Greater Greater Washington

Examiner beats drums for war on non-cars

The Washington Examiner's opinion section features five separate fusillades against transit, spending on transit, and the entire idea, incomprehensible to the authors, that some people can happily live their lives primarily getting around using transit and on foot and might actually enjoy it.


One of the places a freeway might be built. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Several, by "conservative" writers and crossposted from "conservative" national publications, follow the typical pattern of such anti-transit screeds, filled with "scare quotes" and namecalling toward people who disagree as "pointy-headed" "bureaucrats," "functionaries" and more to defend government spending on modes of travel they personally prefer.

An Examiner editorial criticizes the Obama administration's meager extra spending on transit as a "war against cars" (of course). The editorial board can't stand spending on "expensive high-speed rail, unprofitable low-speed Amtrak, and other forms of government-subsidized mass transit" ... as opposed to expensive freeways, unprofitable arterials, and other forms of government-subsidized roads.

Scare-quoted words include "investing" (money on transportation projects) and "livability," which apparently is code for "using government funding to force people now living in the suburbs to move back into densely packed central cities where they would have to depend upon mass transit rather than privately owned vehicles." That's instead of the previous policy of using government funding to force people to live in places where they would have to depend on cars even to cross a street without being killed.

That's far from the most comic of the faux-free market arguments, where people actually seem able to argue with a straight face that the government spending money on one mode of transportation is totally just markets at work while spending public money on another mode is socialism.

The most extravagant argument comes from Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, who actually writes this:

If the law of supply and demand were operative, we'd see a smarter approach to improving transportation in America. The supply of cars would create a demand for more roads and bridges to accommodate them, just as food lines outside a grocery store create demand for more grocery stores.
Once again, the government is not building grocery stores. It is building the roads. And Barnes may not have noticed, but in grocery stores, you pay for the food you want. Last calls road pricing a way "to force drivers to put a dollar value on their commute." Like... in the grocery stores, where there's a dollar value on the food?

Meanwhile, Barnes obviously hasn't been on the Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains, or any of the subway systems in dense cities where people are clamoring for more trains and better service. Why doesn't that create demand for transit programs?

Because Barnes is sure they're not useful to anyone. "The simple fact is most people prefer to travel by car because it's convenient, which mass transit rarely is," he claims. Rarely in his experience, perhaps. Sure, driving is more convenient for many people in many cases. Transit is more convenient for other people in other cases.

Barnes argues that all the transit hasn't taken cars off the road, and that transit's mode share has declined. I have to assume he's just being disingenuous and trying to feed red meat to his base, because he must be smart enough to recognize that if you build very little transit and a lot of roads while the nation grows significantly, maybe the overall amount of cars will increase faster than the amount of transit ridership.

What's most frustrating about this argument from "conservative" commentators is that they're doing exactly what they accuse others of: coercing people to take only one mode. Barnes' argument isn't that we need both roads and transit. He only wants roads and nothing else. How does taking away choices create more freedom?

It's just like the groceries. Some people like milk. Others like orange juice. The government is subsidizing the growing of both in this country. But we aren't hearing "conservative" commentators argue that all orange subsidies have to end because adding a few new orange groves hasn't succeeded in curbing obesity all on its own.

Another Barnes assertion claims transit in Washington hasn't curbed congestion. Yet that Texas Transportation Institute report, which tautologically proves that if you build a lot more roads people spend more of their long commutes driving long distances fast instead of short distances slowly, showed that the Washington area has grown a lot since 1999 but without traffic actually getting worse.

The strange logic continues with a piece by Fred Utt of the Heritage Foundation criticizing transportation borrowing by Barack Obama and by Barbara Hollingsworth praising the same borrowing by Bob McDonnell.

Hollingsworth writes, "In order to take advantage of low construction costs, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly agreed to incur $4 billion in debt in order to expand and maintain the commonwealth's extensive highway system, which has become seriously degraded after years of neglect." But Utt decries federal transportation programs as "borrow-and-spend policies" and a "political slush fund."

What's the difference? It's simple: One has some transit, the other doesn't. Also, one executive is a Democrat, the other a Republican. Utt can't abide transit because some people belong to a union. He seems to forget that so do highway builders. Hollingsworth, meanwhile, just hates the Silver Line.

