Ideological Debate Simmers Over How to Determine Appropriate Transportation Funding Levels

» A new PIRG study notes the failure of user fees to fully fund the nation’s roads network. The report’s conclusions, though, do little to calm what is becoming an increasingly ideological debate over how to determine funding limits for transportation.

The federal government does not fully cover the cost of its transportation investments through the collection of user fees. The same can be said for many local and state governments. Each has come to increasingly rely not only on fuel taxes to build highways and streets, but also general revenues derived from income and sales taxes.

If this fact has been noted again and again on this site, the idea that America’s roads system has been constructed and maintained by its users remains a popular myth, especially according to those who would suggest limiting public transportation investment to the highway network. A new U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report by Tony Dutzik, Benjamin Davis, and Phineas Baxandall demonstrates conclusively that over the course of the past 60 years, total roads spending has exceeded by $600 billion the amount collected by user fees. Notably, the U.S. Congress has over the past two years transferred tens of billions of dollars of general funds to pay for highway and transit programs, despite the fact that they are “supposed” to be financed solely by fuel tax revenues.

Even without accounting for the large number of externalities associated with driving — including environmental degradation, sprawl, and accident-related insecurity — user fees now only pay for about half the total costs of building and maintaining roads.

Moreover, the assumption that fuel tax revenues are spent on transportation is fallacious. In 1990 and 1993, increases in the federal fuel tax went towards deficit reduction rather than roads expenditures.

In the larger debate over what kinds of transportation to fund, making these facts known is essential. Proponents of public transit, biking, and pedestrian infrastructure are frequently caught flailing defensively because their favored expenditures require subsidies that extend beyond user fees. But if one of the primary arguments made by proponents of highway investment — that they “pay for themselves” — is undercut, the reasons propping up public support for roads spending over transit no longer seem so reasonable. And it suggests that the currently stalled efforts to expand national financing for infrastructure could be set into motion if political leaders were to realize that using funding sources not based on user fees is also a legitimate option.

Whether expenditures on transportation should be directly informed by the revenues collected from transportation is an essential question that largely divides the transportation policy community. Should funding levels dictate investment, or should investment needs dictate funding levels?

Congressional Republicans, who will take control of the House of Representatives tomorrow, have proposed a rule change for transportation spending that would limit expenditures to revenues collected through fuel taxes. In effect, this would reduce government expenditures on highways and transit substantially, pulling $7 to $8 billion out of the typical annual pot of around $50 billion, despite “guarantees” made in previous years to fund transportation at the higher level. (The Senate remains in Democratic hands and thus is unlikely to approve a similar rule change.) Conservatives have argued that this is the fiscally sound approach, as it would ensure that federal spending is limited by fuel tax revenues, rather than expanded into the general fund as has been the rule recently.

As Steve Heminger, Chair of the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has written, “The simple fact is the transportation community can’t have it both ways. We can’t insist on continued protection from general fund diversion if we’re not willing to offer the general fund similar protection from continued bailouts for the beleagured [sic] transportation program.” In other words, if transportation advocacy groups want to maintain the devout connection between the fuel tax and transportation funding, they cannot in turn demand what are effectively bailouts from the general fund. Mr. Heminger wants a fuel tax increase to transportation funding woes, a solution that has little to no support from Republican leaders.

Yet this line of thought generally follows the same argument that is propelling the House GOP to promote a rule change, that spending on transportation should be limited to user fees. It’s just that Mr. Heminger is willing to ask motorists to contribute more than his Republican colleagues are.

But if, as the PIRG report illustrates, the connection between road construction and user fees collected is questionable at best, both in the present and throughout U.S. history, why must questions of transportation expenditure continue to be constrained by fuel tax returns? If financing from other revenue sources has always played a role in the debate, is it essential to continue perpetrating the myth that it is necessary to raise user fees, so as to increase spending on transportation?

Indeed, the progressive stance on this issue is frankly not to constrain expenditures on transportation to the revenue currently provided, but rather to identify actual national mobility needs and then work to identify the revenue sources — user fee or anything else — to finance them. This was something of the approach of Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN), who chaired the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure until today, but his efforts for a $450 billion transportation reauthorization bill, which would have represented a large and unfunded expansion of federal investment, went down in flames.

Nonetheless, there is reason to think that a well-measured and honest campaign in favor of spending on roads and transit could attract significant popular support, even if it required increasing someone’s taxes. If it has worked over and over at the local level in referendums over local sales tax increases, why couldn’t it work in Washington?

