Highway Funding: The Last Bastion of Socialism in America

Matthew Yglesias over at The Atlantic points us to this eye-popping chart from A Better Way to Go, a USPIRG Education Fund report published in March 2008. Download the report here. It’s a good one to have on-hand. A few factoids to accompany the chart:

  • Since 1956, federal, state and local governments have invested nine times more capital funding in highway subsidies than in transit.
  • In 2004, state governments spent nearly 13 times more public funds on highways than on transit.
  • The process for securing funding for new transit lines is far more onerous and less certain than for highway projects, with the federal government generally picking up a smaller share of the tab for new transit lines than for new highway projects.

Yglesias also notes:

Of course you can’t bring this subject up without legions of people informing you that the gas tax pays for the highways. This simply isn’t true. All the funds raised by the gas tax are spent on highways, and then a bunch of additional money is also spent on highways.

Mark Delucchi at the U.C. Davis Institute for Transportation Studies backs that up as well. In a study published last fall, Delucchi found that "current tax and fee payments to the government by motor-vehicle users fall short of government expenditures related to motor-vehicle use by approximately 20 to 70 cents per gallon of all motor fuel." U.S. drivers do not pay their own way.

After the jump is another great chart from A Better Way to Go. Anyone want to guess how many millions of dollars in gasoline cost savings and tons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions the New York City Transit produces annually?

  • Streetsman

    To add up NYCT, LIRR, MNR, NJT, and PATH, you get:

    $4.512 billion in annual gasoline cost savings and

    13.741 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions reduced

    for the New York metro area

  • Streetsman

    Would love to see for comparison what that capital investment chart would look like for a transit-rich European country

  • Larry Littlefield

    Much of the non-gas-tax money spent on highway transportation is spent on local streets and roads, not on highways.

    To an extent those streets and roads provide access to deliveries and emergency vehicles, not just private motor vehicles, but private motor vehicles account for most of the use. Everyone pays. I guess that’s what this blog is about.

    Here’s an interesting thought. The City of New York will maintain and plow the portion of its property used by motor vehicles and, to a lesser extent, bicycles. But it shifts the cost of maintaining and shoveling the sidewalk, also its property, to the property owner.

  • J

    I keep hearing about Portland and how lovely their trolley and transit system is, but it saves less than half as much oil as Atlanta’s transit system. Maybe a full blown subway really is the way to go, seeing as the most effective systems are all fully grade separated.

  • d

    I think MARTA, Atlanta’s system, covers more miles than Portland’s trolleys, hence the larger savings in oil and carbon emissions. Atlanta is much more spread out than Portland, however, because of this more people in Portland are able to bike or walk to work – almost no one does this in Atlanta – reducing the need to take public transit in the first place.

  • abe

    I would like to see the fuel cost savings of cyclists and pedestrian-commuters. Whenever someone tells me me to get out of the way of their car, I would like some data to back me up when I say “this bike makes your gas cheaper!”

  • vnm

    “All the funds raised by the gas tax are spent on highways.”

    That’s not quite true, right. My understanding of ISTEA and successors is that it should read:

    “All the funds raised by the gas tax are spent on highways, transit, ped and bike projects (with the transit/ped/bike share being a tiny fraction of what’s spent on highways).”


  • Moser

    Actually, transit was able to break into the gas tax quite a bit earlier than 1991 (ISTEA) – I believe the federal mass transit account was created in the 1970s, enabling construction of the D.C. Metro, BART, the Atlanta system, etc. ISTEA enabled states to move additional funds between FHWA programs and mass transit projects.

  • vnm

    This is a minor quibble that should not detract from the overall point of the brilliant table listing the carbon, fuel and dollar savings at each of the transit agencies.

    There is a little bit of apples-to-oranges comparison going on in the table, in that some agencies are compared to some subsidiary components of agencies.

    For example: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority runs commuter rail, subway, light rail and buses. MTA Long Island Rail Road runs commuter rail only, while MTA New York City Transit runs the subway and buses. The equivalent of the MBTA is the MTA itself, not the LIRR or NYC Transit. The LIRR would be equivalent to MBTA Commuter Rail, which is not broken out separately.

