HSR Big Winner in Compromise Stimulus Plan

The House proposed no money for high-speed rail. The Senate proposed $2 billion. So what do they compromise at? $8 billion. Plus Amtrak gets $1.3 billion, which is also more than in either the House or Senate bills.

Highways and urban transit get the amounts in the Senate bill, $27 and $8.4 billion, which is less than the House bill. Since the total for transportation is $46 billion, that leaves about $1.4 billion for airports.

Just where are they going to find $8 billion worth of shovel-ready high-speed rail projects? Not in California, where I doubt they will be ready to begin construction for another couple of years.

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Bye Bye Rent-a-Bikes

Remember how Austin and some other American cities left yellow-painted bicycles lying around for anyone to use? And how they were all stolen in a few weeks?

Then Portland said, “Let’s do what Paris does: Rent bikes. Anyone who pays a monthly rental fee gets a key and can unlock and use bikes whenever they want.”

Bikes for rent in Paris.
Flickr photo by CeesOK.

That program turned out to be highly successful in Paris. At least, if you don’t count the fact that over half the bikes were stolen in 18 months, and most of the rest had to be replaced due to vandalism. So much for another great scheme for collective transportation.

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The Correct Answer Wins an MBA

Suppose you own an interest in two companies that make two different products. One of them is wildly successful. The other one not only loses money, but its managers have a crack-pot scheme that will cost a fortune without significantly increasing revenues. What do you do?

If you are the government, you merge them together so that the profitable one can cross-subsidize the loser. (Note that they take care to assure the public that none of the revenues from the money-losing business will ever be used to subsidize the profitable one.)

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Stimulus Status Report

When Obama started talking about an $850 billion infrastructure package to stimulate the economy, state and local transportation agencies began licking their chops. The federal government currently spends only about $45 billion per year on transportation of all kinds, so $850 billion would be almost 20 years of spending.

Free money.
Flickr photo by Tracy O.

As it turns out, only about $45 billion of the stimulus package is for transportation, which will be like the feds doubling spending for one year. The stimulus bill will not build a lot of new highways or light-rail lines. But it might set some bad precedents for future federal spending.

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Washington Metro Pulls Washington Monument

Washington Metro expects to have a $154 million deficit next year. It hopes to cover half of that by cutting 313 jobs and “trimming other administrative expenses.” The rest will have to come from service cuts, so it is proposing to shut down the subways at 10 o’clock at night.

As someone named h gracy says in the comments on the Washington Post story, this is a classic Washington Monument strategy. As previously noted here, that strategy was named when the Park Service, facing budget cuts in 1968, closed the elevator to the Washington Monument and directed irate tourists to make the complaints to their local members of Congress.

So, effectively, what Metro is saying is, “Give us more money or we will cut off your nightlife at 10 pm.” No doubt congressional staffers will respond to that!

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Saving the Suburbs?

Sunset magazine editor and New York Times blogger Allison Arieff asks, “what are we going to do with all the homes and communities we are left with” when everyone moves out of the suburbs and back to the cities? (Click here for part 2.)

“So what to do with the abandoned houses,” she goes on to say, “the houses that were never completed or the land that was razed for building and now sits empty?” All the Antiplanner can say is that being an editor of Sunset doesn’t qualify someone to understand the housing crisis.

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California Thieves Steal Money Transit Stole from Highways

As in most states, California originally created gasoline taxes to pay for highways. But the ever-hungry transit lobby effectively stole some of that money by convincing the state legislature to divert some gas taxes and most Diesel taxes to transit.

Of course, no amount of money is ever enough for the passenger rail lobby, so they conceived the idea of the state selling nearly $10 billion of bonds — with no particular source of revenue to repay those bonds — to fund high-speed rail and rail transit improvements in cities on the high-speed rail route. Of course, this was sold to voters as being essentially cost-free — because measures that require a tax increase must get approval from two thirds of voters instead of just half.

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Europe vs. the U.S.

Here are some numbers to think about. The European numbers are from Panorama of Transport, published by the European Union. The U.S. numbers are from the National Transit Database and National Transportation Statistics.

As of 2004, page 23 of Panorama says that 137 cities in the EU-25 had light rail or streetcars (trams), compared with just 27 in the U.S. (including vintage trolleys). Thirty EU-25 cities had what the Europeans call “metros,” including what we would call subways, elevateds, and commuter rail, compared with 14 in the U.S.

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