from the US, but it is not that different from the DC-Baltimore area.

People aren't going to be taking Amtrak to work/shopping.

So, what are those people doing at Union Station around rush hour?

Plus, lots of people drive to Amtrak stations and park.

And in DC, lots of people metro to Amtrak stations. Or come in on MARC or VRE. And soon, there will be another rail option: the streetcars!

Furthermore, one could argue that expenditures on roads should be at least partially counted in the Amtrack subsidy. Many people supplement an Amtrak trip with cars on either end of the trip. Unlike roads, rail can't realistically offer point to point service. You can have roads without Amtrak, but you can't have Amtrak without roads.

Realistically, roads to not provide point-to-point service. Perhaps here in the densely packed north-east. But not in the empty west. Did you know Loudoun county has several unpaved public roads?

In the DC area, there are plenty of people that live without a car. Similarly in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and large cities. A significant portion of them live on Amtrak and transit alone.

BTW: If you'd take out railroads, all interstates would instantaneously but jam-packed with trucks.

It's not about 100% Amtrak and 0% roads. It's about the right mix in the right place. Central Wyoming does not need a metro system. But DC does not need more roads.

by Jasper on Oct 31, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

Oh, and there is the small thing that Amtrak doesn't haul freight, which is primarily what roads do. ~67% of all freight nationwide (on a basis of weight) is hauled by road. 15% by rail, which as mentioned above Amtrak doesn't do.

Amtrak has its use, but there is nothing smalful in admitting that most of its routes are complete and utter wastes of enormous amounts of money.

by freely on Oct 31, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

While I agree that some of these cost estimates are a bit of a stretch, the larger point is that the overly-simplified cost comparison used by most rail detractors is not looking at the whole picture.

It's also important to not that along Amtrak's most heavily used routes in the Northeast, many people do NOT drive to the train station. They take public transportation. Rail does not require roads to exist. It requires local modes of transportation, but they needn't be roads.

The idea is to examine our spending habits in this country when it comes to transportation. We have a nasty habit of heavily subsidizing cars (the gas tax doesn't come close to 100% funding) while whining that we're "wasting taxpayer dollars" on other modes when in fact we're seriously neglecting them.

by Alex on Oct 31, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

Re: Parking

The Shoup link is just an abstract, so I think it's necessary for someone to provide more details, particularly since parking account for over 35% of the cost of roads (according to the above analysis).

First, it seems like there's some double counting going on. You can't count both the cost of roads as well as the portion of the roads that is used for parking. Second, how are contributions to the cost of roads calculated for regulations mandating off-street parking? It seems like there's going to be a lot of off-street parking regardless of whether there are regulations. Third, a portion of the cost of parking is "environmental degradation". Isn't this double counting the environmental impacts shown elsewhere in the above analysis?

And in DC, lots of people metro to Amtrak stations.

So, shouldn't a portion of the metro subsidy be allocated to Amtrak? Also, plenty of people drive to metro and then metro to Amtrak.

Realistically, roads to not provide point-to-point service. Perhaps here in the densely packed north-east. But not in the empty west.

What are people using in the empty West other than roads to get to their destination? Are they hiking the last mile? Nonetheless, these trips are not a substantial portion of all trips.

there is nothing smalful in admitting that most of its routes are complete and utter wastes of enormous amounts of money.

Many roads are not utilized sufficiently to justify their existence however, they're important to complete the network. A similar argument could be made for the rail network.

by Falls Church on Oct 31, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

*parking is 25% of cost of roads according to analysis

by Falls Church on Oct 31, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

I don't see how congestion is part of motoring's subsidy.

Traffic congestion carries a very real transport cost that consists of incremental delay, vehicle operating costs (fuel and wear), pollution emissions and stress that result from interference among vehicles in the traffic stream.

How can delay be part of the motoring subsidy? What if takes you less time overall (including congestion) to get somewhere by car than by train? Is there then a "delay subsidy" for rail?

Vehicle operating costs are not a subsidy.

You're double (or potentially triple) counting pollution if you're counting the pollution caused by congestion plus the pollution caused by air pollution plus the pollution caused by greenhouse gases (many of which are also air pollutants).

As for "stress" from congestion, some people feel more stressed by using rail. This is not a subsidy.

by Falls Church on Oct 31, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

Faulty article...including the unproven and dubious 'science of global warming' in an article of this nature is absurd. But again, why are AMTRAK supporters afraid of letting this taxpayer leech continue without exploring privately run service in areas of the US that now support it...or those who don't have it who could?

State after state are turning down the boondoggle of high speed trains $$ the Feds are offering because there is no demand and the costs staggering.

The NE corridor may or may not support passenger train service. How about we turn it over to the free market and find out?

by Pelham1861 on Oct 31, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

Actually, science has consistently supported global warming. There's nothing dubious about it, and recent attempts to refute it have only further demonstrated it. But let's forget about global warming for your sake and look at your other arguments.

-Taxpayer leech... Not sure what you're getting at here, but of course not everyone will use high speed rail. Just the same way that not every taxpayer uses roads, attends school, or sees a doctor, but they're paying for it anyway. It's called being a member of society.

-State after state are turning down $$... To be fair, the amount of money the government is handing over to states is pretty much nil and that money is spread out thin. Not enough to get projects started, so some people see it as a waste. That being said, California voters overwhelmingly approved a massive high speed rail project three years ago by referendum. States along the East Coast, including Virginia, are begging the federal government for more money to fund high speed rail to serve their state.

-Turning it over to the free market... Of course that's a possibility. Let's turn over all roads, including the one that leads you to your driveway, to the free market. I bet you wouldn't like paying tolls to leave your driveway, would you?

by Max on Oct 31, 2011 3:19 pm • linkreport

@ Pelham1861: How about we turn it over to the free market and find out?

Who and what is this mythical free market you are talking about? Who it is accountable to? And why would this free market work better than the collected free minds of us the people, i.e. the government?

by Jasper on Oct 31, 2011 3:50 pm • linkreport

it seems overly reliant on the parking ($0.15 of the gap)

I don't know if that's overly-reliant. Parking makes up a large part of the subsidy. I agree.

Including parking seems a little questionable to me, since that is largely a fixed cost.

Whether it is fixed or not is irrelevant. What matters is that much of it is external to the user.

Furthermore, one could argue that expenditures on roads should be at least partially counted in the Amtrack subsidy.

One could, but they'd be wrong. As pointed out by others, one is not required to drive to Amtrak. The cost of roads have as much to do with Amtrak as the cost of elevators and escalators do with driving. Just because many driving trips end with an elevator trip doesn't mean that it's part of the cost of driving. Even if you were to add the road subsidy to Amtrak, you'd also have to add those travel miles. So all that would do is raise the price of Amtrak a very small amount ppm, but it could never result in an average that was larger than the car value (roads are 56 cents per mile and rail would be x*44 cents per mile + y*56 cents per mile. Even if x, the number of miles by rail, were 0, all that would do is make them even). But as I said, travel by roads and travel by rail are decoupled.

You can have Amtrak without roads.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

Many of these so-called externalized costs are dubious. Such as, "macroeconomic costs of oil dependence" -- what does that mean?

Just because you don't understand what it means, that doesn't make it dubious. It makes it over your head. The link is there if you really want to know

"Dependency on imported resources such as petroleum imposes macroeconomic costs (it
reduces employment and productivity) by transferring wealth from consumers to
producers, and making an economy vulnerable to supply disruptions and price shocks
(sudden price increases). This risk is indicated by the fact that the last three major oil
price shocks were followed by recessions. "

Most people drive to the stations, and since the auto-rail connection is what enables the practicality of train travel, this amounts to a subsidy for rail.

No it doesn't. First of all, people have pointed out that the auot-rail connection is not what enables the practicality of train travel. Second, the subisdy for roads and rail are decoupled. If roads prices were raised to eliminate subsisidies, then Amtrak users who drive to the station would cover their costs for both legs of the trip. And to do that, prices need to be raised to the values noted above (or something similar to it).

Like her, you don't know when to stop.

Are we doing insults? I missed the memo.

I stop when the whole story is told.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

Oh, and there is the small thing that Amtrak doesn't haul freight, which is primarily what roads do. ~67% of all freight nationwide (on a basis of weight) is hauled by road. 15% by rail, which as mentioned above Amtrak doesn't do.

Well, Amtrak does carry some freight, and some freight is carried on Amtrak-owned track so that isn't completely true.

