Everyone wants a piece of Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, even though they don’t really know what that plan is. Perhaps most arrogant of all, the American Public Transportation Association thinks that transit industry should get $200 billion, or 20 percent of the total.
That’s the same transit industry that carries 1 percent of all passenger miles in the United States–and no freight. That’s the same transit industry into which taxpayers have pumped more than $500 billion in operating subsidies and $350 billion in capital improvements since 1990, only to see annual transit trips per urban resident fall from 47 in 1990 to 40 in 2016. That’s the same transit industry that’s likely to be mostly replaced by self-driving cars in a few years. So, sure, blow $200 billion on it.
APTA’s plan might sound reasonable to transit fanatics who think that transit is worth a lot more than roads. But this assumes that the entire trillion-dollar infrastructure plan is for transportation. In fact, infrastructure includes things like Flint, Michigan’s water supply, a smart electrical grid, and high-speed internet to rural and low-income areas. With all these potential projects, why should an obsolete transportation system that carries 1 percent of passenger travel and no freight get 20 percent of the funds?
In addition to transit fans, there are many high-speed rail fans who think Trump will want to put money into that boondoggle. Plus, Amtrak is waiting in the wings with environmental impact statement in hand ready to spend a mere $123 billion rebuilding the Northeast Corridor.
I don’t have inside information about what Trump really thinks about infrastructure. But from the reports that are publicly available, it doesn’t seem like Trump wants to spend $1 trillion federal dollars on infrastructure. Instead, he wants to encourage private investors and local governments to spend their own money on infrastructure. He’ll favor high-speed rail that is funded by the private sector, but I suspect he’ll be cool to California’s demand for $50 billion federal dollars for its little project.
In short, APTA is likely to be disappointed. Its real goal, of course, is less to influence Trump than to stir up its supporters, many of whom are Republicans, so it can get its unfair share of whatever federal dollars get spent.