Unsustainable Transportation

Looking at census data for Calgary, the Antiplanner was amused to note that Statistics Canada says there are two ways to get to work: either by automobile or by “sustainable transportation,” meaning transit, walking, or cycling. But what makes transit more “sustainable” than the automobile?

The New York Times recognizes that, even in New York City, transit is perpetually hungry for subsidies. The state’s proposed solutions are to toll the remaining free bridges into Manhattan and new payroll taxes, all to subsidize so-called “sustainable” transportation. But why should drivers pay to subsidize transit and why should the state pay to subsidize Manhattan’s unsustainable densities?

Of course, someone always brings up the fact that highways are subsidized too. A recent op ed in the Boulder Daily Camera claims that Colorado highway user fees only cover 20 percent of the cost of Colorado’s roads. However, the writer’s arithmetic was faulty, partly because he based it on a long-range transportation plan instead of on actual spending and partly because he misread that plan.

In reality, tables from Highway Statistics indicate that Colorado drivers paid just over $2.02 billion in gas taxes, motor vehicle registration fees, and other user fees in 2006, while state and local governments spent $2.37 billion on highways. This means highway users covered 85 percent of the cost of building, operating, and maintaining Colorado roads and streets, a sharp contrast from Denver’s transit riders, whose fares covered only 13 percent of the costs of transit (the op ed writer says 20, but he is only counting operating costs).

To make these calculations, the Antiplanner used tables FE-9, SDF and LDF to see how much highway users paid to federal, state, and local governments; and tables SF-2
LF-2 to see how much state and local governments spent on roads.

In case you want to calculate this for some other state, I’ve transferred the relevant columns of data from these tables to one master spreadsheet. Column O of this table shows the net subsidy (in thousands) in each state. Column P divides that subsidy by passenger miles to get the subsidy per passenger mile in pennies. Except in Alaska, these subsidies are typically about a penny. The subsidies are shown by minus signs; in a handful of states — Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, the sign is positive, meaning that highways cost less than users pay.

The table also shows in columns F, G, and H that some user fees are diverted to transit and other purposes. But they should still be credited to highway users. After all, in the unlikely event that New York’s MTA or Denver’s RTD earned surplus transit fares, if they spent those fares subsidizing highways, no one would say that they were not still transit user fees.

Calculated this way, highway subsidies totaled to $29.7 billion in 2006. Meanwhile, transit subsidies (capital plus operating costs minus fares) totaled to $30.1 billion (see cell J1411), even though transit carried only about 1 percent as many passenger miles (49.5 billion transit vs. 4.9 trillion highway). The highways also carried 1.3 trillion ton-miles of freight.

I’d like to end all of the subsidies, but in the meantime, which seems more sustainable: a system that requires subsidies averaging 0.6 cents per passenger mile, or one requiring subsidies of 61 cents a passenger mile? The American transit industry only works as long as most people don’t use it and they continue to subsidize the few who do. That’s not a sustainable model.

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27 thoughts on “Unsustainable Transportation

  1. JimKarlock

    Even more unsustainable is the fact that transit uses more energy to move ever single rider than small cars require for the same distance.

    That means that transit requires more oil and more military to defend oil (as long as the greens refuse to allow domestic oil extraction.)

    That means that transit emits more CO2 than small cars for every person moved every mile.

    What was the reason for government transit anyway?

    Thanks
    JK

  2. ws

    JK:“Even more unsustainable is the fact that transit uses more energy to move ever single rider than small cars require for the same distance.

    ws: Portland’s MAX gets better MPG than any car on the market at (52.87 MPG): http://www.fueleconomy.gov/FEG/bestworst.shtml

    Increasing ridership on MAX will only reduce GHG emissions for Portland. People going out an buying a new private automobile (with higher MPG standards) is only going to increase emissions, especially considering the carbon used just to create the automobile. That’s not to say one should not buy a new car, just don’t fool anyone that it’s less environmentally friendly than certain forms of transit. Simply put, one more person on mass transit does not increase GHGs, it reduces it. One more person on the road only increases GHGs.

    to ROT: Why do you keep bringing up Denver/Colorado in many of your articles?

  3. the highwayman

    WS, the reality is that what Mr.O’Toole writes is for a slanted political agenda.

    I’ve seen stuff from the the DOT that shows that motorists were covering only 20% of road expenses, though I’m not going to start some sort of jihad like Mr.Karlock against the street in front of my house.

