Faith-Based Transportation Planning

The Antiplanner confesses to not be a bible expert, but I don’t think Jesus ever said, “Thou shalt steal from thy neighbors so thee can afford to take expensive train rides.” But that seems to be the goal of Isaiah, a faith-based group in Minnesota that demands that taxpayers subsidize commuter trains from St. Cloud to Minneapolis.


Taxpayers spent $317 million to start the Northstar commuter train, shown here near Big Lake. Flickr photo by Jerry Huddleston.

The Northstar commuter-rail line currently operates over the 40 miles from Minneapolis to Big Lake, about 28 miles short of St. Cloud. The line is a huge loser: it carried an average of around 1,250 round-trips a day in 2014, earning fare revenues of less than $2.4 million but spending $15.2 million on operations and $7.4 million on maintenance.

St. Cloud residents who want to catch the train have to drive or take a bus to Big Lake. But taking a bus is so “antiquated,” complains Reverend James Albert, Isaiah’s leader. Apparently, they didn’t teach much history in Albert’s seminary school, or he would know that trains are nearly 100 years more antiquated than buses.

“We feel we deserve the option to not own a car,” says Isaiah member Richard Gordon, a student at St. Cloud State University. While no one is preventing him from taking that option, that doesn’t also mean that he deserves to have 90 percent of his transportation costs paid for by taxpayers.

Isaiah’s original mission was to promote racial and economic equity, which is a worthwhile goal. But it isn’t clear how giving white students huge subsidies for their antiquated transportation choices promotes that goal.

The Reverend Albert’s seminary school also apparently failed to teach analytical skills. Last year, the group published a report finding that racial minorities who take transit to work spend more time commuting than white people who drive. That’s not too surprising, since it is also true that white people who take transit to work spend more time commuting than people of color who drive.

Update: I should point out that, even in New York, home of the best transit system in America, transit riders take 61 percent more time to get to work than auto commuters. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, it is only 60 percent more, so this is situation can’t be changed by spending more on transit.

The group’s proposed solution to this non-problem is to spend more money on transit. That would make transit agencies happy, but it wouldn’t help poor people get to work, since we already know that the transit agencies would blow all the money on expensive trains for white middle-class riders–a policy Isaiah seems to endorse. If Isaiah truly wanted to help poor people, it would start a wheels-to-work program offering zero-interest loans to help low-income people buy a used car.

The Antiplanner extends thanks to faithful allies at the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota for pointing out this story of the confluence of the environmental and Christian religions.

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15 thoughts on “Faith-Based Transportation Planning

  1. FrancisKing

    “The Antiplanner confesses to not be a bible expert, but I don’t think Jesus ever said, “Thou shalt steal from thy neighbors so thee can afford to take expensive train rides.”

    Matthew 13:12 – Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

    “If Isaiah truly wanted to help poor people, it would start a wheels-to-work program offering zero-interest loans to help low-income people buy a used car.”

    Or transit which makes sense to people who have a car as an alternative.

    “That’s not too surprising, since it is also true that white people who take transit to work spend more time commuting than people of color who drive.”

    This is why the US has such high levels of racism. Please stop dividing your citizens into groups based on the small differences in their skin tone. Does the phrase ‘people of colour’ also include Barney The Dinosaur? In the forty years on this planet, I can honestly say that I have never met a white person, a black person, or a person of colour.

  2. FantasiaWHT

    “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

    Which is an exhortation to voluntary charity, not confiscating money from other people in order to try and satisfy your own charitable duties.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    St. Cloud residents who want to catch the train have to drive or take a bus to Big Lake. But taking a bus is so “antiquated,” complains Reverend James Albert, Isaiah’s leader.

    How about a fleet of modern express buses to run all the way from St. Cloud to Minneapolis along I-94?

    Probably cost less and provide a faster running time and possibly more service. What a concept!

  4. MJ

    Matthew 13:12 – Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

    That describes Northstar almost to a word. The operating subsidies, which average over $10,000 per year per weekday rider, flow mostly to middle and upper-class downtown workers who don’t in any realistic sense need them. These subsidies are paid for with regressive local property and sales taxes, which trickle down to hit even the lowest-income households.

    It’s an absolute travesty and ISAIAH should be ashamed that they have been duped into supporting something that runs entirely contrary to their organization’s stated objectives.