In some ways, this is a highly unrealistic approach to the problem of transportation finance since, after all, there is a large backlog on transportation maintenance and expansion needs and simultaneously significant political opposition to the idea of raising any taxes at all. To some, this situation would be best countered with a stimulus of sorts, using debt financing to update the nation’s infrastructure to workable condition. Yet agreement can apparently only be reached on reducing taxes, not on investing in the nation’s future.

121 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Steve Lax

    Ideally, there should be no dedicated funding for any purpose as some good government groups (such as the League of Women Voters) argue. It should be the responsibility of the legislative and executive branches at all levels to determine income and expenditures each year without “dedicated” funding for any purpose.

    The public at large does not seem to take kindly to this concept. Thus, gasoline taxes are “dedicated” to transportation and other tax sources are likewise “dedicated”. But, if governement has a “dedicated” pot of money for a given purpose, government tends to spend (and, indeed, is expected to spend) all of that money; even if the purpose to which the money is dedicated is not the hgihest priority in a given fiscal year.

  • Actually, not funds from general revenue but borrowed money likely from China.

  • Tom West

    The USA is unusual in that most funding is done through bills with multi-year spending commitments. Similarly, tax rates are set on a multi-year basis. Contrast that with Europe or Canada, where there is an Annual Budget.
    The US version has the advantage that departments can make long-term plans with funding certainity, but the disadvantage that expenditure may be totally different from income.

  • Peter Laws

    This is great news! I hope the our new Repuplican Overlords stick to their guns on this! Think of it – highway spending cut by $7-10B!

    Which of course means it won’t actually happen. I wonder what lies they will offer when push comes to shove and they want to “spend beyond their means”?

    Will Speaker Bo(eh?)ner cry?

    • The Chamber of Commerce is already moaning about this, and there are signs that House GOP leadership is gonna walk their budget pledges back.

      The interesting thing: How the Tea Party activists respond. Many TPers are at least somewhat serious about deficit reduction (even if they consider tax increases out of bounds, and suffer from a strong cultural anathema to anything resembling liberalism), and part of the raison d’etre of the Tea Parties is a realization that the DC establishment, including (especially?) the GOP parts thereof, has been busy screwing Middle America over.

      What part of me wishes would happen would be TPers, and quite a bit of the left, dropping the cultural-issues hatchet for a short while, and allying to help rearrange the economic order of the country in a fashion not quite as beneficial to plutocrats. What I expect will happen is that Rush et al will gently explain to TPers that what the Chamber of Commerce wants is good for ’em, and that everything bad that happens is all those evil nasty Democrats’ fault. That said, Obama seems to be gambling that significant parts of middle America will finally figure it out.

      • The TPers don’t support cutting funding to roads. Michelle Bachmann said that earmarks to roads and bridges were not earmarks. She and her followers are a lot more hysterical about the possibility of alternative transportation.

        • Bachmann is an establishment tool. She eagerly wrapped herself in teabags at first opportunity, and loves cultural warfare, but she–along with other longtime GOP pols-cum-teabaggers like Ron Johnson, will be a big test of the whole theory.

          Of course, speaking of the “tea party” movement is difficult; there are several different thursts to the movement, ranging from libertarians to Christian Identity politics. About the only things TPers have in common is a) a profound dislike for Obama, and b) the dawning realization that the GOP establishment has long been playing them for fools. Already we see some in the movement starting to realize that the GOP establishment STILL is playing them for fools–and we’re also now being treated to the GOP establishment starting to throw Sarah Palin under the bus, now that she’s outlived her usefulness (and poses a significant threat to GOP ambitions in 2012).

          And even Paul Ryan, long heralded as a “serious” Republican on budget matters, is now starting to peddle the party line that a) the deficit is all Obama’s fault, and b) it can be tackled by withdrawing stimulus and cutting discretionary spending.

          Things should get interesting.

          • iatee

            the dawning realization that the GOP establishment has long been playing them for fools.

            the TP movement is not a realization that the GOP establishment has been playing them for fools, it is the current incarnation of the GOP playing people for fools.

    • Buckeyeman

      No, Boehner will NOT cry because no matter what happens, the highway and aviation interests will get whatever they want, especially with this right-wing straightjacket that now controls Congress for at least the next two years. Both of these groups have have elected officals by the balss and Hell will freeze over before that ever changes.