Also, your percentage are way off because you're looking at tons instead of ton-miles. According to the BTS, trucks carry about 34.4% and rail about 31.1% of all freight ton-miles.

But if you want to decouple freight from passenger travel on roads and then compare the subsidy of freight per ton-mile on roads to that on rail, I think things are only going to look worse for roads, not better.

For passengers you're going to lose a lot of subsidy, but not many passengers - thus driving the subsidy ppm way up.

For freight, you're going to find that rail isn't subsidized very much at all.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

I stop when the whole story is told.

I notice you still haven't proven that global climate change is happening, or that it's caused by the actions of men, or that germs cause disease, for that matter. Your entire argument reeks of specious dubiosity.

by oboe on Oct 31, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

According to your figures, the US total road subsidy = (4.24xe12 miles)($0.557)= $2.36 trillion, or 16% of the US GDP. So the US spends 1/6th of its GDP on subsidizing roads alone -- this does not the cost of gas, or of buying a car.

This calculation is unreasonable.

by goldfish on Oct 31, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

The Shoup link is just an abstract, so I think it's necessary for someone to provide more details, particularly since parking account for over 35% of the cost of roads

Unfortunately, that's from his book, which isn't available online. But the cost refers specifically to the cost of minimum parking requirements. It includes the cost of increased travel, urban sprawl, higher development costs, reduced housing affordability and inequity caused by subsidized parking. He estimates that parking costs average $12,000 per vehicle (about twice the value of a vehicle), and external parking costs total $127-374 billion in the U.S., more than the value of the total roadway system, averaging more than 22¢ per vehicle mile.

First, it seems like there's some double counting going on. You can't count both the cost of roads as well as the portion of the roads that is used for parking.

I'm not.

It seems like there's going to be a lot of off-street parking regardless of whether there are regulations.

But not as much as there is with the minimums, and it might not be free as often - and thus internal.

Third, a portion of the cost of parking is "environmental degradation". Isn't this double counting the environmental impacts shown elsewhere in the above analysis?

I don't believe so. The above environmental damage refered specifically to roads.

So, shouldn't a portion of the metro subsidy be allocated to Amtrak?

Of course not. See my above comments on this.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

congestion is part of motoring's subsidy. How can delay be part of the motoring subsidy?

Because it's an external cost, exerted on others. When you sit in traffic, you subsidize everyone else's commute with your time. When freight sits in traffic, the added cost on it is a subsidy.

Vehicle operating costs are not a subsidy.

They are when they're caused by congestion. It's one driver subsidizing the trip of others.

You're double (or potentially triple) counting pollution if you're counting the pollution caused by congestion plus the pollution caused by air pollution plus the pollution caused by greenhouse gases (many of which are also air pollutants).

No. The air pollution above is separate from GHG pollution. It specifically doesn't include GHG elements within it.

As for "stress" from congestion, some people feel more stressed by using rail. This is not a subsidy.

It is a subsidy when it results in health costs, which are then paid by health insurance or other places where health expenses are shared.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 4:40 pm • linkreport

According to your figures, the US total road subsidy = (4.24xe12 miles)($0.557)= $2.36 trillion, or 16% of the US GDP. So the US spends 1/6th of its GDP on subsidizing roads alone

Yep. It's a lot of money. Time, environmental damage, wars, loss of life etc... It all adds up. That it is a large number does not disprove it.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

Did you know Loudoun county has several unpaved public roads?

So do many rural villages in Scotland with less than 1000 people. However, these villages also happen to have walkable downtowns, excellent bus service, and a railway station connecting to the national rail network. Rural does not need to imply sprawl or car dependence for everyone. That's pretty much an exclusively American phenomenon.

(Hell. One of these villages doesn't even have roads, but has a train station that receives more frequent service than the Newport News branch of the Northeast Corridor. You can literally have rail without roads. There's another similar flag-stop service in Alaska.)

Oh, and there is the small thing that Amtrak doesn't haul freight, which is primarily what roads do.

Outside of the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak trains travel on freight lines, which they pay for. This is an indirect subsidy for freight rail (the government also provides direct subsidies to freight operators in some limited cases). Given the rising cost of fuel and development of intermodal shipping, I suspect that we'll be seeing much, much less long-haul freight delivered by truck.

by andrew on Oct 31, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

@David C,

Sorry, but your 'analysis' is so obviously biased and unscientific, that I'm embarrased for GGW that it's in there. Doesn't David A. screen this stuff before it goes up? He should have politely said to you, 'sorry, this is only going to make GGW look real bad. I can't publish it.'

by Lance on Oct 31, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

nice job.

by Richard Layman on Oct 31, 2011 5:32 pm • linkreport

@Andrew, So do many rural villages in Scotland with less than 1000 people. However, these villages also happen to have walkable downtowns, excellent bus service, and a railway station connecting to the national rail network. Rural does not need to imply sprawl or car dependence for everyone.

Yes, and they're all on the dole ... living a subsidized existence under the false pretext of 'everyone should have equal access to the same transportation opportunities at the same price'.

We had a similar situation here in the US before Reagan where airfares were all regulated and the more used routes had to subsidize the rural routes. It made no sense. Someone living out in the rural areas benefited from a low cost of living because they were far from everywhere. Asking those paying more to live 'where everything was at' to subsidize the travel of those living in timbuktoo (and enjoying the savings) was not only inherently unfair but a market distortion with real consequences. And thus it is the same story here.

by Lance on Oct 31, 2011 5:32 pm • linkreport

Lance-

Correction, it was Jimmy Carter who de-regulated the airline industry. And we still do subsidize the cost of living for those living in rural areas - http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/11463/stop-distorting-the-cost-of-living-with-anti-urban-subsidies/

by Max on Oct 31, 2011 5:35 pm • linkreport

@David C, Righteous
@Andrew, Rural does not need to imply sprawl or car dependence for everyone.
Exactly! "Suburban" doesn't need to imply sprawl or car-dependency either.

by Tina on Oct 31, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

There's so much here, it's not really possible to respond to it all but let's just stick with parking.

But the cost refers specifically to the cost of minimum parking requirements.

Let's see if I understand this. I drive to a store and park in one of the parking spots which they're required to have and costs them $12,000. The store then factors the cost of parking into their prices and charges everyone who comes there the same premium to cover their cost of parking, regardless of whether they actually park. However, some people walk/train to the store and don't use parking, yet those people still pay the inflated price. Thus they are subsidizing the drivers who park.

If this was truly a subsidy, then wouldn't we expect that stores that have no parking would be able to sell everything substantially cheaper? That doesn't seem to be the case. That must mean that other costs (like rent) are higher for stores that don't have parking. The point being that the "other cost subsidy" in the no-parking model must be roughly the same as the "parking subsidy" in the parking model.

Also, I don't see how you're getting 22 cents per vehicle mile from Shoup's numbers. Here's a citation that says 5-14 cents:

"American cars and light trucks logged 2.6 trillion vehicle miles of travel in 2002, so the subsidy for off-street parking ranged between 5¢ a mile (if the subsidy was $127 billion) and 14¢ a mile (if it was $374 billion)."

http://www.cato-unbound.org/2011/04/26/donald-shoup/are-minimum-parking-requirements-social-engineering/

by Falls Church on Oct 31, 2011 6:18 pm • linkreport

Naturally, it's "funding" Amtrak, but "subsidizing" roads.

by jakeod on Oct 31, 2011 6:51 pm • linkreport

What about the fact that trips by train are often times a longer route.

To go to my parent's house by car, I can drive almost directly. Its roughy 370 miles. When I travel by train, the same journey takes 550 miles, plus a 6 mile journey on one end and a 30 mile car trip on the other end.

Even taking you numbers as given:
auto: .55*3700 = 203.5
train: .43*550 = 236.5 (Ignoring the fact that car/transit trips on the end)

Yes, you could build lots more train networks, but the per capita capital and operating costs would blow up if we built a train network as extensive as the interstate highway system.

I'm pro train and agree with the basic point that the top side subsidy isn't everything. But, these numbers need some work.

by rick on Oct 31, 2011 7:05 pm • linkreport

Sorry added an extra 0

should be
auto: .55*370 = 203.5
train: .43*550 = 236.5

by rick on Oct 31, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

Sorry, but your 'analysis' is so obviously biased and unscientific, that I'm embarrased for GGW that it's in there.