  • mfs

    If the transit system were to get carbon offsets at the conservative $20/ton rate that some speculate it will be traded at in a cap-and-trade system, then MTA would receive $241 million.

  • This “analysis” is so sophomoric that it’s funny.

    Since 88% of people drive alone or carpool to work – compared to the 4.7% who take mass transit – according to the Census, I wonder why we invest so much money in mass transit? When we consider those numbers it looks like we fund mass transit about twice as much as we should.

    Right now about 1% of every federal tax dollar goes to road construction or maintenance. I can’t speak for New York, but in Virginia, roads are getting about 10.5% of state taxes, or $3.81 billion, this year. The projected revenues from transportation taxes and fees – guess who pays those, drivers – are $4.79 billion.

    It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that WAY more money gets taken in from cars than is given back to cars. Guess where the rest of that money goes – it builds your metros and bike trails. So try again. No gas tax, no roads and maintenance … or metro, buses, sidewalks, bike lanes, or anything else.
    For the federal government, it’s even worse. The government took in $69 billion in excise taxes last year, and they only gave $35.5 billion back to the Federal Highway Administration. Before you say – well there’s more than gas taxes in excise taxes – we use about 140 Billion gallons of gas we are taxed at 18.4 cents per gallon. That’s $25.7 Billion. We also use 40 billion gallons of diesel every year – we get taxed at 24.4 cents per gallon there. That’s another $9.7 Billion. Do the math – that’s $35.4 billion that automobiles bring in before we even start to talk about anything else. When you ride the subway or scoot along down your bike path, you might want to consider that automobiles paid for those, and then some.

    This study is bogus. It stacks the deck in favor of transit. Here’s a great example from their methodology for calculating gasoline and pollution savings:

    “The analysis in this report does not include demand response (or “paratransit”) service. Generally speaking, demand response service – which tends to use passenger vans to transport small numbers of riders on non-fixed routes – is designed to provide basic mobility to the elderly and disabled, not to improve the efficiency of the transportation system. As a result, these services frequently do not result in net energy savings or emission reductions. Including these services in the analysis would mask the significant benefits delivered by other, mainly fixed-route transit services.”

    Great, except that elderly and disabled people can’t use the system without these services – so it is a part of the system and should be counted.

    It’s also dubious to estimate what you’re saving in a study – in order to do that you have to assume that those people would switch to cars if transit weren’t available, which may or may not be the case. Maybe they would all bicycle.

  • Anon


    Your math fails to account for a long and substantial list of direct and indirect costs that the public sector pays for motor vehicle infrastructure and services.

    As noted above, anyone who really wants to dig into the numbers should look to the Mark Delucchi study, which is probably the most recent, thorough, independent, peer-reviewed accounting out there:


    He concludes:

    Our analysis indicates that in the US, current (ca. 2005) tax and fee payments to the government by motor-vehicle users may fall short of present government expenditures related to motor-vehicle use by approximately 20 to 70 cents per gallon of all motor fuel. (By contrast, as summarized in Section 1.3.2, in Europe user payments easily exceed government expenditures).

    And note what costs this 20 to 70 cent per gallon shortfall doesn’t include:

    Furthermore, our estimate here is only of the difference between user tax and fee payments to government and actual government monetary outlays for motor-vehicle infrastructure and services; it does not include the cents-per-gallon-value of any non-monetary environmental or oil-use externalities such as global warming or the macroeconomic costs of oil disruptions. Incorporation of these and other external costs could further raise the price of fuel by on the order of a $1 per gallon of motor fuel. We may conclude, then, that motor-vehicle users in the US– unlike users in most European countries — do not “pay their way”.

  • To add to Lewis’s point, using the very same data cited by Baxandall to produce the much-vaunted Figure 8 on which Naparstek relies for this intellectual equivalent of sausage, it is clear that, as of 2004 — the most recent year for which both Federal and State expenditure data are available — public outlays for highways in the United States outnumbered those for mass transit roughly 3 to 1. The number of Americans who drive to work, however, exceeds those who use mass transit by a factor of about 20.