She has three main criticisms: It's expensive, there aren't a lot of people nearby, and the number of people who will take a train to the airport doesn't justify train service. Actually, there's some difference of opinion among transit advocates about the Silver Line's phase 2, from Wiehle Avenue through Dulles and into Loudoun County.

Starting with the third argument, Hollingsworth feeds off the common misconception many people have that this is primarily a "train to Dulles." It's really a train to Tysons and then to some park-and-rides near Dulles as well as the airport itself. Some people will use the train to go to the airport, but most riders in that section will be residents of the area using it to commute.

The Silver Line is expensive, but so are highways; it takes more local dollars because the federal government doesn't contribute as much money to such a project as to an equivalent highway. As with Barnes' claim that the little transit we've built hasn't reduced traffic enough, this argument uses circular reasoning. Because the feds don't pay much for transit, it's expensive; therefore, the feds should stop paying anything at all.

As for there not being a lot of people nearby, as Richard Layman explains, heavy rail transit creates its own population density. The Silver Line will trigger more development in the areas where it will go.

While phase 1 of the Silver Line serves Tysons, an already-dense area that's one of the largest job markets in the nation, phase 2 will primarily serve future development in western Fairfax and in Loudoun. To some, that's an argument against it, since like a rural highway, it's subsidizing far-flung development.

The fifth article, by Jonathan Last from the Weekly Standard, attempts to debunk the idea of induced demand, which he can't abide. It reads like one of those polemics from evolution deniers, full of statements that the "experts" insist something is true, but it can't possibly be.

Last cites 7 separate studies that back up induced demand, but then says it can't be true because if you ask the average person on the street, they'd tell you that of course building highways makes traffic better. Oh, and there was once one study that said perhaps it's overblown. Proof!

One group, he says, even went "spinning off into outer space" by trying to apply game theory. Because we all know that relatively new branches of mathematics never have any real application to existing problems.

Ultimately, this is all a lot of arguing over specifics. Individual studies or cost projections aren't going to change minds. The fact is that road building interests, suburban development interests, and the "conservative" mouthpieces they fund are going crazy that a long-standing, enormous funding imbalance in their favor might be shifting back, even a little bit.

These two pie charts, one from Transit Miami in 2009 and one from Streetsblog yesterday, tell it all:

Few scream more loudly than an interest group used to getting the entire pie, especially during a time when the pie is shrinking due to static gas tax revenues.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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The conservatives get up in arms about all the people and industries that come to rely on the government teat (e.g. Amtrak, NPR), but ignore the huge subsidies to roads that grossly distort the market. If you subsidize something, you will get more of it (see housing bubble)

by SJE on Mar 3, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

They had to put this crap out quickly, because it's not going to have a long shelf life.

With gasoline already at $3.50 and heading up, not even the craziest of the teabaggers will buy those arguments when the price hits four bucks. So this is their last chance to beat up on mass transit alternatives for a while.

Balanced transportation planning will never appeal to the mentally and politically unbalanced. That's not news. It's just fact.

by Mike Silverstein on Mar 3, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

I love your article and fully agree with it.
One cannot make an argument against mass transit while living in a city.

Cars are a luxury, Metro is not.

by Sergey on Mar 3, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

You know, as one of the more conservative people associated with this blog, I am always blown over by these arguments. I am pro-transit BECAUSE I'm conservative, not in spite of that fact.

by Dave Murphy on Mar 3, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

+1 Dave. I'm pretty much in that same camp. But as much as I am a roadgeek, these "editorials" from the Examiner are absolutely ludicrous...

by Froggie on Mar 3, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

This has been discussed before, but the reason the right rejects transit is that their constituency is largely suburban or rural - places where people drive cars almost exclusively. And "conservatives" are always against change of any sort (unless it enriches them directly - then they are all for it).

by Glenn on Mar 3, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Glenn; no, it is they don't want to give money to poor people, which is what they perceive transit is for (people who can't afford cars).

clearly, if WMATA could triple rail prices they would have not a problem with their budget. And WMATA is pretty unique is having some a middle class ridership.