Lance, I cited all of my numbers - all of which either come from accepted literature on the subject or from original source data. How much more scientific should I get? It's not like I threw out a baseless and unsubstantiated accusation, like calling someone biased without any data to back it up, and then pretended to be embarrassed. Now that would be beneath GGW.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 10:41 pm • linkreport

@ David C

Interesting analysis.

I have not followed the links (and don't have Shoup's book). But are the parking costs really annualized? As in, parking minimums cost $X per year, year after year, so we can divide them by VMT? It seems like he might be talking about growth which has not occurred because of parking minima, which seems a bit of a trick to annualize properly.

Obviously you are pressing some buttons and getting some pretty predictably knee-jerk reactions here. Defining externalities as subsidies from society is quite defensible, but if you explain a little more clearly that you are doing that you might get less yelling and a little more discussion. You also need to be careful when you are adding up things known with vastly different precision, without acknowledging that issue. Since subsidies, by their conventional definition, are known with good precision, people will react poorly to your implication that you know the external costs per VMT with similar precision - it is pretty obvious that you don't. You imply here and there that these are estimates, and it is important to estimate things you know are real (instead of just giving up and assuming they are zeros by leaving them off the page). But you should acknowledge that not all of these things are known to the same precision.

Talking about costs seems less fraught than labeling everything subsidies.

As for the argument that external costs add up to GDP/6, these include (i think) economic growth that has not occurred because of parking, and maybe other things. That has to be annualized somehow, which I wondered about above, but there is no upper bound to lost economic growth. Interesting to think about, but to me this illustrates that "subsidy" is not the most straightforward language here.

Finally, I can see some numbers I'd do differently here and there, but one is that air pollution from cars (ie, the fleet on the road) has been cleaned up substantially since the early 90s. Knowledge of the severity air pollution effects has gotten better, but I doubt that would make up for the cleaner cars we have now.

by DavidDuck on Oct 31, 2011 11:07 pm • linkreport

If this was truly a subsidy, then wouldn't we expect that stores that have no parking would be able to sell everything substantially cheaper?

Not necessarily substantially cheaper, but yes, cheaper.

That doesn't seem to be the case.

How do you figure? I think that is exactly the case.

But you are correct that the 22 cents per mile is an error (based on it being misquoted elsewhere). That is the subsidy per mile driven to work, not the subsidy per mile driven. Even dropping that down to VTPI's value of 0.065 cents per vehicle mile (0.0409 ppm) only narrows the gap between the two - it doesn't completely eliminate it. I have corrected the post accordingly.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 11:14 pm • linkreport

What about the fact that trips by train are often times a longer route.

First of all it's irrelevant. Second of all, despite your example, you haven't really proven that it is in fact "often times a longer route." What about all the times it's a shorter route? What about all the extra miles one does during a driving trip pulling off the highway to find gas or food or lodging or a bathroom or getting lost?

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 11:19 pm • linkreport

But are the parking costs really annualized?

Yes.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 11:20 pm • linkreport

t is important to estimate things you know are real (instead of just giving up and assuming they are zeros by leaving them off the page)

Where I have assumed zeros, I've explained why I think that is a conservative estimate.

by David C on Oct 31, 2011 11:22 pm • linkreport

Lance,
"Asking those paying more to live 'where everything was at' to subsidize the travel of those living in timbuktoo (and enjoying the savings) was not only inherently unfair but a market distortion with real consequences"

That's the best argument for de-funding the highway's I've ever heard. With that logic you might as well scrap the postal and emergancy services for all outlying communities.

"Doesn't David A. screen this stuff before it goes up? He should have politely said to you, 'sorry, this is only going to make GGW look real bad. I can't publish it."

by Thayer-D on Nov 1, 2011 5:05 am • linkreport

Logic like this got us the space colony and mars as well as the Pan-Am space clipper to the L3 colonies. Bravo.

In reality, we need a higher gas tax. The reason is simple: we import a quarter of our oil from people who hate us. And another quarter from Canada and Mexico, which in my book are just as bad.

I don't want to move to a European style system where the gas tax activlely subsidizes other activities, but a tax that would take gasoline to around $5 or $6 would be fine. And at those price points, what we need is a real commitment to the users that we'll fix up our roads.

Does that mean MORE roads -- not neccesarily. And I don't buy the civil engineers who say we need $100B to make everything hunky-dory. But look at it from the drivers perspective -- clearly there are a lot of roads need fixin.

by charlie on Nov 1, 2011 8:10 am • linkreport

@goldfish
According to your figures, the US total road subsidy = (4.24xe12 miles)($0.557)= $2.36 trillion, or 16% of the US GDP. So the US spends 1/6th of its GDP on subsidizing roads alone -- this does not the cost of gas, or of buying a car.
This calculation is unreasonable.

This doesn't just count direct costs actually paid in monetary form by people, it also includes things like air pollution and global warming effects (which are half of the indirect subsidy) that are costs we just ignore and don't actually pay to fix but will affect us in the future.

Plus, the average household in the US spends 15% of its budget on transportation (and that's direct costs), if you add in all the indirect costs you get a pretty big chunk of GDP.

by MLD on Nov 1, 2011 8:55 am • linkreport

"Analysis" like these are why staunch "transit at all costs" folks are laughed at and not taken seriously.

"Even dropping that down to VTPI's value of 0.065 cents per vehicle mile (0.0409 ppm) only narrows the gap between the two - it doesn't completely eliminate it. I have corrected the post accordingly.

Narrows the gap? It lowered it by 20%. One tiny, itsy bitsy mistake and the subsidy was brought within 1.6% of each other. The entire point and title of this article is that Amtrak is more cost effective, and by your own loaded numbers and streeeeeeetch of an analysis you finally come down to the fact that the so called subsidy differential is only 1.6%.

Transportation diversity subsidy? Crash damage subsidy? These are the most fanciful and frankly, ridiculous metrics ever.

And noise is a good one, comparing the land values near RR tracks and roads...you are kidding right? Cause everyone wants to live adjacent to a Amtrak line.

At the end of the day, even if every single one of the your other "subsidies" was 100% correct, you only succeeded in coming up with a subsidy differential of 1.6%. Whoa...

by errge on Nov 1, 2011 9:36 am • linkreport

@MLD: The road externalities in the David C's list are for roads only. Fuel and other costs of car ownership were excluded.

The global warming should not be included, because the entire carbon based economy contributes to this, and at this point in time, nobody has paid for it. Presumably this will be paid if and when the energy economy is converted to something else, such as nuclear. BTW, using so-called renewable energy sources (hydroelectric power) is also produces greenhouse gasses, because the dammed rivers produce a lot of methane with is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Likewise, nuclear power has it own externalities -- waste disposal.

Railroads divides a city, and distorts the property values and the local transportation system, just as severely as an interstate. Check out the right-of-way that cuts thru NE DC. There are many street bridges across it, and it substantially hinders movement from one side to the other. That is a cost that David C. did not include in his list.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

As far as modes of transportation go, Amtrak and roads aren't always substitutes or alternatives for the other. Amtrak is a means of passenger transportation for intercity travel, usually for longer distances but not longer than those more commonly traveled by air. Roads between the given cities that Amtrak serves are used for much more than intercity travel.

Adding the costs of direct subsidies and pricing the externalities of all roads against Amtrak seems like a specious comparison.

by Fitz on Nov 1, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

If you agree with David C.'s conclusion and want to become part of an organization pushing for the expanded network of safe, affordable, high-quality passenger trains that America needs, please join us at the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Membership starts at just $35 for a year, and members save 10% on most Amtrak rail fares!

by Malcolm K. on Nov 1, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

Using 1990 data on vehicle emissions doesn't really give us an accurate picture. Between 1990-2008, CO emissions nationwide decreased by 53 percent (while vehicle miles traveled increased by 36 percent). Of CO, nearly 95 percent of that reduction came from highway vehicles (which also saw huge reductions in PM pollution): http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/2010/report/airpollution.pdf

by Marc Scribner on Nov 1, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Narrows the gap? It lowered it by 20%

How is that different?

The entire point and title of this article is that Amtrak is more cost effective, and by your own loaded numbers and streeeeeeetch of an analysis you finally come down to the fact that the so called subsidy differential is only 1.6%.....At the end of the day, even if every single one of the your other "subsidies" was 100% correct, you only succeeded in coming up with a subsidy differential of 1.6%. Whoa...

