Driving is Subsidized

"I-5 Ship Canal Bridge Under Construction, 1960" (wikimedia)

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?

Comments

  1. Gary says

    More people driving cars of course!… but by “cars” I mean transportation modules that go from A to B, without stops without picking up the great unwashed, without polluting the air and water, that give the occupant some healthful exercise… Oh I guess I mean “bicycles!”

  2. Erik G. says

    Can we see a cumulative total of spending on roads vs. transit since 1956?

    Because despite and relative differences today, roads sure got a huge huge head start in overall investment.

    • archie says

      Also, don’t forget to also include the costs of 40,000+ US people dead every year from car accidents since then.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Go earlier. Federal highway spending started in the teens, fifteen years before the first federal fuel tax. And it’s the real estate that really matters – try inflation-adjusting the cost of that.

      • Eastside Leftist says

        Not to mention the urban streets that were paved and maintained by private streetcar operators and then later given over to automobile users at no cost.

  3. archie says

    That also depends on what you’re actually doing to subsidize driving, in addition to just pure tax dollars. For one example, one must consider the reduced value of homes within earshot of freeways, whereas transit investments usually improve surrounding property values.

    • phil says

      and nobody pays property tax on all those miles of roads. Worst of all is all the road space set aside for on street parking in residential areas, a free ride for those that have it.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        That’s a straw man. The roads in front of his property are far cheaper than the sum total of the property taxes he’s paying. I will moderate fallacious arguments from you like that one.

      • Norman says

        That is not a straw man. Are you saying that the sume total of the property taxes he’s paying is all going to roads in front of his property? None of his property tax goes to schools, police, courts, etc.? It all goes to the roads in front of his property?

        Only a part of property taxes goes to roads. And it is not just the roads in front of your property that add value to your property. If the road in front of your property is not connected to roads going pretty much everywhere else, the value of your property is less. If there were no roads connecting West Seattle to downtown Seattle, how would that affect property values in W. Seattle? For example, if the W. Seattle bridge were not there, would property values in W. Seattle be the same as they are with the W. Seattle bridge?

      • Jim Cusick says

        Just give me the opportunity to vote on whether I want my property tax to be spent on the roads.

      • joshuadf says

        How much would the UW campus be worth if it were private land? Most the buildings on campus are not served by public streets, only access roads for deliveries, people with disabilities, or emergency vehicles. And yet tens of thousands of people manage to use it every day–walking or biking.

      • Norman says

        Are you saying that delivery vehicles, emergency vehicles and people with disabilities could access the U.W. campus without the public roads that lead to and from the campus from several different directions?

        Where are the delivery vehciles, emergency vehicles coming from? They never leave the U.W. campus, and use public streets?

      • Nathanael says

        “How much would your property be worth, if there were no roads serving it?”
        About the same amount it’s worth now.

        In actual fact, the replacement for the roads would be very long private driveways, which I would maintain at my own expence. The running costs of the house would be significantly larger, but the value would be not significantly different.

        Of course it would be much less efficient for everyone to have their own enormous driveway, so let’s forget that possibility and accept that transportation networks should be run by the government.

        A vast quantity of property taxes do go to roads, and they are allocated quite unfairly: the most valuable downtown properties pay the most taxes and usually require the least road maintenance; while rural properties induce massive amounts of road expenditures due to the huge distances between them and the car-dependency of the occupants, but invariably have lower property values and pay less in taxes.

        So in effect rural and low-density areas are heavily subsidized by the use of property taxes to pay for local roads, while urban and high-density areas are penalized. If we went back to the 19th century situation where urban roads were paved and rural roads were all dirt, this would not be true.

  4. says

    Beyond transit, recent surveys have shown that most American feel that upwards of 20 percent of all transportation funds should be spent on Pedestrian and Bikeways (that number up from 1 percent just 10 years ago!)

    So why isn’t the mix being adjusted ?!

    • aw says

      That would be a huge waste of money. I’m all for walkways and bikeways, but they should be much less expensive per mile than road and transit infrastructure, after property acquisition costs. The funding for them is provided mostly outside a separate transportation item (Seattle’s pedestrian plan and federal Safe Routes to School being an exception).

      For urban roads, sidewalks should be part of the road budget when the road is built or upgraded. In places where sidewalks are lacking, it should fall on developers to provide them when they develop a property adjoining a street right of way. This happens in Eastside cities, and I imagine most others around here.