    A further observation from the source data: In 1956, public outlays for highways were 14 times those for mass transit. In 2004, however, highway spending was less than 3 times that on mass transit.

    Here’s one for the Streetsbloggers: Let’s go to the raw data instead of poaching secondary sources and drawing inference from the conclusions of others.

  • Lewis, the gas cost savings are a counterfactual–how much gas would we have used had these transport miles been driven by cars. Obviously public policy affects behavior so we can’t know what they would have done without the policy implemented, but anyone who has read basic public policy studies would understand that this is a legitimate means of calculation and it’s expected that the reader understands.

    There are many things your single year use of expenditure/revenue does not take into account. That both vary year to year so you would need a time series. Government role in securing capital for transportation projects. Externalities like police car use on highway patrols–just the gas spent on that adds billions. You need to compare the methodology used in WOC2 versus WOC3 in the paper. You may reject WOC3 which includes indirect expenditures but they still argue that even without indirect expenditures which, of course, would be hard to pin down, it is still a shortfall. (To read about the methodology for WOC2 it’s §4.3) I’m not arguing that this paper is correct–I haven’t fully studied it. But clearly you offered no refutation. You took a few figures and tried to show us it was “obvious” with your figures and then took potshots at methodology apparently not realizing that he calculated this four different ways (sort of like how we calculate money suppy). If you’d like to levy a criticism at the paper, do so, but you need to understand it first. But, nor do I think equity in spending is necessary. My tax dollars goes to building ramps for handicap people. I don’t think it’s up to the handicapped people to deal without ramps because they don’t pay their share. I also pay for many things I don’t support. As a public we make collective decisions.

    Finally and unrelatedly, you post things on your blog like, “Beijing Takes Tips from Streetsblog for Olympic Games” on your blog. You call China Stalinist because it sounds flashy and evokes a response despite factually being meaningless. And this is not the place to critique your political views, but writing in hyperbole.

  • Oh, and Lewis, just in case you’re curious I think a title like “Highway Funding: The Last Bastion of Socialism in America” is quite stupid too. Even if unequal expenditures and subsidies constituted socialism it would be far from the last bastion.

  • PayingItNow

    Minor quibble:
    It’s not really true that it’s easier to get Federal highway (FHWA) money than it is to get transit money (FTA). In my (albeit limited) experience the two grant process are basically the same, except that FHWA adds an extra layer of bureaucracy (the State). For municipalities FTA money is sometimes easier to get (with all kinds of caveats, because there are lots of different pots of money with different strings attached from both FTA and FHWA).

    Also, Larry wrote:

    “Much of the non-gas-tax money spent on highway transportation is spent on local streets and roads, not on highways.”

    What’s your source for this. Definitely not true in NYC (streets get basically zip), and so far as I know, not true in NYS overall.

    “Here’s an interesting thought. The City of New York will maintain and plow the portion of its property used by motor vehicles and, to a lesser extent, bicycles. But it shifts the cost of maintaining and shoveling the sidewalk, also its property, to the property owner.”

    This is a common division; lots of municipalities have the same split. Garbage collection is another odd one. Here, it’s “free” for residences and many institutions; in many other places, everyone pays, often to private companies. In NYC, these are mostly artifacts and accretions of history. If somehow we could start fresh, I doubt that anyone would design the current fee vs. free, public vs. private splits for these services, but there’s so much law, rule, and regulation to undo, that you’d never actually be able to start from scratch.

  • And another thing (to Lewis Derkins) —

    I agree that you can’t speak for New York. But I can. I researched and wrote the definitive analysis of Empire State revenues from driving and expenditures for driving that found that driver taxes, tolls, tickets etc. account for only 65 cents of every dollar spent on road building, maintaining, policing, adjudicating, etc. And though Subsidies for Traffic dates from 1994, little appears to have changed since. My year-later study of New Jersey driving fees and spending, Crossroads, found a similar tilt.