Republicans -- save the federal government some money and eliminate the transit benefit! No more free money for federal workers!

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

>Republicans -- save the federal government some money and eliminate the transit benefit! No more free money for federal workers!

Only if you eliminate all free parking too.

by BeyondDC on Mar 3, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

@dave - you must be an old-fashioned conservative - one who is conservative based upon principles - rather than the modern-day version of conservatives who appear to believe in no principles except the singular one that anything that pisses off libruls must be good

by andy on Mar 3, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

The right wing has been in big oil's back pocket since day one. Combine that with the fact that mass transportation systems tend to be most heavily used, and therefore supported, by individuals living in and close to cities. Cities tend to be ethnically diverse places with progressive-minded, educated people. Its a shame because the right is essentially calling for more of the same: building a society that relies on the existence of cheap oil. Its a losing proposition in the long run.

by Sapo on Mar 3, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

Where the HELL is gas only $3.50? Premium is $3.99 in Alexandria. Bring on the inflation: higher gas prices, less cheap food, less traffic.

by monkeyrotica on Mar 3, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

these so-called anti- transit "conservatives" actually sound almost exactly like the anti-street car and anti-density people in DC's "historic districts" These folks that call themselves "liberals" here in DC and their counterparts in the Examiner really sound like the same voice !!!

by anti-NIMBY on Mar 3, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

Where the HELL is gas only $3.50? Premium is $3.99 in Alexandria. Bring on the inflation: higher gas prices, less cheap food, less traffic.

Gas nudging up against $4 / gallon. Hey, Zillow says my house is up 5% in the last 30 days. Coincidence? Not a chance!

"Short the 'burbs!"
:)

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

No one who writes for the Examiner is reading this blog, and no one who believes the Examiner is a real news source is reading this blog either.

by Mike D on Mar 3, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

@DA, this diatribe isn't helping. You're just preaching to the choir. If that's really what you want then great. If you want someone other than the choir to give a crap about what you have to say, you might want to consider presenting how your transit vision can be accomplished and what the impact would be.

As far as I can tell, your vision for transit in the metropolitan area would require an 11 figure investment over 10-20 years and still would not eliminate the need for many (if any) of the proposed investments in roads already in the roadmap. Who is going to pay for this and why should they pay for it? We don't even have the money to pay for the transit system we have now.

If you fail to present a path forward that is aligned with your vision, your value-add to the debate is approximately zero.

by movement on Mar 3, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

@movement: You say we don't have the money to pay for the transit system we have now. But isn't it true that we don't have the money to pay for the highway system we have now?

Seems like you could say the exact same thing about the proposed investments in roads as you could say about investments in transit.

by Rom on Mar 3, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

I think this is actually the money shot in the editorial:

cars enable people to go where they choose when they choose. With mass transit, government decides for you where and when you go.

Subways take away our freedoms, peoples. Mussolini made the trains run on time, after all. Transit is socialist. I mean, fascist.

by M on Mar 3, 2011 3:09 pm • linkreport

@charlie-WMATA is pretty unique is having some a middle class ridership. Did you mean "unique in having a middle class ridership" or "...some middle class ridership"?

Either way I know WMATA is not the only transit system with either "a" or "some" middle class ridership.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Tina; name another rail system where the average rider has an income over 100,000.

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

What I want is a grocery store where I can pay about 2% of my total annual earnings for a membership and in exchange get to grab all the groceries I want for free.

by Bossi on Mar 3, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

Seems like you could say the exact same thing about the proposed investments in roads as you could say about investments in transit.

That's just silly! Why roads are...well...ROADS!

by oboe on Mar 3, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

I agree with movement's statement. Neither the right nor the left get the issue entirely correct. The dependence on oil and cars is an obvious problem. However, when you have a publicly funded transit system the routes and times become captives of the loudest, most influential (and typically smallest) group of people. That does nothing to make the economics of public transportation sustainable or efficient.

The metro bus system of today reflects that. Are routes are dominated by providing the most expensive services to the least able to cause the system to break even. Where there are large groups of people capable of providing income to the system, we provide lousy service which pushes them into cars. We have bus service lines that undercut metro fares because they charge less for people.