      King County’s trail system provides a modest transportation benefit, but those are treated as part of the park system, not as transportation.

      • archie says

        Your points, aw, are also reasons for arguing that it would NOT a waste of money. If walkways and bikeways are so much less expensive, they provide greater bang for the buck, so we should be allocating more of the bucket towards them.

      • aw says

        Absolutely, but 20% is still too much. 20% of a city streets budget, maybe, but not 20% of all transportation dollars.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Why not? You aren’t even exploring what ratios would actually help walkability.

      • Andreas says

        From a 2007 Times article:

        Forty percent of Seattle streets lack full sidewalks on both sides of the road — totaling 650 miles, the city estimates — but installing them is a staggering expense of about $2 million per mile. It’s not just the cost of the pavement: When a curb is built, it changes the flow of surface water, triggering legal requirements for drainage systems, which in turn can involve buying adjacent property. Many cities can build them only as part of a major street-paving project.

        In other words, relying on sidewalks to be put in only when roads are redone or when properties are developed has meant that many neighborhoods like Greenwood simply never get sidewalks. Quite frankly, it would probably take something like 20% of transportation dollars being allotted to sidewalks for the job to ever get completed.

      • Patrick says

        I am a little concerned about adding sidewalks to both sides of street or even one side as it results in a massive increase in our infrastructure which we won’t be able to support seeing that we barely can support the infrastructure that we have now. I think that we should focus on the areas that have the most potential for pedestrians/bikers. I think that many residential areas that don’t get much traffic that could go with out side sidewalks, though it is not the best not to have sidewalks in those areas, but it would save us the massive pain of trying to find money in the future when it comes time to replace them.

      • Jason Mitchell says

        The Pedestrian Master Plan absolutely prioritizes expanding the sidewalk network around our urban villages before looking at lower traffic areas.

      • Nathanael says

        Areas with speed limits below 20 mph and low motor vehicle traffic can have shared-purpose roads, where people and cars travel in the same environment; this is done in center city areas in some parts of Europe. It requires careful design so that the cars know that they don’t own the road. This should be done much, much more often.

        Areas with higher speed limits or high car traffic simply need sidewalks; it’s unsafe to walk otherwise. :-(

      • Nathanael says

        Walkways are quite expensive because they generally require concrete laying, and because they must be maintained to higher geometric standards than roads (people don’t have very good suspensions, y’know). They’re still a lot cheaper than roads, but they cost a *lot*.

  5. Jim Cusick says

    It would be simpler for the ‘driving public’ to decide the ratio (Roads vs. Transit), if the road projects were put together the way Sound Transit has for the Sound Move projects, with defined scope, benefits, costs, ‘ridership’, etc.

    Then put forward a ballot measure, with the same taxing boundaries as Sound Move, and the same sub-area equity rules, and let’s see what the voters really want.

    One fascinating thing I’ve experimented with is hopping on the ‘Readers response/comment’ forums after an article (both the Times and the P-I), and trying to get the more numbers oriented types who support roads to actually put together the numbers to ‘sell it’.

    So far, I’ve realized that they don’t or can’t. They are adept at selecting certain transit numbers that favor their position by showing transit in the negative light, but when I ask the simple question “How does a new lane reduce congestion?” there never seems to be a simple response.

    And there is a response. We looked at it on the I-405 Corridor Program, so I’m not being cagey when I ask them. I don’t post them because I don’t want to make their argument for them.

    Of course, I do have an ulterior motive.

    And the very DIRECT subsidy of roads is the fact that the gas tax gets spread around without any input from me. Of the $300/yr I pay, much goes to the mega-projects in the region, that I personally never use.

    Jim

      • Jim Cusick says

        In a way, yes.

        The big argument at the time was whether it was it was the ROADS portion or the TRANSIT portion that caused it to fail at the ballot box.

        One could make the argument that it was the ROADS portion, since ST2 passed.

  6. Norman says

    Between 10% and 20% of all sales tax collected in WA state (state, county and city sales taxes) come from sales of new and used cars. What does that amount to each year in sales taxes paid by vehicle owners?

    Then there is the large amount of sales taxes collected on auto parts and services. What does that add up to each year?

    Then there are rental car taxes. In Seattle, I recently had to rent a car, and the total taxes on rental cars in this city are about 19.5%!!! What does that add up to in Seattle, King Co. and WA state each year?

