Why Is The Federal Government Paying For Local Public Transit Systems?

A while back, I wrote about the high cost of public transportation and the amount of subsidization required to support it.  At The Corner, Wendell Cox has some comments about the degree to which ideology skews federal infrastructure spending toward transit and rail and away from our highways.  Cox writes as follows:

A strong anti-automobile constituency has developed, claiming that transit is a replacement for cars. Their efforts to force people out of cars and into transit have been a manifest failure, though their funding success has been something to behold

For decades, federal transportation funding increasingly been committed to transit systems and not used to provide highway expansions that would accommodate the growth in road traffic. In 2008, transit accounted for nearly 25 percent of total federal highway and transit spending. This is disproportionate and much higher than transit’s share of transportation, which is barely 1 percent of the nation’s surface travel and 0 percent of its freight movement.

* * *

Over the past 25 years, the federal government has spent more than $100 billion on transit. The reward has been a reduction of at least one-third in transit’s share of urban travel. In only one of the many urban areas in which the federal government has funded expensive new rail systems has the share of travel by transit risen more than one percentage point.

I wholeheartedly agree that light rail and high-speed rail in particular are expensive shiny toys that politicians and bureaucrats love, but that are in general not worth the massive investment they require.  And I also agree that favoring transit over highways is a bad idea, since the hypothesis that people would overwhelmingly shift from car travel to transit if it were only available to them has been disproven decisively.

But the issue that caught my attention that I had never really thought enough about is the fact that the federal government is spending billions on urban transit systems.  Why is that the business of the federal government? 

If Denver, or Minneapolis wants to invest in a light rail system or other expanded mass transit, that is their choice.  But federal tax dollars should not be used for such an inherently local system.

Instead, federal dollars should be used to support commerce and transportation between the states — on the interstate highway system, primarily.  The very system that is being neglected so cities can build underused and overpriced transit systems.

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Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] these systems never pay for themselves.  They also never attract the ridership that proponents claim they […]

  2. […] before about light rail and the boondoggle that it often represents in the United States, such as here.  Now, via Hot Air (natch, as I seem to spend half my time on that site), we learn that the […]


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