You say that as though that's irrelevant. Considering that Amtrak is attacked pretty constantly for it's enormous subsidy, showing that the subsidy differential is in Amtrak's favor is pretty nothing trivial.

Transportation diversity subsidy? Crash damage subsidy?

Pretty well accepted that cars and trains crash into things and that this has an external cost. These are covered by several peer-reviewed and published papers. You might not think it's real, but the experts disagree. Ditto with noise. Just mocking the science isn't really an argument.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

The global warming should not be included, because the entire carbon based economy contributes to this, and at this point in time, nobody has paid for it.

That's irrelevant. The point is it's an externality. If we started charging every part of the economy for its contribution to this, we'd see driving become more expensive.

That is a cost that David C. did not include in his list.

You're right I omitted the barrier effect, and I mentioned that in the post. I couldn't find a reliable cost for it for Amtrak. I also didn't include the cost of it for roads.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

Adding the costs of direct subsidies and pricing the externalities of all roads against Amtrak seems like a specious comparison.

I'm also including all the revenue for ALL roads. I agree that a better analysis would break out only intercity travel - ideally for passenger trips between cities that are served by Amtrak an not including freight. But good luck finding that information anywhere.

And that is rarely the argument put forward. It is usually a roads vs. rails case.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

David,

I find that when I go for a nice long bike ride in the country, it clears my head. You need a long bike ride in the country, my friend.

Anyway....

You said, "Amtrak's federal grant, (constituted) just 0.05% of federal spending in 2010...". When you get back from your ride, how about working up some numbers to show us that Amtrak delivers economic benefits that exceed 0.05% of the economy. That would give Amtrak a benefit to cost ratio greater than one, which should be the *starting point* for considering any government "investment."

For extra credit, do the same for highways and you'll see how we get more bang for the buck from highway expenditures that we do for Amtrak, aka MDAR (Money Down A Rathole).

by Bill O on Nov 1, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

Marc, I looked for a more recent value for the air pollution costs but couldn't find one. But the cost for rail and road aren't that far apart in my analysis anyway - and one is a ratio of the other. So if the cost for roads is cut in half, so is the cost of rail. Amtrak uses less energy ppm. And it uses far less petroleum ppm. It surely creates less air pollution ppm.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

Bill O, why don't you save me the trouble and do it for me, I think you'll find how we get more bang for the buck from Amtrak that we do for highway expenditures.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

@Lance wrote:

Yes, and [rural Scots are] all on the dole ... living a subsidized existence under the false pretext of 'everyone should have equal access to the same transportation opportunities at the same price'.

"With regards to the economy and jobs, more residents of rural Scotland are in work, with employment rates higher and unemployment rates lower than in the rest of Scotland."

(http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/09/29133747/1

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries/TrendRuralEconomic)

On a personal note, I just want to thank you Lance for your contributions here. I always learn so much.

by oboe on Nov 1, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

@David C: That's irrelevant. The point is it's an externality. If we started charging every part of the economy for its contribution to this, we'd see driving become more expensive.

The problem with that approach is the estimate is very uncertain. Nobody really knows what the cost of retrofitting the entire energy supply will be. Moreover, because this is so far into the future -- it will take at least 50 years if it were begun today, and I do not see us at the starting line -- that there will be benefits that are completely unforeseen, due to advances in technology. For example, as cars become more efficient, both the air pollution and greenhouse gas emission costs will become lower, which may these costs comparable to rail. Etc.

BTW, what is "macroeconomic costs of oil dependence" ?

Because you have included things like this you undermine your credibility. You should stick to estimates that are more certain.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

The estimate is in relation to the current situation. If emissions from either side of the equation were to change, we could update the cost model to include that information. But your solution is to just treat it as if it doesn't exist because things are "uncertain." That's bogus math.

Also, you say that cars may become more efficient so the math may change; rail vehicles will most likely also become more efficient just as they have in the past.

by MLD on Nov 1, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

@MLD -- technology will change things radically. For example, 20 years ago, who foresaw that Blockbuster (then worth about $8 billion, and growing rapidly) would be put out of business by the internet? In the near term, telecommuting may reduce the need for transportation... making this entire blog entry moot.

It is a disservice to consider such costs, particularly when the decision to fund Amtrak will be based on much more near term considerations.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

David,

I'm not the one who's trying to justify the continuance of Amtrak. You are. And, Amtrak is under serious threat of shutdown, not highways.

If you want to make a case for continuing Amtrak, you're going to have to do more than show that, using razzle dazzle assumptions and stacked number crunching, its costs are less than some other mode. You're going to have to make a business case. You're going to have to show that taxpayers get more out of it then they put into it.

Any moron can show that it's cheaper for the Government to pay some farmers not to grow corn than it is to pay other farmers not to grow wheat. The question you need to answer is this: Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Is it a good investment?

Remember, benefits (to the public) are to governments what profits are to entrepreneurs.

Besides, I don't have time to play your number crunching contest. I'm going for a ride.

by Bill O on Nov 1, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

You're right, technology may change everything! Maybe one day we'll have trains that run on garbage and exhaust gold nuggets, thereby making Amtrak service a huge cash cow, not to mention Ron Paul's new favorite small government program.

The problem with your argument is that you assume all future changes will end up benefiting one side of the equation. Then you use that assumption to say that this analysis is clearly invalid.

Seems to me a lot of people commenting here find this analysis to be a personal affront to their way of life rather than what it is, a thought experiment about societal costs.

by MLD on Nov 1, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

@MLD -- In 50 years, the time to make-over the energy economy due to climate change -- that is very aggressive, BTW -- all the roads and railroad will be replaced. To include this cost is like Pharaoh justifying building the pyramids because it will attract a lot of tourists.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

Let me make sure I have it right:

The cost of operating Amtrak is "funding".

The cost of maintaining roads is a "subsidy".

Thanks for clearing it up.

by ceefer66 on Nov 1, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

In 50 years, the time to make-over the energy economy due to climate change -- that is very aggressive, BTW -- all the roads and railroad will be replaced. To include this cost is like Pharaoh justifying building the pyramids because it will attract a lot of tourists.

I don't see the costs of constructing a new energy economy included in this estimate anywhere. Do you?

Of course, the current external costs of various kinds of pollution and energy acquisition difficulties (with the actually existing energy economy) are quite correctly included.

by jack lecou on Nov 1, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

Bill O, the point of this was not justify the continuation of Amtrak, but rather to show that if you think Amtrak is a waste of money then you probably need to call roads a waste as well.

But if you're asking if we get $1.6B worth of value from Amtrak, I think that case can be made. For every person who shifts from a car to Amtrak we reduce pollution, road congestion, GHG production, and noise impacts, while increasing safety and productivity. I linked to a study showing that the congestion benefits at airports on the NE corridor alone is worth $108 million. Since we're using electricity and trains (made in the USA) instead of oil and cars from overseas, we're supporting American jobs. Etc...

There are dozens of studies that show a positive economic impact of individual lines, such as this one for a line to Wichita that showed a $3.20 return for every $1 invested. But as far as I know there is no data out there for a systeme-wide analysis. Without data, I don't know how to do an analysis. That's why I suggested you do it.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 2:37 pm • linkreport

ceefer66, they're both funding and their both subsidy. The two words are synonyms. I just didn't want to repeat the same word twice. But I often referred to this as a comparison of subsidies. I don't see one word as being more positive than the other. Do you?

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

@Jack -- the cost of the energy economy make-over is derived from "external cost per vehicle mile of GHG creation". Thought experiment: I burn a gallon of gas, and make 8.8 kg of CO2. Assuming 20 mpg, and by this reasoning employed in this blog, that 8.8 kg of CO2 produced has an external cost of $2.18 -- a lot of money, btw, more than half of the price I paid for it. What external cost? My interpretation (David C: correct me if I am wrong) is that that cost is the infrastructure cost to change from a carbon-based economy. What else can it be, and how else could it be measured?

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

What external cost? My interpretation (David C: correct me if I am wrong) is that that cost is the infrastructure cost to change from a carbon-based economy. What else can it be, and how else could it be measured?