    Then there are parking fees, parking taxes and parking — and other (like red light) — tickets. The city of Seattle alone expects to collect something like $25 million per year from parking meters, another $25 million per year in parking tickets, and more millions per year in commercial parking taxes. What does that all add up to each year?

    Unless you start adding up all the taxes, license fees, parking fees, tickets, etc. that vehicle owners and operators pay, you are only considering a fraction of the actual revenue which the state, counties and cities receive from owners and operators of vehicles.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Norman,

      There’s no more reason a sales tax on cars should go to roads than that the sales tax on hammers should go to hammer-related spending.

      • Norman says

        That is no argument. The fact is that car owners pay hundreds of millions of dollars (probably billions) per year in sales taxes that people who don’t own or operate motor vehicles do not pay. When you ride a bus or train, you are not paying any sales tax.

        In other words, car owners pay a lot more sales tax than people who spend their transportation dollars on transit. If general fund money is used on roads, car owners are paying a lot more sales tax than people who only use transit. What would happen to sales tax revenues if nobody owned cars, and everyone went everywhere on transit, which does not charge sales (or any other) tax on its use?

        When you ride a bus, you are not even paying for the cost of the bus. You are paying ZERO towards the roads those buses are using. Vehicle owners pay the entire cost of owning and operating their vehicles, plus huge amounts of taxes and fees, which pay for the roads themselves.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        The money gets spent on something else, if not cars.

        No part of your argument, other than scale, doesn’t apply to hammers.

      • Norman says

        Not true, if that money is spent on transit, which it is by people who don’t have cars. There is no sales tax collected on transit fares.

      • Zed says

        So you’re saying that people who don’t own cars put the money they would have spent on buying and maintaining a car into a savings account and never spend it? Uh huh.

        BTW, federal general fund dollars come from income taxes, not sales taxes.

        Also, most local road maintenance is paid through property taxes, not gas taxes.

      • Norman says

        No, I’m saying they spend it on transit, which does not collect sales tax.

        And what is all the money collected from parking meters, parking tickets, commercial parking taxes, et. al. spent on? It goes into the general fund. Makes no difference what money is earmarked for what use. The only relevant point is how much tax revenue is colleceted from car owners by virtue of them owning and operating cars, compared to how much is spent on roads.

        The MVET money spent by ST is taxes paid by car owners. Just because it is spent on buses or trains, does not mean it is not collected from car owners.

      • Mike Orr says

        People who don’t own cars are greatly inconvenienced by the fact that many destinations (including jobs) are accessible only by car. In some cases that means taking more expensive transportation (taxi or Greyhound) than they would otherwise — and paying the appropriate taxes on it. Plus the time investment in waiting an hour or the next morning for a bus (and possibly getting a hotel room that a driver wouldn’t have to). So the carless aren’t just banking money.

      • Jim Cusick says

        Were these taxes and fees specifically allocated towards roads? You say that a big part of the MVET goes towards Sound Transit projects (in the taxing district).

        We VOTED FOR THAT.

        Put the road building measure, with it’s own MVET tax, on the ballot, and see what the public thinks about that.

        Oh, and while your at it, you have to make a convincing case, so don’t forget to give the positive argument why building extra lanes work for everyone.

      • Norman says

        It does not matter what the taxes and fees are allocated towards. Just the amount of revenue collected from car owners and operators compared to the amount spent on roads. That is the relevant calculation.

        If you pay a toll to use a bridge, and that toll money is spent on a new library, does that mean you did not pay to use that bridge?

      • Jim Cusick says

        Great idea Norman,

        I’d go along with that, the whole thing is getting pretty muddy with all the ‘cross-pollination’ of taxes.

        If you want a road, (or a wider one), build it, and charge a toll. Just don’t spend any other taxes on roads unless I vote for it.

        I like it.

      • Norman says

        You mean gas taxes should not be used for roads? License fees, MVET, and all the other taxes car owners pay should not be used for roads?

        Why is that?

        I do believe voters passed measures to spend gas taxes on roads. I’m curious to know why you think that is a bad idea.

      • Jim Cusick says

        Voters voted on initiative 912, which was to repeal the 9.5 cent gas tax increase:

        http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/Centers/transportation/policynote/05_barnes_i912.html

        I’m all for putting another ballot measure out there before we raise gas taxes.