  • Cameron Slick

    There’s is little point in trying to explain to suburban and rural conservatives, especially this latest batch in Congress, that Transportation has been receiving non-user fee funds for sixty years, because the facts don’t apply to their decision-making. Considering that we’ve been under-investing on our roads that were built during the Interstate Highway System (I-35W bridge), a cut of $7-10 billion annually will reap catastrophe.

  • Realist

    Good post. But, I do think that one advantage of funding levels dictating investment (instead of the other way around) is that the funding levels can be based on user preference. For example, clearly, many Americans do not share my proclivity for road alternatives.

    In the US, of course, this would only work if roads had be fully funded by gas taxes, there was some sort of minor penalty for pollution (increases health care costs, bad for the environment etc), and city laws were changed to not subsidize cars by promoting the creation of free parking areas (nothing is free, especially city land). If people still preferred roads to the alternatives after they had to pay the true cost, well then I guess I’m just out of luck and roads it is. The problem with the current scheme (investment more determining funding) is that the car / oil lobby got there first and they’ve stacked the game their way and we’ve overinvested in sprawl.

    • The problem with the current situation isn’t that funding levels dictate investment. The problem is that the funding is divided up based on mode, based on a formula coming from relative lobbying powers, instead of based on function. Under current rules, the alternative to building a subway is building an intercity rail line, where under rational rules it should be building a local freeway.

      • Even the dominant transportation interest group of America, auto/highway interests, haven’t lobbied good or smart enough for a Vehicle Miles Traveled/Axle Weight fee formula to cover highway maintenance costs. And instead if working with the USDOT, Amtrak and state DOTs in a “what’s best for the nation” manner, they yank political puppets to restrict Rapid Transit and High Speed Rail funding, even at the expense of good jobs in their districts.

        Its a sure sign of national decay, when the strongest transportation interest group practices this “crabs in the barrel” mentality rather than leadership towards complimentary modes of transportation where each mode does what its best at using sustainable energy sources. Meanwhile China, EU and Japan are free spectators in our Theatre of Incompetence.

    • orbit7er

      Actually a majority of Americans support more public transit over roads. See:

      http://t4america.org/resources/2010survey/

      We have been expanding and expanding roads for decades now and the actual speed at peak hours has been declining.
      The problem per usual is that there are enormous vested interests for continuing our auto addiction in the oil companies, auto companies, highway construction firms,
      and sprawl real estate.
      An excellent example is my own state of New Jersey, more densely populated than China with a train station within
      a few miles of over 50% of our population. Gov Christie
      has axed $300 Million from our public transit budget, basically the whole operations budget, killed the NYC tunnel planned for decades, increased off-peak fares by 60%. At the same time Christie is spending $7 Billion
      for expanding the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkways while not increasing auto fees by a penny.
      The Star Ledger just revealed a good reason why-
      some of the biggest contributors to his “Reform Jersey Now” campaign –
      Ferreira Construction which received $174 Million for NJ Turnpike gave $25K to Christie’s Reform Now
      George Harms Construction got $100 Million from NJ DOT, $30 Million from NJ Transit, $1 Million from NJ Turnpike also gave $25K

      No doubt if you do investigations in all 50 States you will find similar “contributions” to politicians …

  • Phoenix1

    This story is a window into the topsy turvy world of DC. Infrastructure is an enumerated power of Congress, and I would like to believe that transportation departments should have little trouble obtaining funds; especially as states might need a helping hand from the Federal government to alleviate budgetary concerns. Sadly, the funds are not forthcoming. Nearly 70% of our budget has no Constitutional foundation, yet it seems these programs are rarely reformed.

    It has to do with the theories of cost-allocation and benefit-allocation of government, and should DOT be forced to “live within its means”, I suspect the meat and potatoes of the transportation budget will be cut while the champagne budget is untouched. It is part of the weakness of representative democracy which enables battling factions to mercilessly spread the costs of corruption as wide as possible and focus the benefits of taxation as narrowly as possible. It makes reform nearly impossible unless the benefits of a program are widespread as well. Hello, DOT. Hello, DOD. Both have very widespread benefits. It’s no surprise that the Constitutionally enumerated programs have the most widely spread benefits, hence the word “Constitutional”.