OK, I will. From the linked to report, for example:

A team of economists headed by Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the U.K. Government
Economics Service, performed a comprehensive assessment of evidence on the impacts
of climate change, using various techniques to assess costs and risks. Using the results
from formal economic models the Review estimates that the overall costs and risks of
inaction on climate change will be equivalent to at least 5% of global GDP, and if a
wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise
to 20% of GDP or more.
66
This study supports the development of international emission
trading, which would establish a monetized unit value of greenhouse gas emissions. In
2008 Stern stated that new scientific findings show that his 2006 evaluation greatly
underestimated the potential threat and costs of GHG emissions

So it has more to do with the market value of GHG emissions if those emissions were capped at a sustainable level (made scarce) and the discounted cost of mitigating global warming damage. It has nothing to do with the cost of changing over the economy.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

David C: the point of those regulations, to cap GHG emissions to make them scarce, is to encourage the change-over of energy economy. That is, to make that change economically viable. Ergo, it is that cost.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

don't you think if there were a bunch of activity in the economy, to say build and install more windmills, that the economy as a whole would benefit from the increased activity? Thats a gain, in addition to the gain resulting in fewer negative externalities resulting from burning less fossil fuels.

by Tina on Nov 1, 2011 3:06 pm • linkreport

@David C.

But comparing energy intensities across modes isn't very useful if one mode makes significant reductions in toxic air pollution per mile over the other. A paper presented at last January's TRB meeting called "A Comparison of Air Quality Related Mortality Impacts of Different Transportation Modes in the US" provided a framework for comparing premature deaths due to air pollution across modes. While Amtrak produced the least absolute number of deaths according to the authors (which is understandable as nationally it is a trivial mode), its per unit mortality rate was the highest. The data aren't very good, but what little research there has been into passenger rail's impact on air quality and mortality does not appear to suggest that it is very beneficial (it may actually be harmful).

by Marc Scribner on Nov 1, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

David C: the point of those regulations, to cap GHG emissions to make them scarce, is to encourage the change-over of energy economy. That is, to make that change economically viable. Ergo, it is that cost.

No. The cost here is the net cost related to various wideranging real-world effects of GHG emissions.

Just to rattle off some examples, this'd include things like damage and economic losses due to increased incidence of "severe weather events", desertification or other changes to the suitability of farmland for various crops, cossts of migration or mitigation costs for people in low-lying coastal areas affected by sea level rise, etc.

There are also potentially some benefits (having warmer weather in temperate areas and so forth) - but most estimates these days find that they come nowhere near outweighing the costs. The estimate above presumably is a net figure, costs-benefits.

It's obviously not trivial to make those estimates, and parts of them are contentious, but at root, it's not really in dispute that GHG emissions have a substantial net external cost.

And that cost is in no way related to the costs of converting to a carbon-free economy.

(If you'd like another example, consider an old house you own, with a water heater operated by a small demon. The problem is that the demon comes out occasionally at night, opens the fridge, and pees in the milk.

Question: What is the cost of operating this water heater?
A. The cost of energy plus the cost of replacement milk, inconvenience of always worrying if the milks been gotten to, gross-out factor, etc.
B. The cost of a new water heater.

...The correct answer, in case you couldn't guess, is A.)

by jack lecou on Nov 1, 2011 3:28 pm • linkreport

^.. and, if the demon doesn't close the 'fridge door (the demon is said to open the fridge but not to close it after peeing in the milk), the cost of lost food or increased energy costs of running the fridge with the door open

by Tina on Nov 1, 2011 3:37 pm • linkreport

@jack -- if the added cost from the market value of the GHG emissions -- a contrivance built to mitigate this effect -- are not high enough to cause a change-over in the energy economy, then the entire program is a failure and that money would be wasted (other than to keeping a few traders and bureaucrats employed). You can call it anything you like, but at the end of the day there must be a change-over, and that is the mechanism that has been put in place to cause it to happen.

David C: but again, this is like 50 years on, and over this time all the highways and railways will be replaced. It is not reasonable to include cost this until society decides as a whole to do this replacement. If and when that occurs, the tax on gas should be increased $2-3/gal, as your figures suggest, and this cost will be imposed upon all carbon-economy uses, and it will no longer be external. But so far, it has not.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

Marc, that was on a per-tonne mile basis. Not a per passenger mile basis. The goal, however, is not to move tons, but people.

That study shows that there are 196.5 deaths (78.6/0.4) due to road-based air pollution for every 1 passenger rail-based one. But in 2009 people only traveled 125.2 passenger miles on road than they did on passenger rail (4.236T/33.8B - not counting light rail). So, by those numbers, rail only contributes 63% as much air pollution as roads ppm. Which is a smaller ratio than I used. If I'd used that ratio, Amtrak would have seemed like an even better deal.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

the tax on gas should be increased $2-3/gal, as your figures suggest, and this cost will be imposed upon all carbon-economy uses, and it will no longer be external. But so far, it has not.

Exactly. So right now it is an external cost.

This is a tabulation of external costs. Therefore it belongs on this list. I'm glad we agree.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@jack -- if the added cost from the market value of the GHG emissions -- a contrivance built to mitigate this effect -- are not high enough to cause a change-over in the energy economy, then the entire program is a failure and that money would be wasted (other than to keeping a few traders and bureaucrats employed). You can call it anything you like, but at the end of the day there must be a change-over, and that is the mechanism that has been put in place to cause it to happen.

No, these things are completely separate:

$A. The cost of operating the water heater (...operating a high carbon economy).

$B. The cost of replacing the water heater (...building a low-carbon economy).

David's estimate above is ONLY about $A.

It's true that IF scientists and policy makers determine that $B is less than $A, it would obviously be sensible to make the switch.

But at present we are still spending $A (and, as you note, do not appear to be altering course anytime soon), which makes it the appropriate figure to use for a cost estimate of current activities.

by jack lecou on Nov 1, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

@David, no, we do not agree. Many people do not think that GHG is a problem, including the Federal Government. It is a bill that may never come due.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 4:03 pm • linkreport

goldfish, it is coming due right now. And the Federal Government does think it's a problem. Government employees have, in fact, led the process.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, you are wrong that the federal govt does not consider GHG a problem. the DOD, NOAA, and CDC for example all recognize GHG and global warming as a problem. The DOD and CDC already fund research and projects to mitigate the effects. The cost is already being paid.

by Tina on Nov 1, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

GHG is like any other issue debated in public -- yes certain agencies study it, but nothing happens until it is recognized in law. Take the American Disabilities Act everybody knew it was a problem but nothing was done about it. This would still be the same as before, until the passage of the ADA caused people to spend money, to change things. To date, no public policies on GHGs have been implemented that I am aware of. This cost has not come due.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

@David C.

The authors used passenger-mile to ton-mile conversion. But they concluded that Amtrak was responsible for 8.2 to 10.1 premature deaths per billion passenger-miles, while personal road travel was responsible for 1.6 to 5.5 premature deaths per billion passenger-miles.

by Marc Scribner on Nov 1, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

but nothing happens until it is recognized in law.

I don't understand how taking actions to respond to the changes created by global warming, by the DOD and CDC, are "doing nothing".

You're not aware of any public policies on GHG? I guess you weren't paying attention when this was all over the news:
http://www.epa.gov/nsr/ghgpermitting.html

Its not surprising most people don't know about this example:
http://www.cdc.gov/climatechange/

in addition to these and other federal programs that CURRENTLY are responding to GHG's and global warming, local governments are too:
http://www.cdc.gov/climatechange/climate_ready.htm

Its not at all like the ADA. Again actions are ALREADY being taken by the federal government in response to changes that have already occurred, as is planning for even more predicted changes.

by Tina on Nov 1, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

Marc, without being able to see where you got those numbers from I'm skeptical. The graph I linked to from the study showed 27100 premature deaths related to roads. With 4236 billion passenger miles in 2009, that comes out to 6.39 per billion passenger miles - above the range you quoted.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 5:41 pm • linkreport

@David C.

See Figure 3(a): http://amonline.trb.org/12jul3/15

by Marc Scribner on Nov 1, 2011 6:06 pm • linkreport

@Tina -- For the EPA link is for a permit. There are no limits to the amount of GHG emitted, and there "best available control technology" has not been established. The permit is just that, a permit, and it imposes no changes or costs (other than filling out the paperwork).

I have been involved with EPA on another matter, and I was assured that the rule would issue in about 10 years. It has been 14 years, and I am still waiting.

Liewise, don't expect EPA to move very quickly on GHG control. Because it is a very controversial issue, there is no way to know what will come out of this. The bill is not due.

by goldfish on Nov 1, 2011 6:12 pm • linkreport

Marc, I don't have access to that link.

