Monthly Archives: June 2011

Why Did Homeownership Rates Grow?

Between 1890 and 1940, U.S. homeownership rates hovered between 44 and 48 percent. Then they suddenly grew to 62 percent by 1960. What happened to cause the rates to rise so much?

The conventional answer is government intervention. Kenneth Jackson, author of Crabgrass Frontier, argues that legislation passed during the New Deal would “revolutionize the home finance industry” by introducing amortizing mortgages, reducing downpayments to as little as 7 percent, and reducing interest rates. He adds that, “One reason that long-term mortgage arrangements were not typical prior to the 1930s was that an 1864 amendment to the 1863 National Bank Act prohibited nationally chartered banks from making direct loans for real estate transactions.”

However, Jackson has many of his facts wrong. As early as the 1880s, at least some homebuilders offered homes with down payments as low as 7 percent. Amortizing mortgages were invented in the 1890s and became popular in the 1920s. And Congress amended the law to allow national banks to make real estate loans in 1913.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Washington DC today to testify before a Senate subcommittee about the role of urban transit in the lives of elderly and disabled passengers. My testimony argues that, as I pointed out here a few days ago, most senior citizens will continue to drive as long as they are able. When they are no longer able to drive, few will be eager to walk the quarter- to half-mile needed to access transit.

Federal Transit Administration plans to extend transit service to 75 percent of the nation’s rural counties, my testimony continues, are expensive and unnecessary. Since Americans move an average of nearly a dozen times in their lifetimes, it makes more sense to ask seniors and others who prefer to use transit to move to places, such as urban cores, that have excellent transit service rather than to heavily subsidize transit service throughout the nation.

Tomorrow I will be in Lafayette, Louisiana talking to people about tax-increment financing (TIF). Louisiana TIFs are based mainly on sales taxes, not property taxes, yet they take money from schools and other services just as property-tax TIFs do.

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Intercity Buses: The Fastest-Growing Mode

Tomorrow, the Cato Institute will release a new report on intercity buses that Antiplanner readers can preview here. This is an expansion and update from an Antiplanner article posted almost exactly two years ago.

For that post, I reviewed schedules for about a dozen different bus companies in the Boston-to-Washington corridor and calculated that they collectively operated about 3.4 billion seat miles of travel in the corridor in 2009. This is about the same as Amtrak, but the bus companies reported that they filled a higher percentage of seats than Amtrak, so I concluded that buses move more people than Amtrak in the corridor.

For tomorrow’s paper, I updated this calculation and found that, in 2011, some 16 different bus companies move about 4.0 billion seat miles in the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak claims about 6 percent of the travel market in the corridor, so buses have about 8 to 9 percent. (Airlines have about 5, with the other 80 percent being automobiles.)

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Driverless Nevada, Here We Come!

The Nevada legislature has passed a law allowing driverless cars in the Silver State. The law directs the state’s Department of Transportation to “adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles.”

Meanwhile, Volkswagen has announced that it has developed a car that incorporates a “temporary auto pilot” (TAP) that can drive at up to 80 mph. The car will steer within lanes, avoid and pass other cars, and obey speed limits. Unlike a fully driverless car, the temporary auto pilot is for highways only and can’t navigate streets. It also requires a human observer to watch for emergency situations. But it should greatly reduce accidents due to distracted driving.

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Commuter Rail 1, Archeological Heritage 0

Utah is so intent on building rail transit that it is willing to cook the books and systematically overestimate ridership in order to support its ridiculously expensive rail projects. One commuter-rail line, for example, is expected to attract a 6,100 new transit riders a day, or 3,050 new round trips, for a mere $612 million. At 4 percent interest, that’s enough money to give every one of those new round-trip riders a new Toyota Prius every other year for the next 30 years.