    I’m not sure how to combat this problem as it pertains to our transportation budget, but I’m unconvinced that higher taxation and more services would be a gain for the middle class or America in general. The middle class is overtaxed/under-served and they expect more services without additional taxation or they demand the same services at a much lower price point. The only way I can see to generate tax revenues without hurting the middle class (particularly those on fixed income) is to drill and tax.

    Yep, that will go over like a lead balloon. One group of middle class constituents won’t drill. The other won’t except Federal gasoline excise.

    • John

      “Nearly 70% of our budget has no Constitutional foundation”

      That’s a statistic that demands a citation to back it up because it seems fairly ludicrous to me.

      • Phoenix1

        I should have been more precise.

        70% of Federal revenues are spent according to programs that have no Constitutional authority in the enumerated powers section for Congress. In 2009 total revenues were approx 2.7T and mandatory spending (none of which is found in the enumerated powers) accounted for 1.89T according to budgeting. That’s roughly 70%. In 2010, the budget allocated 88% of Federal revenues to mandatory spending.

        I function in the world of balanced budgets and steady economic growth which is perhaps a bit silly in this day and age, but I reckon mandatory spending would be somewhere between 65% and 70% if those conditions were met. Mandatory spending will be much higher as baby-boomers join the ranks of SS and Medicare.

        • The budget may not be balanced, but economic growth is steady. US GDP growth has followed a 2% per year trend since the late 19th century. There are better decades (1950s) and worse decades (2000s), but overall the trend is consistent. It has nothing to do with how much the government allocates to SS.

          The enumerated powers are a different issue. But I’ll point out that SS and Medicare aren’t the only thing the US government does without an explicit Constitutional basis. The Constitution doesn’t specify that the feds can build transportation, and yet they’ve done so since the 1790s – first turnpikes, then railroads, and now roads and airports. And since the end of WW2, the US has fought multiple wars without a Congressional declaration of war.

          • Phoenix1

            Never said growth corresponded with FICA spending, I was just pointing out that enumerated powers of Congress like infrastructure spending go unfunded while social entitlements have grown exponentially.

            I understand that the government has taken some liberties with the constitutionality of infrastructure, but most of it has been justifiable under post roads or common defense. This is a pro-infrastructure website, right? If you’re pro infrastructure, you are surely skeptical of the other non-enumerated programs that consume the general fund?

            • Most US infrastructure spending has nothing to do with common defense. The Interstate system was sold as a defense program, but that was a complete lie. It was sold as a way for easy movement of troops and tanks, although troops could use railways and existing highways and tanks demolish highways; and as a way to evacuate cities in the case of a nuclear attack, although the capacity provided was a fraction of what was needed.

              If you’re willing to stretch common defense that far, you should be willing to stretch the commerce clause and other bits of the Constitution used to support welfare and labor regulations. I for one think that a country where seniors don’t need to wait tables to survive has better general welfare than a country where they do.

  • Shem

    I tend to side with the republicans on the issue of user fees paying for transportation, particularly with roads which have so many negative cost externalities. I’d like to see many of those externalities being incorporated into the driving user fees as well. However, I really don’t think fuel taxes are a very efficient user fee system since they have no way of accounting for the actual marginal costs of providing roadway infrastructure for any single vehicle or driver. Different cars have a wide range of fuel economies and the user fee is the same whether drivers use congested roads during peak hours or empty roads during non-peak hours.

    I’d much rather see per-mileage user fees that can be adjusted by location and time of day as has been suggested and even tested in Oregon. The surplus funds raised by the incorporated negative externalities could then be used to subsidize alternative modes of transportation, TOD and climate change mitigation/adaptation measures.

    Of course the political feasibility implementing such a user fee system is very low currently, making it highly unlikely to arrive in the near future.

    • “I’d like to see many of those externalities being incorporated into the driving user fees as well”

      If the externalities were included, you’d have to factor in health costs for lung diseases caused/worsened by auto fumes, societal costs of road accidents, roadway oil run-offs to our waterways and more.

  • Americans hate spending money, though we sure spend a lot of it. Money is the most broadly-appealing motivator out there, so we need to build financial arguments for transportation projects that appeal to the greed of everyone involved. Of course, a balance needs to be struck between greed and other needs, but the simplest way to extract cash from people’s wallets is to give them a way to profit, and profit quickly. To fund things, we need to ensure the amount of cash per square mile is going up fast enough to pay for needed improvements. Cash can go up either by adding population or by improving living conditions — I think it’s probably easier to add population. Done correctly, you can do both, of course.

