Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fixing Transit and that 'evil' word: privitize

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, had a great article about how to fix transit problems that many think plague the United States. In Ohio, we're having the on-going discussion about so-called high-speed rail.

I write 'so-called' because the latest proposal to spend $400 million in federal stimulus dollars would give us a system that connects only three of Ohio's major cities; costs more than $400 million to build; won't be 'high' speed as it is projected to be slower than actually driving; and, worst of all, will require Ohio taxpayers to subsidize it to the tune of $17 million a year! Oh - and that $17 million of taxpayer funds it will need is only if the rail system actually meets its ridership projections. And that's the supporters' own projection of costs!

Incoming Governor John Kasich is opposed to the plan and wants to use the $400 million for other transportation purposes. But the federal government is threatening to 'give' the money to another state if we don't do what they want us to do with it.

Convoluted and completely lacking in common sense - I know. But, sadly, that is the way government works these days.

On a local level, voters just approved a renewal of the TARTA levy and Perrysburg is still trying to opt-out of that service because they believe they can provide a better service for the costs they're paying. Other communities are opposed to being forced to join the TARTA service area - or to have a county-wide sales tax fund the organization - because of problems they see in the operation, the service and the failed concept.

Which is why I thought this article from Cato was important to share. The transit needs in Los Angeles are much different from the needs in New York City - and those are much different from our needs here in Northwest Ohio. If we can get government out of the way, including not giving them our tax dollars for one-size-fits-all solutions, we'd all be better off.

Here is the summary of the article:

America's experiment with government ownership of urban transit systems has proven to be a disaster. Since Congress began giving states and cities incentives to take over private transit systems in 1964, worker productivity — the number of transit riders carried per worker — has declined by more than 50 percent; the amount of energy required to carry one bus rider one mile has increased by more than 75 percent; the inflation- adjusted cost per transit trip has nearly tripled, even as fares per trip slightly declined; and, despite hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies, the number of transit trips per urban resident declined from more than 60 trips per year in 1964 to 45 in 2008.

Largely because of government ownership, the transit industry today is beset by a series of interminable crises. Recent declines in the tax revenues used to support transit have forced major cuts in transit services in the vast majority of urban areas. Transit infrastructure — especially rail infrastructure — is steadily deteriorating, and the money transit agencies spend on maintenance is not even enough to keep it in its current state of poor repair. And transit agencies have agreed to employee pension and health care plans that impose billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities on taxpayers.

Transit advocates propose to solve these problems with even more subsidies. A better solution is to privatize transit. Private transit providers will provide efficient transit services that go where people want to go. In order for privatization to take place, Congress and the states must stop giving transit agencies incentives to waste money on high-cost transit technologies.

The complete policy analysis is here.

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