Regardless, mortality is only one part of health costs. Diesel engines and conventional engines create a different mix of pollutants with diesel being high in NOx for example. That may create more deaths, but still result in lower health costs.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 11:34 pm • linkreport

You said, "Amtrak's federal grant, (constituted) just 0.05% of federal spending in 2010...". When you get back from your ride, how about working up some numbers to show us that Amtrak delivers economic benefits that exceed 0.05% of the economy. That would give Amtrak a benefit to cost ratio greater than one, which should be the *starting point* for considering any government "investment."

For extra credit, do the same for highways and you'll see how we get more bang for the buck from highway expenditures that we do for Amtrak, aka MDAR (Money Down A Rathole).

Agreed with this. Playing one against the other is just playing politics. Roads and rail are orthogonal. If you can find a single rail project that would eliminate the need for a road project, I will stand up and support it wholeheartedly. Until then, I just want to see a sensible cost-benefit story, whether it is roads, rail, bike paths, whatever. On the flip side, I want no part of projects that don't have a good cost-benefit story. (I suspect the mythical "outer Beltway" is in this category.)

by movement on Nov 1, 2011 11:47 pm • linkreport

Well, you're complaining that your french fries aren't pie. That isn't what I'm doing here. So you can't complain that the post doesn't do something it wasn't intended to do - or you can, but your missing the point.

Then there is the ridiculous standard. Amtrak makes up 0.05% of government spending, but it then has to provide a benefit greater than 0.05% of GDP? GDP is much larger than the federal spending. The correct standard is that the benefit should exceed the cost.

Look, I'd love it if the government would do a cost-benefit analysis on every program and use it to make informed decisions, but even when they do - according to a recent Post article - Congress ignores it, so I'm not sure what good that would do. But I don't know of one that was done for Amtrak.

Critics of Amtrak like to show it's enormous direct subsidy and then compare it to roads which "pay for themselves" or more recently have a small direct subsidy. The point of this post is to counter that.

It is what the title (which I didn't choose) says it is. I don't actually advocate for more Amtrak spending here - only that we should consider all factors (aka a cost-benefit analysis). If you want a different post, look elsewhere.

by David C on Nov 1, 2011 11:58 pm • linkreport

There's no way we get more for our dollar with highways than trains. Are the 72 hours a year the average Washingtonian wastes in traffic when they could be working or relaxing? How about the medical costs to say nothing about the medical costs of lung desease due to highway emmisions. Take out the 5-10k a year people put in for their yearly car expenses or how about the energy lost in wide spread sprawl that is crouding out local farming in favor of disposable landscapes with wide parkinglots that add to the polution of out waterways?

If highways where so great, why is every industrualized country in the world focusing on trains? Highway proponents tend to look at it as a zero sum game so nuance is hard to communicate without bobmastic statements, but highways and road ways aren't going anywhere, but when so many experts and so much data points to the efficiencies of rail, it's almost criminal (how's that for bombast) that we aren't adjusting our priorities to build our kid's a better future.
Imagine if the government hadn't saved Detroit, who would be left to fund all the pro-highway propaganda? Thank God for government!

by Thayer-D on Nov 2, 2011 4:52 am • linkreport

@David C.
0.05% of government spending, but it then has to provide a benefit greater than 0.05% of GDP?
I assumed this was an error in the post I quoted. Of course I just want a positive cost benefit story.

I do find it interesting that after a more careful analysis of the numbers, roads and Amtrak come out amazingly close - 2% is well within the margin of error of your calculations.

by movement on Nov 2, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

Frankly I was surprised when I first did it that Amtrak's subsidy was less. 22 cents per mile is a big hole to dig out of. I wouldn't be surprised if when experts did something like this it showed roads to be less subsidized. But I did expect them to be closer than 24 vs 2.

Despite what people think, I don't actually support a larger Amtrak subsidy or think they need one. Maybe they need some seed money to get things in good repair, going faster, more reliable etc... but in the long term they should be OK. What I'd rather see is this (numbers based on above chart, so just estimates):

1. Introduce a VMT of around 12.5 cents per mile. This money would be used to pay for road construction/maintenance (5 cents), mitigating their negative effects including noise, water, ecological etc.. (7 cents), and the transportation enhancement program (half a cent)

2. Gradually raise the gas tax to 15 cents per mile (~$3 a gallon) and use the money for clean air programs (7 cents) and GHG/fossil fuel reduction programs (8 cents).

3. Congestion pricing in cities where it makes sense at the price that makes sense. Use the revenue for CM programs.

4. Get rid of minimum parking requirements and stop providing free parking at government facilities.

5. Change insurance laws to make more of the damage due to crashes internal.

6. Some of the money spent above is already being spent in the budge, so use the savings to lower taxes on the poor to counter the regressive nature of the taxes.

7. Drop Amtrak's subsidy down to where it covers only the fees paid to railroads for the right to use their lines.

8. Make similar to changes to the airlines, and also add a carbon tax to electricity production.

9. Add a small tax on bikes (and shoes?) to kick in on Rec Trails and TE spending. Pay for Safe routes to school out of the general fund.

Then stand back and let the market do its thing. Cars would get cleaner - and so would rail probably. Roads would be less crowded. Travel, in general, would be more expensive - except for walking and biking. But there would be health benefits and ecological benefits that would exceed those costs. As for what would happen to the relative competitiveness of rail, cars and air...your guess is as good as mine.

by David C on Nov 2, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

@David C ".. stop providing free parking at government facilities."

I can't speak for the nation as a whole but as for this region, I know of not one government facility - at any level - that provides free parking to visitors. Any parking provided is restricted to employees and law enforcement. The taxpayers are forced to make other arrangements.

@David C: "Travel, in general, would be more expensive - except for walking and biking."

And to hell with anyone who can't walk, bike, or afford to pay the higher cost of mobility.

I know I'm going out on a limb - and risking the dread "ad hominem attack" label - but that statement is exactly why many people find your "solutions" elitist and therefor unacceptable.

by ceefer66 on Nov 2, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

Any parking provided is restricted to employees and law enforcement.

Isn't that free parking. The specific issue is free parking for commuters. Ideally we'd get rid of the parking fringe benefit or require employers to offer a parking cash-out. I was holding back on this one, but since it's a wish list I shouldn't have. We should stop making employer-provided parking a tax-free benefit.

And to hell with anyone who can't walk, bike, or afford to pay the higher cost of mobility.

Yes. Exactly. To hell with them. In fact if you can't walk or bike, then jackbooted government employees should come to your home and shoot you and your dog. That is EXACTLY what I am saying.

Or, that there are ways to deal with this. Transit might not be any more expensive, and certainly there are already programs for people in need of transportation assistance. It's possible these programs will need to be expanded. We can offer transportation tax credits for those who make below a threshold, for example.

In the long run, driving might actually become cheaper. As people switch to electric cars and the price of the car becomes competitive, the cost of electricity plus 5-8 cents a mile in taxes will probably be cheaper than the price of gasoline plus 2 cents a mile in taxes.

Instead of putting words in my mouth ceefer66, you could have just asked "And what happens to those who can't bike or walk or afford the higher cost of mobility?"

I know I'm going out on a limb, but it is that kind of unwillingness to discuss ideas openly and in an intellectually honest way that makes many people find your comments to be among the most counter-productive, ignorant and inflammatory ones and therefore unacceptable.

by David C on Nov 2, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66,

I find your support for privileging those who can afford multi-thousand dollar private automobiles (and who have the means to maintain and insure them) at the expense of the truly democratic forms of transportation to be extremely elitist.

Why not just massively subsidize private horse ownership?

by oboe on Nov 2, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -re: EPA and GHG -I meant the document as an example that the EPA, a Fed Gov agency, did in fact set out to regulate GHG b/c they see it as a problem. For political reasons, not be/c they do not consider it a problem, it was revoked. You said the federal govt doesn't think GHG or global warming are a problem.

You are wrong. Once again, the CDC and DOD already have programs in place to compensate for the changes already brought about by global warming. These are federal govt agencies. There are probably other fed govt agencies that already spend parts of their budgets on GHG/global warming that I don't know of. These two, CDC and DOD, I'm certain of.