        Just make sure it includes sub-area equity.

        However, the local sales/real estate/etc. taxes that pay for appoximately 35% of local road improvements never have been voted on, at least in any of the towns I’ve lived in.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Right now, whatever we ride or drive, we’re paying taxes- and incurring debt to the Chinese- for two wars whose main purpose is to provide the petroleum to fuel oversized vehicles stuck like giant sloths in the tarpits in huge linear traffic jams.

        And, if we’re too old or too gutless to enlist ourselves, we’re sending our younger and better fellow citizens to drive over IED’s in places that haven’t been Western spheres of influence since Alexander the Great- in order to keep that oil good and cheap.

        In addition, the reason many of us are trying to build transit is because we’re tired of the car payments, the insurance payments, and especially the repair bills necessitated by having to drive automobiles in suburban traffic conditions that constitute abuse of machinery

        Especially for those of us who really do love both our cars and driving, suburban traffic sucks like a Hoover on crack. So for the time being, car taxes for transit count as legitimate car maintenance.

        And when we finally get transit good enough we can either dispense with cars or garage them like prize horses for pleasure-driving- being spared suburban drivership will leave so much money in our pockets ST6 can have platinum rails.

        Mark Dublin

      • Norman says

        What is the cost per passenger mile of transit? Let’s just use $1 per passenger mile for easy math, and you can adjust it if you think that is not accurate.

        The average car is driven around 12,000 miles per year. If there are an average of 1.57 people per car, that is 18,800 passenger miles per year per car.

        Let’s say there are about 1 million cars in King County. That is 18.8 billion passenger miles per year in cars in King County alone.

        So, to use transit for those 18.8 billion passenger miles per year now taken in cars, would cost about $18.8 billion per year in King County alone.

        Thant is just operating cost. Does not include the capital cost of buses, trains, tracks, etc.

        I think the 0.9% sales tax in King County for Metro generates around $300 million per year in revenues. So, to generate $18.8 billion per year to put all trips on transit in King County would require a sales tax in King County of about 56%! You want to pay a 56% transit sales tax to put all trips in King County on transit?

        That is funny that some people think that if nobody drives a car, that somebody else will pay for their trips on transit.

        If you don’t think my numbers are accurate, then what do you think it would cost to provide transit for all trips that are now taken by cars?

      • Chris Stefan says

        Norman,
        You make two very false assumptions here.
        One that as transit ridership increases the cost per boarding or passenger mile will not go down. Transit like anything else is subject to certain economies of scale. High ridership rail lines and bus routes have higher farebox recovery and some even have operating surpluses.
        Second you falsely assume passenger miles curently traveled via car must be replaced on a one-for one basis with transit. People who ride transit tend to take shorter trips and fewer trips than auto drivers. This is partly why transit advocates are such big advocates of walkable neighborhoods. If you can walk to the grocery store you are going to travel fewer passenger miles than if the store is 5 miles away.

      • Nathanael says

        “When you ride a bus or train, you are not paying any sales tax.”

        I don’t know what state you live in (Washington?) but in many states bus and train ticket sales do indeed incur sales tax.

    • archie says

      “Then there are parking fees, parking taxes and parking — and other (like red light) — tickets.”
      Agreed, these are ways drivers are pitching into the bucket, but the argument here is that all the driver “fees” aren’t enough to sustain/offset the ultimate cost of roads. City parking meter fees are WAY below market value for the service being provided.

      • Norman says

        Wrong. When you add up all the taxes/fees/tolls that vehicle owners/operators pay, it comes to more than the total cost of roads.

      • Nathanael says

        Wrong. When you add up all the taxes/fees/tolls that vehicle owners/operators pay, it comes to less than the total cost of roads.

        There was a study done in Wisconsin and another in Texas. Look ‘em up.

      • Norman says

        Would you care to document that? I think downtown street parking is now about $2.50 per hour. That would be $20 for 8 hours. How do you get “way below market value”?

      • archie says

        I thought you’d never ask. This report from Colliers Intl surveyed the median hourly rate (market value) for parking at $10/hour in downtown Seattle: http://bit.ly/1ltYl

        For some anecdotal evidence, I always notice street parking filling up in my neighborhood before private garages do on any given day.

      • Norman says

        Well, from your linked article, the median monthly parking garage rate in Seattle, is $290. If you park 20 days per month, that comes to $14.5 per day, which is about $1.45 per hour, if you park for 10 hours.