    Most cities and regions should implement strict growth boundaries so that more and more value can be extracted from existing infrastructure, and so those regions can pay for things themselves (no matter whether the funds come directly from local sources or if they bounce through D.C. first). Zoning and permitting regulations need to be streamlined so that most property owners in town can easily remodel or rebuild to attract more residents, or at least attract residents who have more cash.

    As cities expand, building out on the edges does less and less to improve financial equations. As a city gets down to its last parcels of open land, they’ll tend to be in the worst locations, yet a city in dire financial straits needs the benefit from each remaining transaction to skyrocket in order to cover budget gaps. Core financial needs should be fulfilled by the centers of our cities rather than the edges.

    When it comes to things like intercity rail, it might be necessary to find a regional funding model to support it. I’d probably support the idea of a funding corridor — every city within 10 miles of a station or major facility on the line would have a 0.5% sales tax, falling off to a 0.1% tax for counties which host the line but don’t have any stations, for instance. The only problem I have with it is that a sales tax is inherently regressive (though you could do something like what we have in Minnesota, where clothing and unprepared food are tax-exempt).

  • Gordy

    Notably, the U.S. Congress has over the past two years transferred tens of billions of dollars of general funds to pay for highway and transit programs, despite the fact that they are “supposed” to be financed solely by fuel tax revenues.

    Between 2000 and 2008, $181 billion of highway-user revenues was diverted to mass transit and other non-highway purposes instead of being spent on highways. This is money paid by highway users for using highways. But instead of being spent on highways, it was spent on other things instead. So the transfer you mention above is merely a partial repayment of funds that were collected from highway users and then diverted to other purposes than providing highways.

  • Gordy

    A new U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report by Tony Dutzik, Benjamin Davis, and Phineas Baxandall demonstrates conclusively that over the course of the past 60 years, total roads spending has exceeded by $600 billion the amount collected by user fees.

    No it doesn’t. The report doesn’t “demonstrate” that even weakly, let alone “conclusively.” It merely asserts it. The report provides no data or calculations to support this assertion.

    Not that this is surprising. PIRG is not an academic or government organization. It is a political lobbying organization. Its “reports” are not serious scholarly studies. They are propaganda designed to promote a predetermined political position.

    • They are propaganda designed to promote a predetermined political position.

      Sounds like a perfect description of your comments, Gordy / Mixner / garyg.

    • Gordy,
      Look at the larger picture of where America is headed in economic competition with other nations moving people and goods. Superior transportation is an essential element for the well-being of all leading nations. Yet at our current pace of transportation investment, America is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Do you want America to slip into 2nd class transportation status along with 2nd class economic status by 2025-30?

      If not, then you have to conclude the some incarnation of Rep Oberstar’s proposed investment for more balanced, well-maintained and sustainable 21st century Transportation modes must be funded coincident with Defense spending reductions.

      • Gordy

        I am not against “transportation investment.” I am against grossly inefficient forms of transportation investment, like light rail and HSR.

        • What you’re against is transportation investment that does not facilitate the consumption of oil. Knock off the pretense of it being otherwise.

          • Gordy

            Yeah, that must be why I support investment in electric cars. Knock of the pretense that you’re anything but a mindless cheerleader for transit.

            • For someone who thinks the dominance of cars is inevitable, you spend a lot of time knocking transit. If you really supported electric cars, you’d be supporting them over gas-powered cars. Michael Moore begged GM to develop an electric car back in the 1990s. The libertarian institutions only discovered the electric car once transit became a political threat.

        • Gordy,
          If you calling Rapid Transit and HSR for financial reasons you are missing at least three points:

          1. If cities only had 2-5 lines of Highways like we have for Rapid Transit, we we would not have the same degree of road traffic or cost/passenger efficiency. Its the network of Freeways,Highways, Blvds and avenues feeding this network that have made it financially efficient.
          2. You are not including externality costs in your summation about the efficiency of highways.
          3. If cities and states did not build airports, aviation would not financially efficient. HSR is no different in that respect.

          Lastly, I too support Electric Cars, but in concert with well-planned Rapid Transit and HSR networks to actually reduce traffic congestion and prevent expansion of more expensive, land-taking, sprawl-inducing freeways & tollways.

          • Gordy

            I don’t know what “2-5 lines of highways” is supposed to mean. I haven’t argued for “2-5 lines of highways.”