Thus, the costs of GHG are ALREADY being paid for by the federal govt. Go ahead and keep saying "the bill hasn't come due". It doesn't change the fact that the fed.govt currently spends money to respond to the consequences of GHGs.

by Tina on Nov 2, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

@Tina: By David C. figures, the GHG subsidy is $0.109 per passenger mile x 4.24xe12 total US miles traveled = $462 billion. Since there are 134 million US taxpayers, that is about $3450 per taxpayer. For comparison, the total US defense budget for FY 2010 was $685 billion.

In the programs you cite, the amounts of money you are talking about are not worth mentioning. Spare a quarter for a panhandler? -- that is what those programs are. Greenhouse gas emission await congressional action; everything else is meaningless, until Congress passes a gas tax of about $3/gal to fix this. And by David C.'s research, that will not be enough.

by goldfish on Nov 2, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -you have a habit of dismissing as meaningless facts that refute your assertions. I'm not going to argue with you the worth of CDC programs that prevent death and disease that would otherwise result from changes in the climate.

by Tina on Nov 2, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

goldfish-

It seems to me that you might want to rethink your whole "if Congress/federal govt hasn't done anything major it must not be a major problem" logic. There are alternative hypotheses that fit the facts better.

Indeed, the damage continues to be done to the environment precisely BECAUSE policy makers haven't done anything. It doesn't just go away just because they can't get their act together.

by jack lecou on Nov 2, 2011 3:49 pm • linkreport

@jack lecou -- the point of my argument was that it is not reasonable to include GHG in this calculation when (1) the cost estimates to deal with this problem are too uncertain, that they vary by orders of magnitude; (2) that technological innovation for energy supplies along with progress with understanding the severity of this issue as it plays out locally will both cause radical and unforeseen shifts, with the former and latter effects both reducing the cost as people come up with new energy supplies while also adapting to climate change; (3) that the timeline to solve this issue is longer than the lifetimes of the roads and rail, so its cost is improperly included because the transportation network will be entirely replaced regardless of if this problem is addressed; and (4) notwithstanding (1), (2), and (3), US society (through the Federal Government) has not committed to solving this problem (beside a token lip service), and consequently it is not reasonable to include this cost when society as a whole has not signed on to it.

by goldfish on Nov 2, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

the cost estimates to deal with this problem.... are too uncertain, that they vary by orders of magnitude;

No. There are estimates available on specific issues from both the US CDC and the US DOD. Can you point to estimates from equally reputable institutions whose calculations on the cost of responding to specific problems vary "by order of magnitude" from these? And what magnitude are you talking about? Cents? Dollars? Tens of thousands?

the timeline to solve this issue is longer than the lifetimes of the roads and rail, so its cost is improperly included i>

No. I have already given the example of responses by the CDC to prevent death and disease that, without the response, would be deaths and diseases directly attributable to climate changes. Its happening now and these programs will continue into the future.

US society (through the Federal Government) has not committed to solving this problem

You keep saying this while blithely ignoring that DOD is the biggest Federal Govt. institution. DOD already has committed resources to "solving the problems" caused by GHGs

beside a token lip service
Again, its pointless arguing the worth of life-saving and disease preventing programs taken up by the CDC,DOD and other institutions in response to changes in the climate caused by GHGs. Your consistant dismissal of the welfare of the thousands of people currently directly affected by these responses fits with your pattern of dismissing any evidence that refutes your assertion.

The US government has exhibited through actions across agencies that global climate change caused by GHG's is a problem that requires response.

by Tina on Nov 2, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

What Tina said.

Out of your 4 points, only #1 is even arguably relevant:

I do think it's possible for reasonable people to disagree on the exact cost estimates and their underlying assumptions (though there is probably much less room to reasonably argue that these are anything but "very large").

But points #2,#3 and #4 all relate NOT to damage estimates, but instead to the prospects for solving the underlying problem (whether through unknown future technology improvements or legislative action) or the timeline for successfully doing so.

I don't know why it's so hard to understand that those questions have absolutely no bearing on whether a problem or the associated costs of damage currently exist, or what they currently are.

The legislative or technological environment of the future (or, for that matter, the past or present) has ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on the fact of the damage caused by a given GHG/global warming causing activity. The damage caused by driving a mile in a 1960 Mustang will be the same in the year 2060 as it was in the year 1960,* regardless of legal or technological change. Certainly the real value of damage caused by driving a Mustang in 2011 (or 2010, or 2005) will always be the same, regardless of the tech or political environment in 2012, or 2020 or 2950. It may be $X of damage, or $Y of damage, but the political or technological difficulty of getting other people not to drive gasoline powered Mustangs is completely irrelevant to the marginal damages caused.

So saying a big problem is very hard to solve does not mean the problem does not cause presently cause any damage, or that we should ignore such-and-such kind of damage when we are comparing the harm caused by various activities. That's an utterly bizarre position to take.

----
* Well, modulo potential nonlinearities as global warming progresses - let's say instead that the marginal damage function will always be the same.

by jack lecou on Nov 2, 2011 6:06 pm • linkreport

(Sorry - the last was in reply to goldfish. Hopefully that was clear.)

by jack lecou on Nov 2, 2011 6:07 pm • linkreport

yes. I'm finding you more articulate than i am, so thank you for commenting.

by Tina on Nov 2, 2011 6:20 pm • linkreport

goldfish-

To put it another way:

You seem to be arguing that no one should be allowed to include peed-in milk as a cost of turning the water heater on, because (1) it's hard to say exactly how much being grossed out by suspiciously yellow milk costs exactly, (2) future advances in both demon and water heater technology will cause radical and unforeseen shifts in the household hot water and milk situations, (3) the current water heater will already have rusted away by the time new water heaters are developed, so it's improper to include the cost of a non-demon-heated water heater in the tally of current household expenses (something nobody was proposing to do anyway, incidentally), and (4) notwithstanding (1), (2), and (3), the head of the household has not committed to doing anything about the demon pee problem anyway, except lipservice, so it's obvious that society as a whole has not agreed that demon pee costs anything at all (one assumes that in this world, things like replacement milk are free, so long as everyone plugs their ears and hums loudly enough).

Needless to say, (1) is the only point that is marginally coherent. The rest are frankly bizarre.

by jack lecou on Nov 2, 2011 6:25 pm • linkreport

@movement thanks for your input. Right now people pay about 17 cents per mile in gasoline and tax. I'm assuming this tax structure would eventually push people out of gasoline cars and into electric cars, which only cost a few pennies per mile, so in the end it would be a net gain. And even at 12.5 cents per mile that would be the equivalent of charging $5.80 a gallon for gasoline, which is less than many places in Europe. And it would remove the need for toll roads too - so the driving cost per mile would be lower than that. So that doesn't sound crazy to me.

Hell, right now people pay 35.7 cents per mile to drive on the Delaware Turnpike - and they're paying the gasoline tax to boot.

Calling something idiotic without actually working out the numbers is...what's the word I'm looking for?

by David C on Nov 2, 2011 10:17 pm • linkreport

@Tina & jack: regarding the cost estimates (David C.'s remark above): "Using the results from formal economic models the Review estimates that the overall costs and risks of inaction on climate change will be equivalent to at least 5% of global GDP, and if a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more." So there is a factor of 4 without trying hard, with dollar amounts in the trillions. Tina, the program funding you have presented is in the millions, 6 orders of magnitude smaller.

Re. DoD -- Tina, what program are you referring to? Can you please post a link? In any case, the funding we are considering does not approach the $462 billion claimed here as a subsidy for GHG in road construction.

I don't know why it's so hard to understand that those questions have absolutely no bearing on whether a problem or the associated costs of damage currently exist, or what they currently are.

Whatever the risks may be, whether or not they are addressed will only occur long after the trains under consideration now will have been replaced. That means that the cost to fix global warming not relevant to whether a railroad or a highway is built. It is like when you go to the grocery store and buy some milk: you do not consider the GHG externality when you make that decision (and there surely is one), because you will consume that milk and buy some more, long before any progress is made on reducing greenhouse gases. When in 50 years the roads and the train tracks being built today are replaced, and presumably at that time progress is being made on reducing GHGs, that is when such considerations comes into play.

damage caused by driving a mile in a 1960 Mustang will be the same in the year 2060 as it was in the year 1960
I doubt this. Some models predict a cliff of catastrophic change, triggered by a given concentration of CO2. Consider the irony, that when the ocean thermohaline circulation (i.e., the gulf stream) is disrupted: global warming causes an European ice age!

