Wednesday, February 16, 2011

[R] "Do Roads Pay For Themselves?"

Here's an excerpt from a January 2011 report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund:
"Highway advocates often claim that roads 'pay for themselves,' with gasoline taxes and other charges to motorists covering—or nearly covering—the full cost of highway construction and maintenance. They are wrong. Highways do not—and, except for brief periods in our nation’s history—never have paid for themselves through the taxes that highway advocates label “user fees.” Yet highway advocates continue to suggest they do in an attempt to secure preferential access to scarce public resources and to shape how those resources are spent. To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policies —particularly at a time of tight public budgets—it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century."
Read the full, detailed report here

Friday, October 29, 2010

[R] Comprehensive Survey Shows Transit Vital to Economy, Education of Metro Atlanta

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently
released the results of one of the most
expansive surveys of transit ridership ever
conducted in the U.S.  Based on over
50,000 transit riders surveyed across 20
counties, the findings indicate that public
transportation is vital to the economy,
health and education of the entire Atlanta
area, as most transit riders depend on
the bus or train to get to work or school.

Not only are most riders employed or in
school, a large portion of transit users
have the means to travel by car but
choose public transportation.

Take a look at the entire report on
ARC's website.  Also see local coverage
the AJC and Creative Loafing.

[R] How Does Car-Centered Culture Limit Freedom?

“One of the ad executives I interviewed
said that really people like the idea of
driving more than they like driving. And
so that’s what they’re selling, and that’s
what we're buying. When you first start
asking people, ‘Why do you like your car?’
All the positives come up first. And then
you dig and you dig, and you start to get
some of the frustrations and the day-to-day
irritations. But that first gut response –
it's almost some kind of latent memory
from the advertising messages” 
From a Planetizen interview with Anne Lutz
Fernandez, author of Carjacked: The Culture
of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives

Consider the ways that car transportation
limits independence:
- An exclusively car-centered culture
limits transportation choices.
  Since the
automobile became affordable for most
Americans, cities, suburbs, neighborhoods,

and even our homes have been planned
around the car.  For those that prefer
driving, this is convenient.  For those who
are unable to drive, cannot afford a car,
or simply prefer to travel by foot or rail,

this is extremely limiting.

- Car travel depends on the road system
Our system of roads and freeways is

expensive to build, maintain, and patrol. 
Like your car, roads never pay for
themselves.  Even after the initial cost
construction, roads require constant

[R] Debunking O'Toole

Randal O’Toole: Taking Liberties With the Factsby Ryan Avent on June 2, 2009

The Cato Institute's Randal O’Toole gets
under the skin of many of those interested
in building a more rational and green
metropolitan geography, but in many ways
he’s an ideal opponent. It would be difficult
to concoct more transparently foolish
arguments than his. The man is an engine
of self-parody.

spaghetti_bowl.jpgIs this spaghetti bowl turning a profit? Photo: Infrastructurist

A recent post at Cato’s @ Liberty blog
provides a nice example. In it, he
George Will’s description of
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
as “Secretary of Behavior Modification”
en route to calling LaHood a “central
planner in waiting.”

This is one thing I’ve never understood
about the libertarian love affair with
highways; they seem utterly blind to the
fact that it has required and continues
to require massive government action
to build and maintain the road network.
The interstate highway system is
perhaps the single largest government
intervention in the economy in the 20th
century. Reading O’Toole you’d think it
was a wonder of the free market. The
source of his blindness on the issue
seems to be due to his belief that roads
pay for themselves, and that congestion
exists only because governments shift
gas tax revenue to pay for transit and
other smart growth projects. Nothing
could be farther from the truth.

In the first place, gas tax revenue comes
nowhere near paying for roads. Federal
gasoline tax
revenues cover barely half
of the annual
budget of the Federal
Highway Administration. Add in diesel
tax revenues and you’re still short.
And that’s just the federal budget picture.

Taking into account all gas tax revenues and
road spending generates an even starker picture.
The Texas Department of Transportation
recently developed an asset value index,
intended to gauge the cost-effectiveness of
a road over the whole of its life cycle. They
discovered that most roads don’t come close
to paying for themselves. In one typical road
analysis, it was determined that a real gas tax
rate of $2.22 per gallon would be necessary,
simply to break even. No stretch of road in the
whole of the state covered its costs.

But that’s not all we should consider. On top
of the cost of the actual road, drivers
on other motorists, pedestrians, and
society as a whole. Carbon emissions from
driving impose an annual cost of about $20
billion on society. Costs from congestion total
nearly $80 billion per year in lost time and
wasted fuel. And the annual cost of automobile
crashes (which claim nearly 40,000 lives per
year) is around $220 billion. In the absence
of driving alternatives, all of those numbers
would be higher still.

But of course, O’Toole thinks that the reason
we suffer from so much congestion is because
we are diverting money to transit rather than
building more roads. This is completely
incorrect, and a basic failure to grasp economic
analysis. Road space is scarce -- that is, not
unlimited. It therefore has a positive value,
which should be reflected in a market price.
If it isn’t -- if prices are fixed at zero (as is the
case with most roads) -- then a shortage will
result. This is well understood; if the president
attempted to fix the price of any other good
at a below market rate, libertarians would cry
foul and immediately argue that shortages
would result. Yet when free roads produce
congestion, they conclude that the best
solution is to spend taxpayer money on
more roads.

O’Toole makes a great show of the fact that
transit ridership is low, but the implication of
this factoid is not what O’Toole would have
you believe. For decades, roads have received
massive government subsidies, and drivers
have not been forced to pay the true cost of
their driving. In the meantime, backdoor
subsidies to driving have been rampant. An
example -- most communities have rules
establishing minimum parking requirements
for new construction. Cheap and plentiful
parking is a significant subsidy to driving,
and such parking requirements make it
difficult or impossible to build more compact
and walkable streetscapes.

Transit use has lately been on the rise as
congestion and fuel costs have exploded.
Cities with transit systems have benefited
enormously from the availability of a
substitute to driving, and those without
have suffered from their inelastic dependence
on cars in an environment of increasing costs.

The simple truth is that government has
intervened heavily to create the road
network so beloved by libertarians, and
the country continues to bear heavy costs
as a result. Any clear-eyed examination
of costs and benefits will indicate that the
time to rebalance investments away from
highways and toward transit is long overdue.

Next RAIL Committee Meeting Nov. 15th

Due to the holiday, next month's meeting will be held a week earlier than usual.

Nov. 15th, 6:45 pm

GA Sierra Club HQ
743-B College Ave in Decatur (next to the Avondale MARTA train station)

RAIL Committee members, Sierra Club members, and anyone passionate about improving transit in Georgia.