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    the highwayman [sic] claimed:

    > I’ve seen stuff from the the DOT that shows that motorists were covering only 20%
    > of road expenses, though I’m not going to start some sort of jihad like Mr.Karlock
    > against the street in front of my house.

    (emphasis added above)

    Which DOT? USDOT? A state DOT?

    How about something more specific?

    Like a URL that points to the “stuff” that you cite?

  5. Francis King

    Antiplanner asked:

    “But what makes transit more “sustainable” than the automobile?”

    The meaning of sustainable is, literally, that you can keep doing it on and on and on.

    Some measures of sustainability are financial, transport and environmental. In environmental terms – CO2 emissions, other gaseous emissions (e.g. NOX), and particulate emissions.

    In transport, the effective size of a vehicle is measured in PCUs. Given the number of people in the vehicle, the number of PCUs per person can be calculated.

    Car, 1 PCU, 1.5 people, 0.7 PCUs/person
    Bicycle, 0.2 PCU, 1 person, 0.2 PCUs/person
    Bus, 2 PCUs, 20 people, 0.1 PCUs/person
    Metro, 0 PCUs as it is underground

    Buses have, arguably, the least impact on congestion of any surface transport system. This includes pedestrians, because they do so insist on crossing the road, and this can cause delays at traffic lights. Metro services have no impact on the surface level traffic at all.

    This is why transit is so strongly promoted.

    By contrast, publicly owned transit can be financially unviable. Public control means that elected officials are pressured into providing additional, financially unworkable, services. Private companies would either not run these services, or would explicitly seek subsidy.

    Buses come in all shapes and sizes, but most of the them are straight diesel buses, because they are the cheapest form of bus. In the UK, buses were much better than cars in terms of emissions, but this is no longer the case.

    Figure 3 of the following web page shows NOX emissions in the UK by emissions standard (Euro I through IV).

    http://www.transportpolicy.org.uk/PublicTransport/AdvancedBuses/AdvancedBuses.htm

    With 20 people per bus, and 9mpg, the result is 180mpg/person. This fuel consumption and consequent CO2 emissions compare well with a modern diesel car, 3 occupants and 60mpg.

  6. prk166

    ws –> Who doesn’t want to talk about Colorado? 🙂 Actually I’d assume it’s a bit because there was a recent editorial on the subject & a bit from his time spent living here.

  7. JimKarlock

    On March 26th, 2009, ws said:

    JK:“Even more unsustainable is the fact that transit uses more energy to move ever single rider than small cars require for the same distance.

    ws: Portland’s MAX gets better MPG than any car on the market at (52.87 MPG)
    JK: Now account for the fact that the average car carries 1.6 people. 52.87 / 1.6 = 33 mpg for an equivalent car. Several cars can beat this, so if your goal really is to save energy, you should encourage people to get these cars instead of waste their time, money and safety on light rail.

    Thanks
    JK

  8. ws

    JK:Now account for the fact that the average car carries 1.6 people. 52.87 / 1.6 = 33 mpg for an equivalent car. Several cars can beat this, so if your goal really is to save energy, you should encourage people to get these cars instead of waste their time, money and safety on light rail.

    ws:Except Portland’s (not the nation’s) average occupancy per vehicle is 1.29, not 1.6. Plus your commie plot of people carpooling and riding small Prius’ infringes on my personal liberties to choose what I want. This is America after all and this Utopian thought of yours is not practical.

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TDATA/car/docs/2005_PsngrVhcl_Occ_Rates_Pop10K.pdf

    Once again, one more person buying a new car is going to emit more GHGs than one more person going onto mass transit.

  9. JimKarlock

    ws: Except Portland’s (not the nation’s) average occupancy per vehicle is 1.29, not 1.6
    JK: Not relevant – this is a nation forum not portlandtransport.

    Save money, reduce foreign oil, reduce CO2 and save energy — use a small car instead of mass transit.

    Thanks
    JK

  10. ws

    It is relevant because “we” were comparing Portland’s numbers. You used Portland’s light rail stats for energy consumption but utilized national vehicle occupancy numbers. That is being dishonest on your part. ROT uses city/state statistics to make points. I’m assuming if ROT does it, using city examples (to make a point) is okay.