            I don’t know what you mean by “efficiency of highways,” either. The subsidy estimates I have cited from Delucchi do include externality costs.

            And I haven’t argued against the building of airports. Air travel is subsidized, but to a vastly smaller degree than mass transit or rail.

    • orbit7er

      There are a number of studies of the issue of
      the true costs of Roads which is enormous.
      But here is another study demonstrating that roads
      have not been paid for out of gas taxes:

      http://subsidyscope.org/transportation/highways/funding/

      Not that it will probably matter to Gordy …
      Here are some of the true costs of our auto addiction:
      1)30,000 annual highway deaths, hundreds of thousands of
      injuries. Mortalities for transit – virtually nil
      2)traffic courts
      3)traffic cops
      4)10x the land area consumed by roads
      5)Acres and acres of parking
      6)Obesity
      7)Greenhouse warming – 38% of greenhouse emissions are from transit in the US, primarily from cars and trucks
      8)Over half of balance of payments goes to oil, again
      70% of that goes to transportation, primarily cars and trucks

      and the list goes on….
      And it will not be sustainable as we run out of oil..
      See:

      http://www.thenation.com/article/157434/peak-oil-and-changing-climate

      about Peak Oil and Climate Change….

  • Gordy

    But if one of the primary arguments made by proponents of highway investment — that they “pay for themselves” — is undercut, the reasons propping up public support for roads spending over transit no longer seem so reasonable.

    The problem here is that you are completely ignoring the enormous difference in the magnitude of the subsidies provided to automobile users and transit users. Road costs are only a small component of the total costs of driving, and the government only pays a fraction of road costs. The costs of purchasing cars, fuel, maintenance, insurance, repairs, etc. are entirely paid by drivers themselves. In contrast, government subsidies pay for around 70% of the TOTAL costs of transit — buses, trains, railtrack, stations, fuel, power, drivers, mechanics, etc. Transit users receive vastly higher subsidies than do auto users, measured both in absolute terms (cents per passenger-mile) and as a share of total costs. The mere fact that drivers receive a small subsidy does not mean that complaints about the enormous subsidies provided to transit users are unreasonable.

    • Tommy Samson

      No, you’re wrong. Auto transit is vastly subsidized. Please provide figures to support your conclusions, preferably from an organization not completely in the tank for for the highway lobby.

  • Gordy

    No, you’re wrong. Auto transit is vastly subsidized. Please provide figures to support your conclusions.

    I am not wrong. See, for example, this analysis comparing subsidies to automobile users and mass transit users:

    http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/publications/2000/UCD-ITS-RP-00-08.pdf

    • Adirondacker12800

      I didn’t read the whole example. I did read the sidebar titled “An Example of MSC pricing” No where was the cost of building, maintaining and policing the road come into it. Most “studies” that examine the cost of roads only calculate costs of Federal highways. Most people do not drive on Federal Highways. Federal highways are not fully funded with gasoline taxes. There are many many many roadways that are funded with taxes other than ones directly levied on automobile users. Most local roads are funded from property taxes.

      Here’s my example of MSC pricing. I could take the bus. But I have a jet pack that runs on pixie dust and can be replaced at the dollar store for a buck. The only people who take the bus are the ones allergic to unburnt pixie dust….

  • Gordy

    No where was the cost of building, maintaining and policing the road come into it.

    That would be “marginal highway and service costs.” We’ve been over the issue of road subsidies again and again. Even under the broadest measures, road subsidies per passenger-mile are simply trivial in comparison to the subsidies provided to transit.

    • Adirondacker12800

      And anytime anyone asks you to provide links to the documentation you don’t. You send us off to half baked essays. I see the annual budget for my county. The explicit line items in it for roads comes almost exclusively from property taxes. They don’t break out how much of the courts or the sheriff’s department is for traffic enforcement. Works the same way in town.

      • Just for reference, Adirondacker, what’s the property tax level in your county? 2%?

        • Adirondacker12800

          Laughably low compared to downstate. The county is very good at sucking money out of Albany and Washington. The rate, whatever it is, is on assessed valuation which rarely relates to market valuation unless they have just done a reassessment. A few towns over, in Wilton, they don’t have any property taxes at all. They just suck sales taxes out of Saratoga Springs with big box stores. Neither source is directly related to automobiles, except for the river of sales taxes flowing out of the auto mall just outside of Saratoga Springs…

      • Gordy

        You’re still quibbling over trivial amounts. Subsidies for local roads amount to less than a penny per passenger-mile. This is a tiny fraction of the subsidies provided to transit.