    If you want to speak with authority on taxation and driving in Virginia, why don’t you do a comparable study of that state? (BTW, the link you gave only went to a generic state budget portal and didn’t show road data.) When you do, be sure to include expenditures on local roads. In NY and NJ, these are funded primarily by property taxes rather than gas taxes or other user fees, which helps explain why the annual net taxpayer subsidy for driving exceeded $2 billion in New York State and $700 million in New Jersey in my two studies.

    Oh, by the way, those dollars spent on transit and bike/walk help speed your car commute by enhancing non-highway alternatives to driving. But don’t tell anyone, they wouldn’t hear it over the din of your grinding axe.

  • What’s going on here? Last night I post the comment you see above, only to find that it was taken down this morning. Then I post the same argument with a little more caustic flare (I rage a little when an attempt at honest debate is silenced). It, too, was taken down, and replaced with my original comment. Here’s the text again, in case Aaron Naparstek is feeling generous enough to let this comment board become a debating hall instead of a choir of yes-men.


    To add to Lewis’s point, if we go to the data used to create the much-vaunted Figure 8 in Baxandall’s March 2008 report, we do in fact see that, not only have federal, state and local governments invested nine times more funding in highway capital projects than in mass transit capital expenditure, but 2004 (the most recent year for which all data are available) public spending for capital projects and operations & maintenance outweighed public outlays for mass transit 3 to 1. What we also see – and here’s the ugly truth – is that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004 Americans who drive to work outnumber their mass transit-riding countrymen 20 to 1.
    How about — starting now – everyone goes to the data instead of drawing inferences from the conclusions of others? When did tertiary sources become acceptable to use in scholarly debate?
    And Fritz — If you have an issue with something I write, take it up on the comment board of my article.

  • Anon


    Of course more Americans currently use automobiles than transit. Given the history of public spending and the systematic dismantling and under-funding of transit in most US cities, why would one expect anything else?

    Still, as noted in the US PIRG report, transit ridership is currently increasing at a far faster than vehicle travel. And when you go out and actually talk to Americans, you find that approximately three out of four of them now believe that transit and building communities that require less driving are the best solutions for traffic congestion.

    Like Lewis, your argument depends on failing to include a significant and very real set of expenditures that the public pays to keep America’s highway and road systems up and running — little things like law enforcement and traffic safety, off-street parking, pollution, and military costs related to the use of Persian Gulf oil.

    I know that the highway lobby would like to focus on the most narrow set of capital and operating costs. But when you get out into the real world you find that towns, cities and states across the country are struggling with all of these other costs as well. They are grappling with not being able to afford the police and ambulances needed to clean up car crashes, crumbling municipal parking garages, protecting town water systems from highway waste, and hundreds billions of military dollars (not to mention the blood of their own sons) being poured into the world’s oil-producing regions.

    Delucchi does a good, even-handed job of evaluating and accounting for public costs. He also lays out four different models in case someone chooses not to account for some of the more indirect costs of automobile dependence, like climate destruction and oil war.


  • Patrick

    “The number of Americans who drive to work, however, exceeds those who use mass transit by a factor of about 20.”

    That’s not surprising, given that the vast majority of Americans live in areas of highway monopoly. I would be more interested to see a breakdown of commuting in only those areas where highways compete with a developed transit system. I would guess that highways will still carry more people in most cases, but I would be very surprised if 1 to 20 were still an accurate ratio.

  • To Anon and Charles Komanoff –

    I’m familiar with the studies you cite, and I provided critique on them a couple of months ago here.

    The basic problem with these studies is that you are doing a cost-revenue analysis, which is inappropriate. Highways and roads don’t exist to generate direct revenues. They are a public good, and exist to provide a service to everyone.

    The appropriate analysis would be cost-benefit, which these studies don’t perform. And if you do a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits of roads far outweigh the costs. Your studies tally all of the indirect costs and none of the hidden or indirect revenues.