  11. JimKarlock

    ws said: It is relevant because “we” were comparing Portland’s numbers. You used Portland’s light rail stats for energy consumption but utilized national vehicle occupancy numbers.
    JK: OK, lets use national numbers:
    Light & heavy rail transit 3,228
    Transit bus 4,160
    Car, average 3,549 (National average)
    Car, efficient 2,488 (2006 KIA Rio-see below)

    OK, light rail beats the average can but even a cheap KIA easily beats light rail by a wide magin.
    Buses loose on all counts.

    Save money, time, energy, reduce CO2, and reduce foreign oil imports – dump transit and get a small car.

    Its time for you to face the facts and recognize that mass transit’s only legitimate function is welfare and exporting parking spaces out of obsolete downtowns. Bot functions can be done cheaper and better than with the current structure.

    Thanks
    JK

  12. the highwayman

    JK:It’s time for you to face the facts and recognize that mass transits only legitimate function is welfare and exporting parking spaces out of obsolete downtowns. Both functions can be done cheaper and better than with the current structure.

    THWM: John Finley Scott would be proud of you for saying that, even though he got whacked a while back. Scratch a libertarian and you’ll find a fascist!

  13. t g

    Karlock wrote: mass transit’s only legitimate function is welfare …(which) can be done cheaper and better than with the current structure.

    Since welfare is a legitimate function, what is the cheapest way to get a person making $17,000 a year to work? $40 a month in bus fares or $400 a month in fuel, insurance and car payments?

  14. ws

    Jim Karlock: “Car, efficient 2,488 (2006 KIA Rio-see below)”

    ws: A 2006 Kia Rio does not get the gas mileage you’re reporting on your site. You’re misleading once again (do you really think people are going to be fooled from a scanned ad printout that misleads the actual MPG of that car?). You also did not factor in the energy (and GHGs) produced when making the new cars.

  15. ws

    t g: “welfare is a legitimate function, what is the cheapest way to get a person making $17,000 a year to work? $40 a month in bus fares or $400 a month in fuel, insurance and car payments?”

    ws:The Wendell Cox et. al. crowd will have you believe driving is better for the poor, even though a good number of mass transit riders are under the poverty line. Smoke and mirrors, I tell ya.

  16. JimKarlock

    t g said: Since welfare is a legitimate function, what is the cheapest way to get a person making $17,000 a year to work? $40 a month in bus fares or $400 a month in fuel, insurance and car payments?
    JK: Where do you get this $400/month stuff – $200 is more typical. That is only $160 more than your bus fare to save at a couple hours per day and get a better job because you have a wider choice of jobs. That 2 hours per day would be worth about $500/mo all by itself.

    So, you can see that a car rapidly pays for itself. That is why people abandoned transit decades ago. And why, even today, most people abandon mass trasit as soon as they can.

    It is truly a shame that so many zealots are trying to get people to waste their time and money on transit.

    Thanks
    JK

  17. JimKarlock

    ws said: The Wendell Cox et. al. crowd will have you believe driving is better for the poor, even though a good number of mass transit riders are under the poverty line. Smoke and mirrors, I tell ya.
    JK: That’s why a number of charities are now helping poor people get cars — so that they can get a better job and have more income, even after car expenses.

    Cars pay for themselves — that is just one of many reasons that people get cars.

    Thanks
    JK

  18. debhenry

    Cars do not pay for themselves. The only reason they are still around is because much of their cost is hidden in external costs of other users such as through federal tax spending on roads. The subsidy of roads totally skews decision making. We can continue to throw money into a hole or start letting the market decide what the market wants.

  19. Francis King

    JimKarlock wrote:

    “That 2 hours per day would be worth about $500/mo all by itself.”

    2 hours per day, 20 working days per month, means that you’ve assigned a value of $12/hr to people’s spare time. Is it really worth that much? – I only ask since people seem to treat time with a much lower value than that. And if the transit is properly set up, why does it cost an extra 2 hours per day? – transit should be competitive with the car.

    debhenry wrote:

    ” The only reason they are still around is because much of their cost is hidden in external costs of other users such as through federal tax spending on roads. The subsidy of roads totally skews decision making. ”

    Cars pay for themselves, both in the UK and the USA. Take the UK for example. The taxes on cars are very high, in fact only about £1 in £5 of car taxes is spent on the roads. We have some beautiful pot-holes to show for it. Yet, we have almost the same level of car usage in the UK as in the USA.