        The median daily garage rate is $28 per day, or $2.80 per hour if you park for 10 hours.

        I think most street parking in downtown Seattle is now $2.50 per hour, which is comparable.

        I would bet that the vast majority of people who park in downtown parking garages pay by the month. Most of the rest by the day. They certainly do not pay by the hour anything close to $10 per hour.

        I will have to check out the hourly rates in downtown Seattle. I don’t believe the median is anything close to $10 per hour. The only parking garage in Seattle I have used recently is for the hospital on First Hill, and I think it cost only a few bucks for an hour. But, I don’t remember the exact rate.

      • archie says

        Every one of your statements help prove my point that hourly meter rates are “way below” market value. A legitimate market comparison should compare apples to apples. Would you try to compare the price of a hotdog from a street stand with one thirtieth the price of a 30-pack of wieners from Costco? Even your alleged few bucks an hour on First Hill are still twice the rate of the meter rates there.

      • Norman says

        Apples to apples comparison of parking rates on streets should include only surface parking lots — they should not even include parking garages, which shelter drivers from rain and wind and other weather, and offer security. So, comparing street parking to parking in garages is not even legitimate. Toss out the rates in parking garages.

        So, just compare rates at paid surface lots to city street parking, and tell me what you come up with.

      • Nathanael says

        Most parking garages (worldwide) do not offer security (most have large disclaimers of liability posted), and most are open-sided, providing very little protection from wind and weather. In fact most allow parking on the top deck, and charge the same amount as for parking in the rest of the garage, indicating that the fee you are paying does not actually buy you any protection from wind or weather.

        Try again. I’ll be happy to exclude valet parking which actually does usually provide security.

    • Jim Cusick says

      I always find the argument that all taxes paid on anything automotive must be allocated to only things automotive extremely amusing, and very weak.

      Okay, Norman, why don’t you run for office, and when you gain a seat on whatever council you run for, change the laws.

      Let’s think about this, if I can read while on the bus, then sales tax on books should go towards transit, laptops, too.

      Shoe taxes for sidewalks.

      Taxes on Spandex towards bike lanes.

      This would make for an interesting list.

  7. Norman says

    ““How does a new lane reduce congestion?””

    The new Tacoma Narrows bridge has basically eliminated congestion completely on that bridge, from articles I have read (I have not actually driven over the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, myself).

    • Jim Cusick says

      Okay Norman, you want to hijack this thread?

      Explain, please, the MECHANICS of how it does this.

      Better yet, DEFINE ‘Congestion’.

      • Norman says

        Mechanics: more lanes, so more capacity.

        Congestion: traffic moving at well below speed limit.

      • Jim Cusick says

        So, essentially Norman, you don’t understand how it works.

        If you did, you could explain it.

        This is the crux of the argument.

        And this is why those who back roads will lose to those who don’t, even if for a given circumstance building an extra lane would be the preferred option.

      • Jim Cusick says

        This is very telling.

        In fact, as I’ve been researching online documentation to help the road-building advocates along in answering the simple question “What is congestion?” and “How does new lane relieve congestion in the adjacent lanes?” I’ve been finding that even the FWHA, TTI and other sources have a vague description. Still looking though, I know I found a graphic representation of how lane capacity drops off and its relation to speed.

        I know what numbers we were using during the I-405 Corridor Program, and how, from that you can extrapolate the answer, but I’m looking for sources from Road Advocates, as opposed to places like Light Rail Now, and such. We know THEY HAVE and AGENDA!

        Norman, surely you can dig up some good sources.

        We can all agree on the Per HOUR capacity of 1 freeway lane at the optimum speed for throughput of 45 mph as 2000.

        Food for thought:
        People per Hour operating at the same capacity as 2000 – SOV’s =
        33 – articulated buses (60 pass) or
        3.3 – 4 car Light Rail trains (using 150 pass per car)

        Jim

      • Norman says

        That is no fallacy. Traffic now flows freely over that bridge, at the speed limit, where before it often crawled at way below the speed limit.

        Another way in which car owners pay for roads — tolls. Thanks for pointing that out. Tolls should be included in revenues from car owners/users which go towards roads.

      • archie says

        Tolls do wonders for reducing road use and therefore congestion and improving infrastructure longevity. They should be done in more places to make drivers feel a more direct effect of paying for what they use.