    In my critique of Charles’ study, I gave a short example of indirect revenues, using the NYC fire department as a test case. Here is the excerpt:

    “If you look at Manhattan, there are an average of 701 “serious incidents” every year in that borough. The average property value per square mile in 1992 was $1.84 Billion. (I couldn’t find data old enough to go exactly with your study timeframe, so I took the average number of serious incidents for all years and the average property value per square mile in 2000 minus the average value per square mile for 1990 divided by ten – times two and added to the 1990 value for the two years until your report to get the average property value per square mile in 1992) If we assume that each block is a tenth of a mile, and each fire only endangers one one-hundredth of that block – which I consider to be a conservative estimate – then each of those fires endangers $1.84 million in property. Thus, the responses by fire department vehicles in 1992 saved $1.28 Billion in property. That saved property was taxed by the city and state, and led to revenues that aren’t accounted for. That’s a huge revenue, and it only covers one borough in NYC.”

    “You may say that this is too attenuated and therefore outside the scope of your research, but I disagree. This is a direct revenue to city and state coffers that automobiles and their infrastructure make possible.”

    “You’re also not considering the business and corporate taxes paid by businesses that are dependent on automobiles. Any food delivery, UPS or FEDEX, even grocery stores all derive their revenue, which in turn pays these taxes, from automobile use. So, in my opinion this data is heavily skewed to make the automobile appear more costly. The problem with the way you have it set up is that a lot of indirect costs that aren’t contemplated by the direct taxes, tolls and fees are accounted for (police, fire, DMV, etc..), but these indirect revenues are not.”

    Another problem I have with Charles’ study is that it mixes apples and oranges. Local roads are not meant to be covered by gas taxes – those taxes cover highways only, and my point is that we bring in plenty of money to cover those costs with the tax. But by lumping in local roads, which gas taxes aren’t meant to cover, with highways, you get to stack the deck and claim that auto users only cover 65 cents on the dollar. That’s not true. The taxes that we pay bring in more than enough revenue to pay for the categories of construction and maintenance that they are levied to cover.

    If you want to consider local roads, that’s fine, but again you need to consider indirect benefits, and you also need to consider that those roads are constructed and maintained through property taxes because everyone benefits from them – how do emergency vehicles get to your house, or goods get to your store without them? For that matter, how far can you ride a bicycle in NYC without riding on local roads, and what kinds of direct taxes do bicyclists pay to support them the way cars do? None.

    But bringing local roads into this argument isn’t appropriate anyway because the subject of Aaron’s post is highway spending, not local road spending.

    This study in Aaron’s post touts a $2 return for every dollar invested in mass transit – but that is not an economic benefit in the traditional sense – it is a savings. If we’re looking at savings, similar studies have found that every dollar of highway investment nets between $5.40
    and $8.75 worth of cost savings.

    The second study (full version
    and here) also talks about the economic benefits of increased productivity and the net social rate of return.

    Industry productivity growth rate is leveled at 6% (it was much higher with more highway construction – up to 31%) – that feeds in to our GDP, which is currently $14 Trillion, the question would be what share of this does the 6% productivity growth represent, but since derived from a model simulating the entire economy, I would feel pretty confident saying that this will far outweigh the $2 return for $1 investment benefit mass transit provides – not that it matters since the cost to cost comparison already shows highways to be more beneficial by a factor of between 2-4.

    For net social rate of return we also get 10% – this means we get a rate of return on investment of 10% for every dollar on top of the savings and increased productivity.

    This far outweighs what we get for mass transit, and if we’re talking about investments in expectations of returns, we should be looking at these kinds of numbers – not stacking the deck against cars and highways. If you’d like to see more studies that derive this same conclusion, you can go
    and here.

    My grinding axe may be loud, but Streetsblog is running the mill that owns all the grinding machines.

  • Fritz –

    I’m not trying to compare the methodologies of individual calculations in this paper against each other. I have problems with the entire paper’s methodology, and I simply called out a couple of quick examples. You’re correct that it’s a bit flippant and confusing.

    First of all, this paper suffers from the same problems I called out above with Charles.

