Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and two other senators and joined Representative Tom Graves (R-GA) and 18 other representatives in introducing the Transportation Empowerment Act. This bill would phase out most federal involvement in surface transportation, including 80 percent of the federal gas tax, over five years. In the meantime, federal funds would be given to the states as “block grants” with few strings attached.
As the Antiplanner reads the bill, funds would be distributed to the states using the same highway formulas now found in MAP-21, the 2012 transportation bill. The transit formulas are dropped. However, if a state determines that the highway funds it receives are in “excess of the needs of the state” for highways, that state may use those funds for any surface transportation program including transit and intercity rail.
The bill limits distributions in the first year to about $38 billion, which is the current estimate of gas tax revenues in that year. However, if revenues fall short of that estimate, the bill states that no more funds may be distributed than are actually collected. The gas tax and distributed funds are cut in half in the second year, then by approximately 33 percent per year over the next three years.
Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) says bicycle riders pay more than their fair share to use the roads, so they shouldn’t be asked to pay more. How do they figure? According to them, 83 percent of Portland cyclists also drive a car, so they pay gas taxes. That’s like saying, “I paid for this hamburger, so why are you also asking me to pay for French fries?”
“If bicycle riders paid a fee proportional to the damage they cause on roads,” says a BTA infographic, “it would amount to a few cents a year.” Okay, no problem with that.
But they aren’t satisfied to do little damage while sharing the road with cars. They also want one-fourth or more of the lanes of existing roads rededicated to the sole use of cyclists. Who paid for those lanes? Not cyclists, at least not from riding their bicycles.
The Antiplanner is flying to Boise today to speak to Boise State University Students for Liberty. I’ll be talking about public lands and wildfire issues tonight at 7 pm in the student union. If you are in Boise, I hope to see you there.
The British are more aware of class than Americans. So when Paul Dacre, the editor -in-chief of the working-class Daily Mail, says, “there is an unpleasant intellectual snobbery about the Mail in leftish circles, for whom the word ‘suburban’ is an obscenity,” the Brits know what he means.
While some Brits may be ashamed to admit it, more live in suburbs than central cities, though thanks to highly restrictive land-use laws, they tend to live on small lots or in semidetached homes. This suburb is southeast of London. Flickr photo by diamond geezer; click for a larger view.
Suburban hostility among British elites actually preceded that in the United States by at least a couple of decades. As Clive Martin, the former Lord Mayor of London, observes, there may be no “aspect of the British experience that comes in for more derision than suburbia,” a lifestyle that is “relentlessly mocked” as “an acquired taste for people with no taste.”
Yesterday, someone told the Antiplanner that rail advocates in their city cited five rail transit lines as successful examples of commuter rail. These five–Utah’s FrontRunner, Dallas-Ft. Worth’s Trinity Railway Express, the northern Virginia Railway Express, the Puget Sounder, and Denver’s Eagle 3P project–are all examples of transit agencies spending gobs of money on projects that accomplish very little.
Here is an alternate view of each project. Unless noted, transit data not taken from the briefing paper are from the National Transit Database published by the Federal Transit Administration. Data on the percentages of commuters riding transit are from the decennial censuses.
FrontRunner: From 1999 to 2011, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) spent more than $1.7 billion (in 2011 dollars) in capital expenditures on its commuter rail lines. It now has two lines: Ogden to Salt Lake and Provo to Salt Lake, over which it runs 27 trains each way each weekday. Although some trains run through from Ogden to Provo, counting the Ogden-Salt Lake and Provo-Salt Lake trains as separate trips, there are 108 trips per day.
Transit advocates often argue that a particular city or region must spend more on urban transit in order to support the growth of that region. To test that claim, the Antiplanner downloaded the latest historic data files from the National Transit Database, specifically the capital funding and service data and operating expenses by mode time series. These files list which urbanized area each transit agency primarily serves, so it was easy to compare these data with Census Bureau population data from 1990, 2000, and 2010.
The transit data include capital and operating expenses for all years from 1991 through 2011. I decided to compare the average of 1991 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 1990s, and the average of 2001 through 2010 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2010s. In case there is a delayed response, I also compared the average of 1990 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2000s. Although it shouldn’t matter too much, I used GNP deflators to convert all costs to 2012 dollars.
I had to make a few adjustments to the population data to account for changes in the Census Bureau’s definitions of urbanized areas. Between 1990 and 2000, the San Francisco-Oakland and Los Angeles urbanized areas were split into several parts, so I added up the various parts for 2000 and 2010 data. At the same time, the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach urbanized areas were merged, so I added these three for 1990. The Oklahoma City urbanized area was radically reduced in size, with the apparent but incorrect result that it had lost population between 1990 and 2000. I used the growth rates for the Oklahoma City metropolitan statistical area instead. Since they are served by the same transit agencies, I combined Boulder and Denver data as well as Salt Lake, Ogden, and Provo-Orem data.
As reported in the New Yorker, an OECD study finds that Americans have some of the worst problem-solving skills in the developed world. For 16-65 year olds, only Spaniards are less numerate, and only Spaniards and Italians are less literate (see pages 259 and 264).
No wonder so many voters support billion-dollar rail projects aimed at addressing problems that could be solved by million-dollar bus projects.
A group in Maryland is promoting magnetically levitated trains in the New York-Washington corridor. “Superconducting” maglev, says the group, is the “next generation of transportation.”
Superconducting maglev train being tested in Japan. Wikimedia commons photo by Yosemite.
Get real. Japan is proposing to build such a line from Tokyo to Osaka: 320 miles for a mere $112 billion. That’s $350 million per mile, or twice as much as the current estimated cost of California high-speed rail boondoggle (about $100 billion for 440 miles). Except for contractors, nobody is too happy about the cost of that line.
Transportation blogger Jim Bacon attended the American Dream conference and has a few words to say about Dale Moser’s presentation about Megabus. Bacon also comments on the debate that took place Sunday night over the proposition that Congress should abolish New Starts and distribute the same amount of money using a formula based on transit ridership or fares.
This debate was supposed to be about the ethics of Congress giving transit agencies incentives to choose high-cost transit systems when lower-cost systems would work just as well. But it descended into a debate over rail transit. I argued that, with a formula fund, transit agencies would be free to spend their share of the formula on rail transit if they wished, but would not be rewarded for choosing rail over less-expensive buses.
My opponent, Art Guzzetti, of the American Public Transportation Association, argued that capital projects can’t be built with formula funds; they require dedicated funds. I responded that all federal highway funds are formula funds and have been used on such capital projects as the Interstate Highway System. The difference is that the Interstate Highway System was built with user fees in the form of gas taxes, and only built at the pace that gas tax revenues allowed, while transit agencies want to build expensive rail lines regardless of the fact that user fees will not pay for the capital, maintenance, or even much of the operating costs.
One of the many excellent speakers at this year’s American Dream conference was Dale Moser, CEO of Coach USA and Megabus. Coach USA is owned by Stagecoach, one of the two large private transit companies that emerged when Britain privatized much of its transit industry. (The other is First Group, which among other things owns Greyhound.)
Just seven years after it began, Megabus covers scores of cities in the East, South, and Midwest as well as several in the California market. Click image for a larger view.
Moser’s presentation describes how Megabus expanded from a few Midwest routes in 2006 to dozens of routes serving more than 80 cities today. Megabus truly revolutionized the intercity bus industry, which had steadily declined since the 1960s but has been growing since 2007.