The latest development is that state archeologists have warned that a proposed commuter-rail station and mixed-use development is on a 3,000-year-old archeological site. The solution? Fire the archeologists. Of course, the state maintains the firing has nothing to do with rail transit; they just don’t have the funds to keep the archeologists on staff. Maybe that’s because they are wasting so much money on rail transit.

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Why Rail?

After nearly 50 percent cost overruns, eighteen months of delays, and a scandal that cost top transit agency officials their jobs, Norfolk, Virginia plans to open its first light-rail line for business in August, 2011. This fabulous 7.4-mil line expected to carry an average of 2,900 riders per day in its first year, increasing to 7,200 riders per day by 2030.

Test train. Wikipedia commons photo by XShadow.

How’s that again? They spent $338 million ($46 million per mile) on a rail line that is expected to carry only about 7,000 people a day? Because a bus couldn’t possibly carry that many people, right?

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Damn the Deficits! Full Speed Ahead!

Washington Metro doesn’t have enough money to maintain its rail system, and the region doesn’t have enough money to build the Silver line to Dulles Airport, which is already under construction. So what should the region do?

Plan more rail lines, of course! Because, when it comes to rail transit, no amount of money is too much, right? Where is the “fix-it-first” crowd when we need them most?

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NC Says No More High-Speed Rail

The North Carolina legislature has forbidden the state’s transportation department from applying for more high-speed rail funds from the federal government. Before the department can apply for any grants that would obligate the state to pay $5 million or more in operating costs–which any high-speed rail project would do–it must receive approval from the state legislature.

In the view of some, this makes North Carolina the fourth state–after Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin–to reject federal high-speed rail funds. But unlike the other three states, North Carolina isn’t turning back the $496 million in funds it has already received. But that $496 million will not buy much without further grants, which are unlikely to happen now. Many people credit the John Locke Foundation, which published two reports on high-speed rail–one by the Antiplanner and one by Wendell Cox–with persuading the legislature to take this step.

Meanwhile, Democratic governors across the nation “admire the way [Illinois Governor Pat] Quinn grabbed up federal high-speed rail dollars rejected by the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Florida.” Yet the Chicago Tribune, the state’s largest paper, has–belatedly perhaps–come out against the state’s high-speed rail projects as expensive and not really high speed.

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California Almost Eliminates TIF Agencies

As a part of the annual budget package, the California legislature approved a bill that would have required city and county redevelopment agencies to either shut down or start making large payments to local school districts. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the budget package, saying it doesn’t go far enough in closing the state’s budget gap.

Brown called for completely eliminating redevelopment agencies as soon as he took office in January. The agencies are primarily funded by tax-increment financing (TIF), which uses property taxes on new development to subsidize that development. California redevelopment agencies currently collect $5.5 billion in property taxes a year. Because some of that money is dedicated to repaying bonds, eliminating the agencies would immediately save the state $2.5 billion, later increasing to $5.5 billion as the bonds are paid off.

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The Myth of the Senior Transit Rider

According to Transportation for America–which is largely a shill for the transit and high-speed rail industry–the nation about to face a new crisis: a shortage of mobility “options” for retiring baby boomers. According to a report published by the group on June 14, “By 2015, more than 15.5 million Americans 65 and older will live in communities where public transportation service is poor or non-existent.”

The appropriate answer to that, of course, is “So what?” Most seniors don’t ride transit. Census data show that more than 12.5 percent of all Americans are over 65, yet data from the American Public Transportation Association show that only 6.7 percent of transit trips are taken by senior citizens. The average American rides transit less than 34 times a year; the average senior citizen less than 18 times a year.

Putting that into perspective, the 2009 National Household Travel Survey says Americans over 65 take an average of 1,168 trips per year, nearly all by automobile. Transit serves only 1.5 percent of those trips. This survey of the travel habits of more than 300,000 people also found that senior citizens travel an average of 8,250 miles a year by car. Transit carries seniors an average of less than 100 miles a year, or about 1.1 percent of the total of transit and auto travel.

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