    Second, there are credibility issues with any paper that accepts manmade global warming as a proven fact when deriving all of it’s conclusions. At last count, 31,000 scientists signed an Oregon Institute of Science petition a couple of months ago rejecting the manmade global warming hypothesis. That’s over 17 times the number of scientists who are on the entire IPCC telling us we’re doomed. And that’s being generous to their side because several of the IPCC scientists have resigned or publicly come out against the IPCC’s conclusions. The IPCC, the very people who have been scaremongering us, also announced last month that we’re about to go through a decade of cooling?

    If manmade global warming exists, why hasn’t there been any in the last decade? any in the last decade and why is none expected in the next decade? With steadily increasing CO2, this doesn’t make sense – the temperature should be steadily increasing. The use of global warming as accepted fact in the face of an obviously huge and continuing debate is irresponsible and calls the conclusions that this report makes into question.

    You say: “As a public we make collective decisions.”

    Those decisions should be based on sound research, not biased facts and figures.

    To respond to your aside – I didn’t call China Stalinist, a colleague did. However, what part of arresting internet dissenters (might be dangerous for Streetsblog) so no one will speak out against you while the Olympics are in town, commanding one third of your economy to simply shut down to avoid traffic, conscripting vast armies to clean up pollution to put on a happy face, or completely reconstructing your city to make it appear more prosperous to foreign eyes is not Stalinist. Those examples are the very definition of Stalinism.

  • Derkins can spin the highway funding stats however he wants — for my own part, I have more confidence in Komanoff.

    But Derkins can’t conceal two increasingly obvious facts: that car sales are plummeting, and that transit and biking are on the rise. As the peak oil crisis develops, and gas prices rise toward double digits, the constituency for car infrastructure will only shrink. The more it shrinks, the more hysterical people like Derkins will become.

    The only case to be made for roads is that they accommodate bikes and buses. But we’re beginning to talk about a much different kind of road, aren’t we? Bus and bike lanes will be much more prominent features of the roads of the future.

    By the way, I’ve visited Derkins’ blog — what is it called? I can’t remember. He and his partner make a big point of saying they’re in favor of all kinds of transportation. But they’re really just car apologists. And judging from the above, also global-warming denialists.

  • Lewis (Derkins) —

    In your first comment (#11), you said, “It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that WAY more money gets taken in from cars than is given back to cars.” Since that proposition is precisely what I investigated — and disproved — in my 1994 NY and 1995 NJ studies, I wrote a comment (#17) about them. I don’t understand how, in your subsequent comment (#20), you now justify calling those studies “inappropriate.” To me it smacks of seeing my hand is a full house and saying you were really playing gin rummy.

    Do you really want a cost-benefit analysis of driving instead? No problem. Plow into Mark Delucchi’s magisterial 20-volume Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the United States, Based on 1990-1991 Data, available here, and get a taste of the enormous crash costs, pollution costs, climate-damage costs, military-“protection” costs, etc. not included in my NY and NJ reports (which were restricted to fiscal costs). You’ll also get a taste of genuine intellectual rigor.

    Your tedious fire-dept example is undermined by the fact that emergency vehicles don’t require multiple lanes of asphalt. And most don’t log many miles on gas-tax-funded state and federal highways anyway.

    You asked, “how far can you ride a bicycle in NYC without riding on local roads, and what kinds of direct taxes do bicyclists pay to support them the way cars do?” That’s the wrong question. The pertinent question is how far can you ride a bicycle in NYC without riding on roads paid for by drivers’ user fees? Well, last Sunday I rode 60 miles from lower Manhattan into northern Westchester County, entirely on local roads paid for by general revenues, including my NYC property and sales taxes. I’ll confess that I did return by train, some of whose service is financed by NYC bridge and tunnel tolls. Then again, that same train service benefits drivers by mitigating highway gridlock. A win-win.

  • Joe

    Other last bastions of socialism: the military, police, fire, emergency services, schools, etc.