Obviously regions that are public transit heavy shouldn't have to subsidize regions that are car heavy and vice versa. That's where we need a bit more federalism. Everyone can prioritize their own area's needs.

by eb on Mar 3, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

@charlie,..and how do you know the metro train riders' avg. income? Other reports say DC median income is $59-89k depending on source and avg house value is $443K. For comparison the low-end est median income for Chicago is $45k but avg house value is $260k.

Go to Chicago and ride the EL into and out of the Loop everyday. You will see WMATA is not unique in "a" or "some" middle class ridership.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

@Tina; my numbers are from the esteemed Craig Simpson, who hasn't shown up since his 20 part series on WMATA reform before he mentioned he worked for ATU.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/4874/wmata-budget-deep-dive-part-5-is-the-fare-fair/

"In a 2007 survey, WMATA found that Metrorail passengers had a median income of $102,000, were 75% white and only 1 in 50 did not own an automobile. In contrast, Metrobus passengers had a median income of $69,600, were 50% minority and one in five did not own an automobile."

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport

@eb

Do you have any examples of where this is actually true? Because personally I see the opposite: very frequent service provided during rush hours to corridors that serve relatively affluent transit-riding populations, and crappy service in low-income areas.

Hell, take a 16th Street bus towards downtown at 8:15AM, then take the exact same trip two blocks over on 14th. The difference in who is riding the bus and the frequency of each is apparent.

Or take a 16th Street bus north at 5:30PM - the buses come every 2-3 minutes, lots of those same people on the bus, buses are on average 2/3 full. The same bus at 9PM? Comes once every 10 minutes if it's on schedule and is probably packed to crush capacity with people getting off the janitor shift. By the time you hit P street the bus is leaving people at the stops to wait another 10 minutes.

Name a "large group of people capable of providing income to the system" who are given lousy service.

by MLD on Mar 3, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

Craig's bio was listed on the first article he wrote, just like most new contributors to the site. In addition, his bio was listed on his author's page just like most contributors to the site.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 3, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

@charlie, Given the existing data on metro train riders you provide one can reasonably hypothesize other train systems' riders also skew in a similar pattern. Again, ride to the Loop on the El and take a look around at the train passengers. Middle class white people have shown they like mass transit trains and use them wherever they are available. Other people like them too.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

@M: Mussolini also had a first-rate engineer (Piero Puricelli) who is often described as the father of the Italian Autostrade motorway system (their eqivalent of Interstates). Mussolini was building Italy's freeways 15 years before we even got off the ground in this country with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (arguably our first long-distance route).

by Froggie on Mar 3, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

@Foggie -according to a historical plaque at one (or more) of the service plazas on the PA Turpike it IS the 1st long distance route!

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 4:16 pm • linkreport

Doesn't the examiner get most of its readership from Metro? I can totally see the teabagger riding the orange line to the Capitol nodding in agreement, completely oblivious to his own hypocrisy.

Get your gumint hands off my Medicare!

by SPer on Mar 3, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

@DA, hopefully, this will slow down your wasted effort at trying to engage libertarians and their fellow travelers. beyond lowering taxes for business and the wealthy, they never stick their noses out for anything, even if they mouth support for it.

the Examiner, like the Moonie Times, is hardly credible and a column on either is basically a waste of time, unless it mocks their ideology-based stupidity or uncovers the occasional non-horrible column.

by Rich on Mar 3, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

@Rom

So what? Since the transit lobby is not in control at the moment, decisions are being made without much input from them. For them to be relevant, they must do more than point fingers and tell the road lobby that they are wrong. They must present a better way forward and a path to getting there. This is what politics is about, not sitting in an ivory tower and telling everyone else they are wrong.

What is the path forward for a Greater Greater Washington?

by movement on Mar 3, 2011 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Tina; actually, no you can't. It's the federal subsidy at work. WMATA says something like 40 to 50% of rush hour riders are on the federal subsidy. Name anther transit system where half of the people on the train aren't paying for their rides.

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

The Seattle transit system has a fairly high percentage of riders receiving employer provided passes. Similarly, the Austin transit system has a lot of UT students provided with free rides.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 3, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

Name another system where half of the people aren't paying for their rides.