  5. MJ

    How about a fleet of modern express buses to run all the way from St. Cloud to Minneapolis along I-94? Probably cost less and provide a faster running time and possibly more service. What a concept!

    Actually, there already is an express bus operating between St. Cloud and the Big Lake station, which is line’s northern terminus. It runs about a 30-mile route, which is longer than the average Northstar trip, and does so at a subsidy of about $11 per boarding, compared to Northstar’s average (operating) subsidy of $18 per trip. The ridership on this bus route is around 200 boardings per weekday, which suggests that there isn’t some huge latent, untapped market that would magically emerge were the commuter rail line extended.

    Whatever limited market exists for this service can be adequately served by this express bus service. It isn’t cheap, but it is preferable to throwing far more good money after bad.

  6. prk166

    Northstar averages less than a thousand individual users per weekday. The average ridership looks higher because a quarter of trips taken on it are due to trains serving sporting events. Almost all of those are on the weekends at times when the corridor has no congestion issues.

  7. FrancisKing

    @ Metrosucks

    “I’m surprised Francis didn’t burst into blames after quoting the Bible.”

    Bless you. I am a Christian. I think your theories require yet more calibration.

    Francis
    Unitarian Christian

  8. metrosucks

    Unitarians aren’t Christians so much as they are a weird cult. But it makes sense that a planner who claims to have religion would pick one of the weirdo ones that basically decided to redefine everything in the Bible.

  9. Frank

    Check yourself, metro, and drop the “cult” accusations.

    There are more variations among existing Biblical manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. The Bible is loaded with contradictions, and there is no textual basis for Trinitarianism. So the Bible has been “redefined” time and time again over the years by scribes making intentional and unintentional changes as well as Orthodox leaders fabricating shit to get Pagans on board.

    One could make the claim that anyone who takes the Bible literally is weak minded. I of course would not do so.

  10. metrosucks

    I do know your position on religion, Frank, but honestly, Unitarians are a bunch of at the bottom of the pile wacko’s. Nothing to do with Francis. Honest.

  11. The Antiplanner Post author

    The Antiplanner was raised a Unitarian. Some of them consider themselves to be Christian. Others don’t. The church has a laissez faire attitude that anyone in it can believe anything they want. So, if Francis says he is a Unitarian Christian, then he is. The church is hardly a cult since it makes no attempt to foist any particular belief (other than tolerance) on any of its members.

  12. metrosucks

    “The church has a laissez faire attitude that anyone in it can believe anything they want.”

    That just proved my point. It’s an oxymoron.

    “So, if Francis says he is a Unitarian Christian, then he is”

    I didn’t say he isn’t Unitarian. I just said they aren’t really Christians.

    No offense, Mr. O’Toole, but a belief system that says you can believe anything you want isn’t really a belief system, and a religious sect that identifies as Christian but then goes on to say you don’t really have to follow the Bible, or denies the major tenets of Christianity, isn’t really Christian.

    This is from CARM, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry:

    Unitarianism is the belief that God exists in one person and not three. It is a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the full divinity of Jesus. Therefore, it is not Christian. There are several groups that fall under this umbrella: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphianism, The Way International, etc. Another term for this type of belief is called monarchianism.

    In the context of universalism, the Unitarianism discussed here is that belief that denies the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, eternal punishment, and the vicarious atonement of Jesus. Unitarian universalists use many Biblical concepts and terms but with non-biblical meanings. Unitarianism is not Christian.

    https://carm.org/what-unitarianism

  13. Frank

    No person gets to judge what qualifies as Christian. I urge anyone who considers himself to be Christian to follow Christ’s commandment in Matthew 7:1.

    As a reminder, the Bible contains neither the word Trinity nor the doctrine of the Trinity, which was created by the Catholic Church in 381; the Trinity, as well as Jesus’ divinity, was debated at the Council of Constantinople.

    The concept of the Trinity has its origins in Paganism, as does the act of worshiping on Sunday instead of Saturday (in 321, Constantine declared Sunday to be an Empire-wide day of rest in honor of the Roman sun-god Sol Invictus), Easter, virgin birth, consumption of pork and other “unclean” animals, etc., etc.

    Really, Christianity as you know it is more Pagan than Christian.

    Suggested reading: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. This will well-researched and documented scholarly work by an eminent New Testament scholar will forever change your way of thinking about what it means to be Christian.

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