      • Jason Mitchell says

        Norman, it is too a fallacy to suggest congestion reduction can be attributed to increased capacity without acknowledging that the capacity increase coincided with the implementation of a toll. How can you not see that? There are two factors at play and you have no idea to what extent each has led to the improved traffic flow you claim to have read about somewhere.

  8. Norman says

    And let us not forget that car owners are subsidizing Sound Transit through the MVET.

    And car owners are subsidziing transit in general, because some of the federal gas tax is going to transit now.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Norman,

      Not only is that in the report, no one is arguing that transit isn’t subsidized.

    • says

      Thank you for your support! Assuming you’re the Hummer driving type that I think you are it should be a whopper of a bill too! :)

      Out of curiosity, isn’t it worth the money to know that I won’t be on YOUR road since I’ll be riding or driving the bus? On days that I actually need to drive my car, which are thankfully rare, I’d sure as heck be happy to pay people to take the bus rather than get in my way with their car.

    • Chetan says

      Norman, look at the #s. Less money will go to rail between Seattle and Portland between now and 2030 than will go to the viaduct tunnel in the next 4 years.

      We spend nothing on public transit, and are still engaging in a useless and destructive car orgy.

      • Norman says

        What is the connection between money spent on rail between Seattle and Portland, and money spent on the viaduct? Talk about a strawman.

      • Chetan says

        Ok Norman, what about this?

        Amount of money invested in light rail between now and 2016: 1.8 billion on University Link

        Amount of money invested in Roads between now and 2014: 4 billion on the viaduct, 4 billion on the 520 bridge replacement.

        By the way, the 520 bride and viaduct tunnel will have to be replaced and/or have heavy maintenance done on them before even Link trains, never-mind the line itself, will have to be replaced.

        Want something more closely related?

        Estimated cost of a new light rail line to Ballard and West Seattle, serving places that use the viaduct today: 2.4 billion

        Estimated cost of building the viaduct tunnel: 4 billion.

  9. Mark Dublin says

    Another question that would probably cut this debate short: when did Congress ever pass anything titled The National Defense Public Transit Act? There’s a fantastic book called “American Road”, detailing the post World War I convoy of military trucks with chain-drive transmissions that crossed the country from New York to San Francisco just to see if an Army convoy could even make it.

    Condition of roads was such that if the convoy hadn’t included a giant caterpillar artillery tractor for towing, they wouldn’t have made it off the East Coast. Story is that one of the commanders, Dwight Eisenhower, determined not very far west that the defense of the United States required a Federal interstate highway system.

    I suppose somebody could argue that the huge amount of land and other assistance given to the transcontinental railroads counts as a non-highway subsidy- though it didn’t go for streetcars. Also proves that Ayn Rand was a worse historian than Wesley Mouch was a civil servant- in addition to being a ridiculous writer.

    Couple of decades back when the military was considering railroading missiles around the country so the Russians couldn’t target them, might have been the time for Norm Dicks to propose attaching missile flatcars to light rail.

    Anyhow, not too late to go for the National Defense High Speed and Light Rail Act- nothing to lose.

    Mark Dublin

    • Mike Orr says

      “Story is that one of the commanders, Dwight Eisenhower, determined not very far west that the defense of the United States required a Federal interstate highway system.”

      But Eisenhower didn’t want them going through cities. They were supposed to go around cities or to the edge of cities. But it didn’t happen that way….

  10. Chetan says

    This point is so true, and needs to be talked about more amongst transit advocates roads costs more from our pockets to maintain than transit.

    Also, remember the other hidden subsidies we have for cars:
    1) Parking requirements when building buildings
    2) Street parking

    • Norman says

      How is street parking a “hidden subsidy”? Those parking lanes are part of the cost of roads, right? And the cost of roads is known. How is that hidden?

      How is a parking requirement a subsidy? The person who buys the building, pays for the parking spot. If you pay for your parking spot(s), who is subsidizing those parking spots? In other words, a condo with a parking spot costs more than a condo without a parking spot. The condo owner pays for the parking spot — not taxpayers.

      • archie says

        Norman, you are forgetting that providing more street parking also enables more drivers to have a place to park their car which places more stress on the driving infrastructure and kills the livability of my neighborhood. If parking fees better reflected actual market value, I’d feel better about publicly provided parking.

