I feel like I’m supposed to be outraged at Mike Lindblom’s blog post about relative subsidy to transit and roads, but I actually feel like doing a victory lap. The anti-transit Washington Policy Center published a brief report claiming that state and local governments are subsidizing transit more than roads. As we know, a frequent conceit of self-described libertarians is that mass transit is a centrally-planned disaster while highways and sprawl are a free-market outcome. Here the WPC concedes that’s not the case.
Mr. Lindblom quibbles with the numbers a bit, and indeed the WPC and I could argue indefinitely about state and federal funding, past vs. current subsidy, capital vs. operating funds, regulatory advantages for roads, and in particular the sales tax exemption for gasoline, worth about $700m annually statewide. Diehards will argue that the things actually in the report are “user fees”, but most of these other things clearly aren’t.
However, I don’t see why that argument is all that important, because the study doesn’t present any rationale for why transit and road subsidies should be equivalent, much less proportional to the current number of trips. The WPC and I would probably agree that the more you subsidize something, the more you get of it. The question for the WPC is, considering the externalities, would we rather spend subsidy dollars to have more people on transit or more people driving their cars?