Monday, December 8, 2008

On Mass Transit

Ridership numbers for mass transit are up. That's not exactly surprising, after the summer's mad gas prices, and now an economic crisis to make people thrifty. It'll be interesting to see if the effect sticks or if transit ends up another victim of financial woes; Matthew Yglesias rightly points out that the downturn will reduce local and state tax revenues, which will have politicians looking to tighten belts. I also happen to think he's right that dropping some federal cash on mass transit — since everyone's looking to drop it somewhere — would certainly not be the worst place for it to go. Transportation connects more potential workers to more potential jobs, increasing employment, so keeping services running and fares low could be a boon to those looking for work.

I know that individual mass transit projects are often boondoggles. It's ridiculously expensive to build and never pays for itself. On the other hand, how often do roads pay for themselves, even with your fancy-schmancy open-road tolling? That's right, never. We're just so accustomed to lavishing absolutely ridiculous amounts of money on one sort of mass transportation infrastructure that we don't even think of it in the same category as others. And all that money goes to a transportation infrastructure that you only get to use if you choose (or can afford) to own a car. Now, I also know what an economic engine America's roads and highways are, and I know what a country without them looks like: I've visited India and subsaharan Africa. So I'm a big fan of roads. I guess I'm just sayin', give the trains a little love, too.

1 comment:

Bruce Gee said...

America has spoken loudly, proudly and clearly on this issue: mass transit is a distant second and always will be, unless the economy stays in the dumps or gas prices shoot back up, which probably will not happen for awhile.

Watch for MT usage to drop again after the recession ends, whenever that is. And Cheney thinks it may be soon if the car companies don't close shop.

Cars, trucks, and highways. Not an easy economic input to replace.

Ok. Done commenting! :)