The Interstate Highway System.

by Ben Ross on Mar 3, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

Personally, I'm glad that the Examiner is writing incendiary opinion pieces about the perceived "war against cars." The fact that so many voices (whether opposing or supporting) are speaking so loudly about something as "boring" as transportation policy speaks to the coming sea change in how our country views transit, as well as urban (and suburban) planning. It seems to me that debates (as with healthcare) always get the most vicious when change is imminent. Let them say whatever they like about it; at least people are thinking more about the way they get around.

by Laura on Mar 3, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

rail system where the average rider has an income over 100,000

Over $100,000 is middle-class? The Census Bureau says the median household income is $50,000. If the average rider has an income twice that of the median household, I'd say that puts them in the "rich" category.

by Vicente Fox on Mar 3, 2011 5:04 pm • linkreport

That Metro median income figure was never clear to me.

If it's median household income, that would make a lot more sense. Yes, 100k is a lot more than the American average, but it's not that much more than the regional average.

The DC region's "Area Median Income" as defined by HUD for (I believe) a family of 4 is $103,500

http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/il/il10/index.html

by Alex B. on Mar 3, 2011 5:12 pm • linkreport

@Vicente Fox not that I don't think 100k is a generous income, but in different regions it goes farther than others, e.g. avg house price in DC ($445)* vs. Chicago ($260)*
*data from city-data.com

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:19 pm • linkreport

Well, John McCain did say $250,000 was middle class, right?

by comparison, this 2006 analysis of NYC's transit users:
http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/demographics/20060306/5/1780

puts median income of bus riders at $33,300 for individual, $65,000 for household. About the same for subway. And $62,000 for individuals and $112,000 for households.

by Mike B on Mar 3, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

Sorry, that last part (with $62,000 and $112,000) refers to commuter rail riders.

by Mike B on Mar 3, 2011 5:21 pm • linkreport

@Mike B.- more existing data supporting the hypothesis that middle class people ride mass transit trains. Regarding the income disparity with bus riders one can reasonably hypothesize the reason is that homes located within access to trains are more costly than homes located near busses only, and people with higher incomes want to live near access to trains.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

But if you're naming "another rail system where the average rider has an income over 100,000" that implies you aren't limiting your sample to the DC region, so one should be looking at national figures.

by Eric Holder on Mar 3, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

@AlexB; I agree I found those numbers a bit off. But is also put the BUS numbers in greater context -- if they are pulling average household income then 35K for bus riders is even worse.

My original point still stands: WMATA rail is middle class. Again, more like a real commuter rail system than an urban subway. Republicans hate transit because they hate subsidizing poor people.

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

@Eric Holder, charlies initial assertion was that WMATA was unique in having a ridership that "is middle class" or "has some" middle class riders. (charlie never clarified that typo). Avg income, and especially median income data are a red herring when comparing whether the ridership of one regions train system is middle class to another regions ridership. Its easier to achieve middle class security at a lower income level in Chicago than in DC for instance. (see avg house price)

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:45 pm • linkreport

@charlie

WMATA rail is middle class. Again, more like a real commuter rail system than an urban subway. Republicans hate transit because they hate subsidizing poor people.

I agree, except the part about you equating what's 'urban' with the income demographics of the riders.

The urban/commuter aspect is a physical distinction about the system itself, not the ridership.

Anyway, I've always wanted to see the back end data on WMATA's published income figures. If it's 100k per "household", you could easily find a "household" of a 3 person group house, each individual earning 40k a year, coming in above 100k. Same thing for their car ownership numbers.

by Alex B. on Mar 3, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

@charlie -okay. Republicans hate transit because they hate subsidizing poor people. this may be more applicable to busses than trains, especially with the demographic trend of more people with greater means moving into cities (that traditionally have mass transit systems), like DC and Chicago close in to the Loop.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport

ps@charlie -i guess republicans hate subsidizing trains too b/c people who ride them (city dwellers) tend to vote Democratic as a block of voters anyway.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 5:55 pm • linkreport

@charlie: Nice to be missed. I have been retired for some time and away from Washington, DC. Hopefully will be back on GGW with a post or two soon. The demographic information for Metrobus and Metrorail comes from Metro's media guide: http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/docs/2010_Media_Guide.pdf

by Craig Simpson on Mar 3, 2011 6:30 pm • linkreport

@Craig Simpson; you are missed! A kidding aside, your forty part series on WMATA was interesting and educational. And thanks for the link.