  • John Davidson


    The benefits side of your cost-benefits ledger is, to say the least, problematic given that it was tallied up before the advent of permanently expensive gasoline and permanently devalued suburban real estate. I’d also quibble over the economic “benefits” of the muffler shops, big box stores and millions of acres of asphalt parking lot required to run a mono-modal automobile-oriented transportation system and included in your analysis as a positive.

    The benefits of transit and transit-oriented development are substantial. Installing a transit line has, historically, been one of the best ways to ensure higher property values and an increased tax base. The same cannot be said for the muffler shops, big boxes and parking tarmacs we’ve scattered across our American landscape.

    Unfortunately, in most places around the U.S., we haven’t been able to measure these potential transit benefits For the most part, we’ve spent the last 60 years dismantling and degrading our mass transit systems and evacuating the middle and upper class from our urban centers.

    Bottom line is that actual American people (as opposed to highway lobbyists) increasingly desire the freedom to choose from various transportation options. We’ve got too many people trapped in a failing, expensive, automobile-oriented system. Widening highways and building clean cars isn’t going to solve that problem.

  • Boris

    I agree with the title, but not the argument.

    The bulk of the article spends time arguing that highways are socialism (which they are), and that they would be better substituted with transit socialism.

    We must remember that before the construction of the National Highway System under Eisenhower, transit operators were private, and profitable, as were passenger railway services.

    It could be argued that removing government construction of freeways could allow for the eventual return of private mass transit, where its superior cost effectiveness will be much more obvious.

  • Charles –

    The answer to your first question is that I disagree that your study proved what you claim.

    The answer to your second question is that I do want a cost benefit analysis. I have seen Delucci’s study. I find it odd that you refer to it as a cost-benefit analysis since Delucci says:

    “1.3.4 Benefits versus costs
    In this project, we estimate the dollar social cost but not the dollar social benefit of motor-vehicle use.”

    That’s exactly what I criticized your study for.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think both you and Delucci have done great jobs of calculating the true costs of automobiles (in fact, I believe that your study stops short of some of the environmental costs, and I commend you for that because they are very difficult to calculate – but if you had a reasonable methodology, I think you should give it a shot), and in the comment I posted a link to, I said so.

    The problem is that this is only half of the equation if we want to use the information to make policy decisions.

    My example about the fire department is valid – you are tallying costs that all roads including local roads and the services that maintain them, but you’re not tallying all of the benefits that local roads enable. You’re counting costs without counting benefits.

    That’s fine, you performed a cost analysis, but my point is still valid, and I find your example about your bike ride interesting because it undermines your point in the study.

    Local roads are paid for by everyone precisely because they benefit everyone, but your study doesn’t add that to the revenues that pay for the roads.

    But I agree with you that we should build more trains – in DC we have local opposition to two Metro expansions that is ridiculous. They need to expand our system, and to be honest, they need to consider a lot more expansion than they currently are. As a daily rider, I can tell you that this would make my life 1000 times easier.

  • Mark –

    I notice that instead of responding to a single point I make, you resort to ad hominem attacks. Doesn’t Streetsblog have a comment policy against allowing that? Oh, I guess it’s OK if you agree with them.

    That’s alright, I’ll respond to the substance of your argument.

    I have a better term than “denialist” – “scientist”. Science is not based on consensus. Consensus is the enemy of science because science seeks truth through repeatable, quantifiable observation.

    Facts are the only thing important in science, and it doesn’t matter if one billion people believe something – only one person has to prove the opposite for it to mean nothing – fact is fact.

    History is littered with scientific consensus overturned by one man, and instances where one man alone advanced scientific knowledge dramatically – see Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, or Hawking for starters.

    Manmade global warming isn’t fact until it has been proven. And it hasn’t been proven. The evidence I provided in my earlier post refutes that notion.

    Of course, the easiest refutation of manmade global warming is a simple question: if we can’t accurately predict the weather three days from now, how do you suppose we can predict the climate, something thousands of times more complex, 100 years from now?

    I have a term for people like you too, Mark – clowns.

  • John –

    I think your critique of the muffler shops is valid – but that a personal preference based in aesthetics. Those place do provide jobs and contribute to the tax base after all, and they provide needed goods and services.