    Transit (buses, at least) is not dealt with as an engineering issue, as it should be, as IK Brunel did, but as a social policy issue. Hence the wild declarations in favour of it, and the threats to car drivers (e.g. congestion charging) if they don’t give their cars up. The free market, however, is alive and well, car drivers are rejecting buses, and are threatening to vote out of office any politician stupid enough or arrogant enough to try ramming the latest bus or congestion charging idea down their throats.

    Transit does sometimes work well, though, in fact so well that people don’t even notice that they are in fact using transit. Airplanes are transit. So are ferries. So are taxis. So are elevators and escalators. Where people naturally travel together, transit works well.

    The problem is quality and location. If the elevator took a long time to arrive, or it was dirty, or it often trapped people between floors, people would take the stairs instead. Yet late transit, dirty transit, is supposed to be okay. Bicycles, where the cyclist is treated poorly by car drivers, is also not too popular. And if the elevator didn’t serve the ground floor, it wouldn’t be much use.

    An alternative to cars would be bicycles and coaches. The bicycles travel to the widely separated coach stations, where secure parking is provided. The coaches then take them at full speed to where they need to go. Such an arrangement would be fully competitive to a car, except where the locale (e.g. a small village) cannot be adequately served – and these locales don’t produce many car trips anyway.

    The bicycles serve the local journeys, where car drivers take different routes, to and from their homes, to and from the shops, etc. The coaches serve the long distance routes, where car drivers travel together anyway (e.g. along a freeway), and where bicycles would be too slow.

    Bus lanes, bus gates, bus priority can enable buses and coaches to get where they are going faster than cars. A 20mph speed limit on urban roads is ideal for cyclists. Then, I would leave car drivers to figure out what they wanted to do next. If they wanted a car, it should be recognised that in a free market they are entitled to one.

  20. the highwayman

    We know that there are taxes collected from automobiles, though they are just that taxes & not user fees as some like to pretend. If I buy a Big Mac, the taxes from that sale don’t go to some special slush fund for McDonald’s.

  21. prk166

    “And if the transit is properly set up, why does it cost an extra 2 hours per day?” -Francis King

    I’d be curious what a properly set up transit system is. I live in a relatively dense urban neighborhood. Getting to the largest job center in the metro requires 2 transfers on transit, lots of time consuming walking or at least a short drive and some walking. A 20 minute drive there takes an hour by transit. So not technically 2 hours extra a day but an hour and half. So this isn’t properly tranit system, right? What would it cost to implement a proper one?

  22. mc0813

    The costs of driving are lost on a lot of people. No way you’re spending only $200 a month on driving taking into account insurance, taxes, registration, fuel, repairs, oil changes, tires, etc. A conservative estimate is 70 to 80 cents a mile, which on a 20-mile round-trip commute is $280 just on driving, not to mention insurance and payment on interest.

  23. prk166

    “A conservative estimate is 70 to 80 cents a mile” –mc0813

    Where do you get that from? I’ve never seen that. The IRS doesn’t use it nor does AAA.

    In general cost per mile isn’t a great measurement. If you have a new car but don’t drive very much, your cost per mile is going to be pretty high. If you’ve paid your car off and don’t drive very much, it’s going to be very low.

    There are really 2 different things going on. How much it costs to drive for a trip and what it costs to have the vehicle. The latter has huge variations in costs. That is more of a personal choice than anything. Sure, there are some base costs.

    For example, I have a 10 year old car with @118,000 miles on it. My real rate is lower since those miles include a couple road trips of @4k each + a lot of 700 mile trips to grandmas. Neither of which I’m going to be doing. I’ll probably drive about 10k / year or less for the next few years. It probably won’t cost me more than a $1k / year to do that. That’s including paying someone to do at least one major repair, replacing the timing belot w/ water pump, new O2 sensor, doing each set of brakes again and such. So that’s @.10 / mile. Insurance is about the same, $1k / year. So that’s .20 / mile. Throw in a few car washes, $75 / year for vehicle registration and such but those aren’t much. So what? .25 / mile + gas? Maybe I have an accident and my insurance rate goes up a bit. Throw in an amortized cost for the $18k or so I paid for it w/ interest and it goes up to what? .30/ mile? .40/mile? But still, it’s still far from a so-called “conservative” estimate of .70-.80 / mile.

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