@Tina; typos aside; how many rail systems have riders with median incomes over $100K? WMATA is very different from what Republicans think of as "transit". I think that also explains a lot of the hyper-critical part we bring to WMATA -- expectations are higher.

And I do doubt those surveys-- people tend to push their incomes up a bit on when querried. No data is perfect.

Regardless, I am sure both the mean and median incomes of WMATA rail riders is probably double that of MARTA, BART, SEPTA, CTA, MTA and MBTA. That is all the urban systems, no? Oh, and LA.

by charlie on Mar 3, 2011 7:00 pm • linkreport

Anyone catch the George Will rant in Newsweek last week? We just posted it:

http://www.planetizen.com/node/48354

Apparently high speed rail is part of a liberal agenda to suppresses the individualism of Americans and make them more subservient to government.

And here I just thought it was a good way to connect cities that's not completely dependent on cheap oil.

by Chris Loos on Mar 3, 2011 7:43 pm • linkreport

@charlie, you said "middle class". Granted wmata train riders may have a higher avg (or median?) income than other places but that doesn't make the proportion of middle class train riders in other places smaller. The current trend nationally is middle class people moving into cities/areas with transit available. Anyway I agreed with your greater point. The rest is quibbling about what income one needs in a given region to achieve middle class security.

by Tina on Mar 3, 2011 8:52 pm • linkreport

@charlie,

You are incorrect, Republicans don't want to provide Federal funding to bodies that are not responsive to the people they serve. Metro has become a body that simply moves the buses around and moves the trains around. When in fact, they should be focused on moving people. This is the same agency that spent some $750,000 on a new metro bus advertising campaign, when asked to justify the expense, they explained that it was within their budget, yet didn't consider that their budget priorities might be out of order.

Republican also don't want a transit subsidy paid for by American tax payers going to wasteful spending. The subsidy used to be at $120 a year a few years ago. It was doubled temporarily for that sham of a bill the American Recovery and Reinvestment act and was set to expire. Of course it got approved again and will forever bet at the $230 rate and will continue to grow and grow without any checks. Metro will continue to get guaranteed funding from the masses of government drones that ride the metro for "free".

by Anon on Mar 4, 2011 1:15 am • linkreport

At the Federal level, the difference between highway "subsidies" and transit subsidies are that highway subsidies are paid by the user. The Highway Trust Fund collects the gas tax revenue, and that revenue is spent on highways. Mass transit lives off of subsidies from the general fund (regular tax dollars) and from stealing from the Highway Trust Fund, a fund for which their users pay in 0 while using Transit.

I don't think anyone would care if transit riders taxed themselves to pay for more transit. But so far they have been unwilling or unable to do so.

by Subsidize Me on Mar 4, 2011 8:30 am • linkreport

The entire cost of highways is hardly paid by the user.

by Subsidize You on Mar 4, 2011 8:56 am • linkreport

Really, Anon? "Government drones"?
Way to put down the hard working people who do the important business of running the country!

by Syrine on Mar 4, 2011 8:58 am • linkreport

"Subsidize Me", wrong...just plain and undeniably wrong. Gas taxes don't BEGIN to cover highways and their externality costs. Please don't parrot CATO, Reason, and Heritage Foundation nonsense here. And you're moniker is right. We do subsidize you and the whole Interstate System.

by AlecT on Mar 4, 2011 9:01 am • linkreport

@Subsidize me: The Highway Trust Fund collects the gas tax revenue, and that revenue is spent on highways

I think that is the essential point: there is a bureaucracy built around collecting and spending the gas tax, directed toward building roads. Spending a part of that on mass transit is justified because it helps relieve traffic. The problem is there is no similar tax dedicated to transit, set up to be spend on capital transit projects.

by goldfish on Mar 4, 2011 9:19 am • linkreport

@Anon; I agree with you on federal subsidy for workers. My guess is that federal subsidy is about $200M a year. Now, how much goes to WMATA? I always suspected the people getting the most benefit from it live further away, and are taking VRE/MARC or commuter buses.