My only point here was that this issue is not yet understood well enough to be included when considering rail vs. road funding; it is not ready yet. Beyond that, I am not making any claims about climate change and what should be done to solve it.

Regarding the water heater and the demon, yes you have humorously portrayed but somewhat skewed my point of view. Perhaps a new stainless steel tank working off of the boiler is the ticket?

by goldfish on Nov 2, 2011 11:41 pm • linkreport

goldfish-In any case, the funding we are considering does not approach the $462 billion claimed here as a subsidy for GHG in road construction.

How do you know? Do you have a link? Why don't you look up the cost of the DODs efforts to get off fossil fuels.

Whatever the risks may be, whether or not they are addressed will only occur long after the trains under consideration now will have been replaced.

I find it bizarre that you claim over and over that the US Fed Govt has not spent any money on addressing the "risks" attributable to the effects of GHGs, even though this indeed has, is, and continues to take place. This is weird denial.

You keep saying that b/c the whole of society has not fully turned toward living by the lowest possible emissions of GHGs the damage CURRENTLY caused by GHGs and the CURRENT RESPONSES to them should be ignored, and plans to respond to projected damage should be ignored. It just doesn't make sense. Its a cost. Its measurable. Its current, not sometime in the misty future. The costs are coming due now. Any effort now to reduce GHG will reduce these costs now and in the future.

by Tina on Nov 3, 2011 12:21 am • linkreport

So there is a factor of 4 without trying hard, with dollar amounts in the trillions.

Yes. There is some uncertainty in the quantity of damages. But you will note that the uncertainty is not centered around zero. Your choice of zero is thus not a reasonable choice of damage estimate. The correct options are, roughly, huge, or REALLY huge.

It is like when you go to the grocery store and buy some milk: you do not consider the GHG externality when you make that decision (and there surely is one), because you will consume that milk and buy some more, long before any progress is made on reducing greenhouse gases.

That's exactly what I don't think you understand. "Progress on reducing greenhouse gases" has essentially nothing to do with the damage caused by the production of a gallon of milk right now.

In order to supply that milk, cows and farms produce some quantity of GHG. The trucks and refrigeration that bring it to the store and keep it fresh produce some quantity of GHG. And, released into the atmosphere, that quantity of GHG is now set to produce X quantity of global warming, and $Y worth of expenses and damage. This has already been set in motion. Not at some unspecified future point, but probably sometime earlier this week. The damage will still take a while to fully take effect, but the ball is in motion.

IF at some future point people figure out how to produce milk in a less costly way, or encourage people to consume less milk, or whatever, than bully for them. If they/we manage to do that, there will be that much less warming in their future. And less costs.

But that has nothing to do with the warming you are causing now - and external costs you are inducing now - when you buy the milk.

Or, when you take a car instead of the train.

by jack lecou on Nov 3, 2011 12:22 am • linkreport

@ceefer66,
I find your support for privileging those who can afford multi-thousand dollar private automobiles (and who have the means to maintain and insure them) at the expense of the truly democratic forms of transportation to be extremely elitist.

Why not just massively subsidize private horse ownership?

by oboe on Nov 2, 2011 1:18 pm
--------------

@oboe,

If driving is indeed "subsidized" - as is the oft-repeated mantra by many on this blog, then I am a real sucker for paying the full cost of my driving - buying, registering, operating, maintaining, and insuring my vehicle - plus the fuel taxes, tolls, etc. I pay for building maintaining and using roads, not to mention the taxes I pay to subsidize the transit I rarely use.

If driving is indeed "subsidized", I want MY subsidy!

Thanks for pointing that out and for clearing things up. As always, I'm indebted to you for your wisdom and insight.

by ceefer66 on Nov 3, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

ceefer66, the total cost of driving - when adding in both internal and external costs - is about 96 cents per mile, of which you pay 51 cents. That's your subsidy and you're getting it.

by David C on Nov 3, 2011 12:50 pm • linkreport

ceefer66, the total cost of driving - when adding in both internal and external costs - is about 96 cents per mile, of which you pay 51 cents. That's your subsidy and you're getting it.
by David C on Nov 3, 2011 12:50 pm
-----------------

Where do you get your numbers from and what do the percentage figures mentioned consist of?

While we're at it, what are the figures for transit and Amtrak users?

And you know what? That 45-cent "subsidy" your claim I'm getting comes mainly from government revenue, of which I pay my fair share. I'm even helping to pay for those oft-mentioned "war for oil" and "pollution", and "carbon footprint" canards.

Therefor, no one - least of all those who DON'T incur the cost of driving - is giving me or any other driver anything worth talking about.

It's time you got off that "driving is subsidized" trip, because it simply is not true.

by ceefer66 on Nov 3, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

That 45-cent "subsidy" your claim I'm getting comes mainly from government revenue, of which I pay my fair share. I'm even helping to pay for those oft-mentioned "war for oil" and "pollution", and "carbon footprint" canards.

ceefer66-

You might notice that by this same (weird) logic, you should also be claiming that train riders get absolutely no "subsidy". (Or did you think that the IRS gives people a pass on paying any of their taxes if they take the train?)

Of course, either version of that statement completely redefines the word "subsidy" into meaninglessness, so you probably shouldn't be saying silly things like that in the first place.

by jack lecou on Nov 3, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

ceefer66, the numbers for the car subsidy are above as are Amtrak. But I don't know what it is for transit. I hardly see how it matters, since your point was that you pay no subsidy.

There was a time when user fees covered the entire cost of federal highways (but not all roads) but that ended a few years ago. Since then they've pulled money out of general funds to cover FHWA expenses. So all taxpayers, whether they drive or not, are subsidizing drivers.

It's time you got off that "driving is subsidized" trip, because it simply is not true.

Even Wendell Cox and Randall O'Toole recognize that driving is subsidized. You have truly moved off the map with that position.

by David C on Nov 3, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

David C,

you know what/

It's safe to say that nearly all (if not all) government-provided services are subsidized to a degree.

It's also safe to say that the cost of a transit ride is subsidized to a significantly greater degree than the cost of driving one's vehicle to a given location.

You're obviously anti-car - and that's OK. But it is disingenous of you to constantly allege that who buy and maintain their own means of transport (and pay for the roads they drive on, AND pay to subsidize transit that doesn't directly benefit them) are getting a free -nearly free ride at the expense of the put-upon general public.

It's simply not true, no matter how much biased, agenda-based data you can dig up.

Interesting that you would (selectively) cite Wendell Cox and Randall O'Toole in an effort to bolster your argument. They both, especially O'Toole, think most the of the new rail-based transit projects provide little cost benefit at best and are simply a waste of money at worst. That's not my opinion, but it looks like you're grasping at straws.

by ceefer66 on Nov 4, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

It's safe to say that nearly all (if not all) government-provided services are subsidized to a degree.

Which includes roads, so I'm glad you agree.

It's safe to say that nearly all (if not all) government-provided services are subsidized to a degree.

That I'm not so sure of one way or the other. Regardless, it doesn't matter.

But it is disingenous of you to constantly allege that who buy and maintain their own means of transport (and pay for the roads they drive on, AND pay to subsidize transit that doesn't directly benefit them) are getting a free -nearly free ride at the expense of the put-upon general public.

Luckily I don't do that. I straight out state that people who buy their own means of transport (and pay part of the costs of the roads they drive on but not all, even if you credit them for the subsidy to transit) are getting a reduced price for their ride at the expense of those who don't drive or don't drive as much. And that statement is true for driver, cyclists, segway users, roller-bladers etc...

They both, especially O'Toole, think most the of the new rail-based transit projects provide little cost benefit at best and are simply a waste of money at worst.

Which is why I referenced them. Even people who support cars to an unreasonable degree recognize that roads are subsidized. And, it appears, that you do too. As you stated in your last post.

But I'm trying to have a fact-based discussion here. Do you have any?

by David C on Nov 4, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

Rails encourage density.

Cars encourage sparcity, if that's a word.

by Capt. Hilts on Nov 6, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

David, I see you've taken a lot of flack on the parking issue. It appears that you've resorted to a nationwide average. Most of Amtrak's boardings and alightings are in urban areas, which are likely to have higher parking subsidies than the national average because of construction and opportunity costs.

Of course, this means all of your costs estimates are low, since per-mile costs for capacity expansion, air pollution impacts, and land-use effects would all be higher in urban areas.

by Juan M. on Nov 8, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

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