        In regards to parking requirements, I believe Chetan is talking about parking minimums. Luckily Seattle removed their minimum parking requirements in the denser areas so that the free market could enter this part of the equation. This should really be done more places (if not everywhere) so that the market forces could begin to play a larger roll.

      • Norman says

        It is density which “kills the livability of my neighborhood.” You pack more people into a given area, and they have more cars. Density is really the problem.

        Of course, that is driven by population growth, which is really the ultimate problem here, and everywhere else. Population growth is destroying the environment, and our quality of life.

      • archie says

        So since we’re not going to get very far trying to control population growth in non-totalitarian countries, let’s deal with and embrace its effects as intelligently as possible. Cursing population growth does nothing to address the situation.

      • Norman says

        Right. Treat the symptoms and let the disease run rampant. That usually works really well.

      • Nathanael says

        Population control is easy — just support education for women, and widespread availability of condoms (with corresponding sex education) and wait 30 years.

        However, you’re also just wrong that “You pack more people into a given area, and they have more cars.” There are numerous counterexamples, New York City being the prime one. If there are other ways to travel, many of the additional people don’t get cars. The large minority who drive for fun will always get cars, and there will often be one car per household for “weird” trips, but density can eliminate most of the two-car-or-more households — and density can also involve larger households (co-ops, anyone?).

      • Mike Orr says

        Population growth is part of the problem, but saying it’s the whole problem implies it’s impossible to be more efficient or do with less.

        It’s not the population per square mile that creates unlivable density, but the population per room. Crime and other social ills increase when an area has more residents than its houses/apartments have rooms (including living rooms/dens/kitchens).

        More people have more cars… unless you build a comprehensive transit system and walkable communities. Then more people will be willing to forego cars. The Millenial generation is also less eager to buy cars than their predecessors were, so that may be a generational change.

        Worldwide population is headed downward in any case. Europe and Japan already have fewer than two children per woman. China’s one-child policy and India’s rising middle class are lowering their birthrates. The US population is increasing slightly only because of immigration, and the high birth rate among the largest immigrant groups. Pugetopolis population will increase because others think it’s a nice place to live. But worldwide population is expected to peak at 9 million around 2050 and then head downward, with the population aging.

      • Chetan says

        GM would never be able to make more money if the city did not allocate massive amounts of public space to store Gm’s products. That’s how it’s a subsidy.

        As for the condo, you are assuming that the # of parking spots in condos is determined by the market. Right now, if you buy a condo in Seattle, you have no choice, it will be in a building with parking spots, spots you were force to pay for.

        You pay more for your condo, to build the parking spot, so that once again, a big hurdle to GM making profits is taken away.

      • Nathanael says

        The parking requirement is an outright market distortion, and quite horrifyingly awful. Requiring every store in the state to sell liquor would be a liquor subsidy. Requiring every car owner to own a horse would be a horse subsidy.

        Without parking requirements, condo builders could build condos with the market-demanded level of parking (possibly none, if the condo is on top of a major rail station). Instead, they add extra parking, pass on the cost to the condo dwellers whether the dwellers want to pay for the parking or not.

        It’s quite the worst distortion in transportation.

        Street parking is a problem for two reasons:
        (1) the fear of people using the street parking created the parking requirements. :-P
        (2) the price of street parking is set by the government, usually at below-market rates, and subsidizes people going to *those areas with extensive, cheap street parking*.

  11. Matt the Engineer says

    47) Highway patrol salaries, cars, guns, maintenance, pension…
    48) Car ferries, car ferry terminals, prime waterfront real estate

  12. Mark Dublin says

    Two good ways to control population:

    1. Make people educated and wealthy. In most of the world, main reason people have large numbers of children is that they need many family members in order to survive at all- and they know many of their children will die.

    2. Give women full political and economic rights. When it’s up to women to decide how many children to have, number is generally closer to two than twenty.

    Mark Dublin

    • Nathanael says

      The two phenomena which have been proven, in studies, to reduce birthrates are:
      (1) education of women
      (2) widespread availability of birth control (and education on how to use it).

      The second one is a bit of a “duh” — hard to reduce birthrates if you don’t know *how* (since we’re not going to get people to stop having sex). The first one has a very large number of different reasons behind it, but mostly it seems that women would rather have fewer children, and given the education to be sure that they can support themselves without depending on a man, they will generally choose to have fewer.

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