But I disagree with you about waste. Is there a lot of wasteful spending at WMATA -- absolutely. IS that waste what drives Republicans mad -- no. It is the thought of spending money to move poor people.

by charlie on Mar 4, 2011 9:28 am • linkreport

The Interstates are subsidized, but at a fairly small level (rough estimate of 5-10%, though this will depend on the state and how the state highway revenue is brought in). For the legacy toll roads that are part of the Interstate system (i.e. PA Turnpike, NJ Turnpike, NYS Thruway, etc etc), that subsidization level is zero, and is even arguably a negative number. As you get more and more towards local roads, the level of subsidization increases, to the point where local/residential streets are almost 100% subsidized.

by Froggie on Mar 4, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

Hysterial. Absolutely hysterical.

Of course, you had to throw in the "induced demand" nonsense - we shouldn't build roads because people will actually use them and (gasp) just might want to live nearby. But of course, we MUST "induce demand: for transit.

The only thing missing from David's ridiculous rant was the usual nonsense that "cars and driving are subsidized".

by ceefer66 on Mar 4, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

Republicans don't want to provide Federal funding to bodies that are not responsive to the people they serve

Then they should cut themselves off first.

by Dave J on Mar 4, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

Ceefer66: They are subsidized. What's your point?

Suburban development and highway oriented transit have been subsidized and otherwise supported by regulations (not all of them Federal... state and local as well) since the 50's onwards. We're now reaching a point where it's not economically feasible to continue this.

The only ridiculous thing would be to stay the course and try to live like we have an endless supply of petroleum.

by Ricky M on Mar 4, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

IS that waste what drives Republicans mad -- no.

The Pentagon budget proves this point.

by Juanita de Talmas on Mar 4, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

With the news of how Congress is planning to cut back WMATA funding, I've been having a fantasy about having a "drive your car to work" day. Pick a day when crucial legislation is going to be up for a vote, have a movement where everyone with a car who usually takes Metro or MARC or VRE drives and jams up the traffic system.

I hate driving and it's faster for me to take Metro, but I'm willing to clog up the streets and shell out $20 for parking just to poke my thumb in their eye and show how crucial mass transit is.

by lou on Mar 4, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

"The only thing missing from David's ridiculous rant was the usual nonsense that "cars and driving are subsidized"

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

by Fred on Mar 4, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

@lou, aren't those voting to defund wmata living in their offices?-(living space subsidized by taxpayers BTW. Why don't they go somewhere where they pay their own damn electric and water bill? Freeloaders...). They don't care what happens to people living here in "evil" DC or a gridlock interupting local commerce.

by Tina on Mar 4, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

They'd have to care if their staffs can't get to work.

by lou on Mar 4, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

I hope you're right. But i just don't think they give a damn. One days inconvenience would be a battle scar, which is what I see them as interested in: Battle. They're not interested in working with others to find solutions that aspire to the greatest good for the greatest number, of which mass transit is an enduring example. i would be delighted to be proven wrong. Maybe a one day train boycott would supply an Aha! moment.

by Tina on Mar 4, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

What worries me now about our mono car only culture is that gas prices are going up to $4.30 a gallon and everyone is going after Amtrak while the middle east is about to break apart and cut off the suppy of oil. Also the way Vriginia is set up if the cars from the movies cars ever visted they would feel right at home in that everything is car car only and they seem scard when they see something that runs on metal wheels and is none pavement.

by Ocean Railroader on Mar 4, 2011 7:59 pm • linkreport

To be fair, the Middle East is by far not the only supplier of oil. But it'll induce fear in the futures markets and THAT is what'll drive the price way up.

by Froggie on Mar 4, 2011 9:45 pm • linkreport

@Laura's comment about the sea change in public attitudes on transportation that these incendiary articles suggest may be occuring is quite perceptive. A couple of months ago my husband got free tickets for a car show and asked our kids if they would like to go. They turned up their noses and said they were not interested because cars are not good for the environment. Granted they have grown up in Arlington, but kids are growing up now worried about global warming and the environment and the chioces we made in past decades will not make sense to them. These screeds may turn out to be nothing more than a rear guard action for a model that has outlived its usefulness. With many cities and towns around the U.S. facing bankrupcy, maintaining and expanding the expensive road network is no longer so affordable.

by Kathy on Mar 5, 2011 6:14 am • linkreport

"Cars" include railROAD cars, trolly cars, etc- Dave Alpert means private automobiles amongst the general public, but as typified by such anti car anti road slogannering, indicates an ideological blindness and thoughtlessness.