    I agree that mass transit should be expanded, but I disagree that we’ve been dismantling it. Aaron’s first chart shows that investment in mass transit has been steadily increasing.

    Now you could argue that it hasn;t risen enough to keep pace with demand, and that may be valid – but we should also consider that mass transit cannot work everywhere. Where it can’t work, we should make prudent policy decisions about how we spend money, and if that means decommissioning a transit system that no one uses – so be it.

    Now, it’s idiotic to decommission a system everyone uses, in fact, that’s criminal.

    I think Charles and Delucci have done a pretty good job of cataloging the costs side of the equation, my whole point is that we need to calculate the benefits side just as thoroughly so we understand what we give up and what we gain. And we need to understand that in a way that is divorced from aesthetic preferences – remember other people have the opposite preference.

  • From the science blog I linked above:

    Denialism is the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.

    Examples of common topics in which denialists employ their tactics include: Creationism/Intelligent Design, Global Warming denialism, Holocaust denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, 9/11 conspiracies, Tobacco Carcinogenecity denialism (the first organized corporate campaign), anti-vaccination/mercury autism denialism and anti-animal testing/animal rights extremist denialism. Denialism spans the ideological spectrum, and is about tactics rather than politics or partisanship….

    5 general tactics are used by denialists to sow confusion. They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.

    Sound familiar, Lewis?

  • Davis

    5 general tactics are used by denialists to sow confusion. They are conspiracy, selectivity (cherry-picking), fake experts, impossible expectations (also known as moving goalposts), and general fallacies of logic.

    Spot on, Mark. Lewis’s blog appears to have been set up not to elucidate, inform or even to advocate. It was set up specifically to distract, discredit, and pollute a particular information environment by filling it with fake expertise, false assumptions and misinformation.

    My favorite recent example — I suppose this gets filed under “fake expertise” — was a bizarro commentary they did on Richard Florida’s weekly column in the Toronto Globe and Mail. They must have seen it excerpted here on Streetsblog last week and decided it required one of their authoritative, fact-based take-downs. Except they really didn’t know anything about Richard Florida or the subject matter that was being discussed and they combined the two as a quote from the “Florida Globe and Mail.”

    It reminds me of the kind of mistake a teenager makes when he is caught in a lie.

  • J. Henry

    A few things:

    I spent a few years working in the capital programs section of a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in Pennsylvania You can look at the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) of any MPO and see clearly that there is no regular programming for local road projects. The feds only pay for road & bridge construction and maintenance of roads in the state or federal system. State gas taxes pay for roads in the state and county systems. The majority of VMT can be clocked on these neighborhood streets and their arterials.

    Spending for bike & ped projects was a paltry part of the budget if there was any at all. Most of that money came through the “competitive” grant programs like CMAQ and TE. The MPO i worked for was hardly unique in that regard. Again, just look at your local TIP.

    Pointing out that most trips are taken in cars is like pointing out that people in Ohio favor Taco Bell over Del Taco. There’s only one Del Taco in the whole state. Likewise, there is only one rapid transit system in the whole state and it barely extends beyond the boundaries of one municipality.

    If you want to make reasonable comparisons look at the modal split in transit-rich places. 54% for transit in NYC. In a ped-rich environment like Center City Philadelphia 50% walk to work. 25% in the Philly as a whole use transit for their work trips. But focusing on JTW data paints an incredibly distorted picture when only 1/4 of all trips are work-based.

  • vnm

    I hope this post demolishes the argument that “transit is subsidized but cars aren’t.”

  • Anonymouse

    “Lewis”‘s blog is definitely not setup to elucidate, inform or advocate.

  • costs of the auto not counting roads.

    oil wars, climate disruption (flood, wildfires, drought, heat-deaths, refugees, drought wars, species-disruption, methane release), medical costs from direct injury and death, noise pollution, respiratory disease, drainage/aquifer problems, bureaucracy, parking issues, court costs of fighting sprawlers, insurance, disposal, traffic congestion…



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