But as I have already written, when the best road routes go alongside or through some overly influential entitie's property- pepole will find all sorts of excuses.

Just look at how the ICC was blocked for years until the thing was re-routed away from Derwood, MD Knights of Columbus, and that factiod was not even mentioned.

by Douglas Willinger on Mar 5, 2011 4:44 pm • linkreport

Oh come off it, Douglas. Everyone uses "cars" to mean "automobiles", and you know it. You're just picking a nit as a lead-in to your tropes about anti-car nonsense. Did you actually read the article, or any of the other articles on this site, for that matter? Suggesting that automobiles actually share the road, or that we give people choices other than just the automobile, are no more "anti-car" than offering someone the choice of pancakes at breakfast makes one "anti-French toast".

by Bryant Turnage on Mar 6, 2011 3:10 am • linkreport

Is not it anti "road" and anti "car" to fall into the trap of the over generalizations of an intelligencia boiled down to sloganeering over reasoning, and fail to ask not only why JFK's B&O Route North Central Freeway was so botched,

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2010/05/1960s-washington-dc-freeway-planning.html

but also that of some official HSR for prioritizing Tampa to Disney over Miami to points north to Jacksonville, especially with se Florida's far greater population base along I-95?

Being pro road includes facilities for non car, cycle and foot, as well as intra regional urban road tunnels.

by Douglas Willinger on Mar 6, 2011 3:36 am • linkreport

...And what about all the subsized (and largely FAILING) airlines in this country? "Conservatives" forget that flying IS a form of public transportation which, at their preference, is hugely subsidized and regulated by the government. And yet, flying is extremely inconvinient (due largely to the security screenings), and very expensive.
Seems to me that if you don't support Amtrak than you shouldn't be supporting American Airlines, SOuthwest, Delta, and so on, either.

I also love how "conservatives" don't seem to realize that some people CANNOT DRIVE even if they wanted to! My eyesight meets the legal definition of blindess, meaning I can't get a driver's license. Unfortunately though, I'm not blind enough to get reduced fare on public transportation either. Therefore, I'm living in the city, using public transportation or my own two legs EXCLUSIVELY. I have no other choices and I'm sick or these idiots overlooking that fact and taking away what little options I have to get around!

by Matt on Mar 7, 2011 9:11 am • linkreport

Im late to this, but before arguing against someone, find out why they are arguing it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Anschutz#Rail_and_petroleum_businesses

This guy owns the paper. Note where his money comes from.

Spoilers: Oil.

by JJJJJ on Mar 7, 2011 9:08 pm • linkreport

The problem is there is no similar tax dedicated to transit, set up to be spend on capital transit projects.

Uh, yes there is. The Mass Transit Account gets 2.86 cents out of every 18.4 cents taxed out of every gallon of gasoline. This is something EVERY driver pays into in the country. The Mass Transit Account pays for the bulk of FTA's budget, which is the formula programs that comprise somethng like 6-7 billion of FTA's 10 billion dollar budget. Often they (agencies) use it to pay for vehicles and transit infrastructure but will often use it for major capilal projects too.

The New Starts program (and some other things, like the reserach program) are funded out of the General Fund. That pie chart from Transit Miami is just plain wrong (and its pretty clear that they're making an apples to organes comparison) - FHWA's 30 billion dollar budget is larger, but not substantially larger than FTA's budget, especially given mode share. Comparing the highway formula program to the New Starts program (and not the transit formula program as well) is just not a fair comparison.

For the record, I work at USDOT. And I'm a huge transit advocate. But the fact that people misunderstand this basic bit of information is very, very frustrating.

by AA on Mar 9, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

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