        • Adirondacker12800

          so you per mile subsidy just doubled. how much is the state subsidy you haven’t talked about?

          • Gordy

            so you per mile subsidy just doubled.

            No, it didn’t just double. But it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a fraction of a cent, a cent, a few cents, or even 10 cents. In all those cases, it is much, much lower than the subsidy provided to mass transit users. I don’t know why you still can’t grasp this basic point. Why should transit users be provided a vastly higher subsidy than auto users?

            • Adirondacker12800

              It does matter. You pull “a penny a mile” out of thin air then point at transit which have easy to read budgets. You are picking and choosing what to look at and how to look at it. I choose to use the jetpack that runs on pixie dust to make all my trips.

              • Gordy

                I didn’t “pull it out of thin air.” It has been repeatedly affirmed by academic and government studies of road subsidies. Even the PIRG report cited by Yonah states that local government spending on roads funded by property taxes and general taxes is only about $30 billion a year, which is about 0.6 cents per passenger-mile. Why do you keep quibbling over these tiny sums and ignoring the vastly higher subsidies to mass transit?

              • One of the things that makes you so dishonest is that you say one thing on one blog under one name, get rebutted, and then say the same thing again on another blog under another name. So I’ll just have to explain again: the ultimate source of the PIRG data, the FHWA, states local property tax spending on roads as $8 billion, nationwide. This can’t possibly be all; it’s almost certainly just local spending on gas tax-eligible roads, i.e. not most.

              • Gordy

                I didn’t refer to the FHWA at all. I referred to the estimate from PIRG, which is about 0.6 cents per passenger-mile. Academic and government researchers have repeatedly concluded that total road subsidies are on the order of 1 cent per passenger-mile. Again, these sums are trivial in comparison to the vastly higher subsidies provided to transit users.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Alon, the NYC budget is online. If I’m reading it right half a billion a year in NYC alone. That’s just for construction. Doesn’t include snow removal or traffic cops or court costs or ….

              • Adirondacker12800

                I didn’t wade through NYS documents. Press release from the Construction Industry Council/Building Contractors Association pegs the NYS road building/reconstruction budget at 3.5 billion a year. …so 8 billion a year from local sources has to be what local sources contribute to Federal Highway projects.

    • You seem to have a singular focus on subsidy per passenger-mile. How about the subsidy per trip for the various modes?

      • Gordy

        Why is subsidy per trip meaningful? The benefits of transportation increase with the distance of travel. If they didn’t, people wouldn’t be willing to pay the higher costs of longer trips. Therefore, transportation cost-benefit analysis must account for both number of persons and distance of travel. That is why the standard unit for analyzing transportation costs and benefits is the passenger-mile (or passenger-km).

        • Sure, the benefit of living 40 miles from work rather than 5 miles is that you get cheaper housing, and the taxpayer subsidy picks up those extra 70 miles a day of road use. That doesn’t make the trip 8 times more valuable.

          So I ask again: What about the subsidy per trip?

          • Gordy

            That doesn’t make the trip 8 times more valuable.

            If someone is willing to pay 8 times more for one trip than another, then the former trip is indeed 8 times more valuable to him than the latter one. You don’t get to decide what’s valuable to other people. You only get to decide that for yourself.

            • That’s some logic you’ve got there. Since someone is willing to do what it takes to use more of a subsidized resource, then they deserve to receive more subsidy? Because he who uses the most taxpayer subsidy is … doing the most good? Please explain.

              • Gordy

                Since someone is willing to do what it takes to use more of a subsidized resource, then they deserve to receive more subsidy?

                Yes, of course. If you don’t believe this, why do you support transit subsidies? The more a person uses transit, the more he receives in subsidies.

        • People vote; passenger-miles don’t. People who live in central cities don’t deserve any less subsidy than people who live in exurbs and commute multiple tens of miles each way.

        • Gordy

          Sure, the benefit of living 40 miles from work rather than 5 miles is that you get cheaper housing, and the taxpayer subsidy picks up those extra 70 miles a day of road use.

          No, the taxpayer does not pick up the extra 70 miles a day of road use. If the trip is by automobile, the taxpayer picks up a small fraction of the total costs of the additional travel. Applying Delucchi’s estimates, at 4.3 cents per passenger-mile in total subsidies to auto users, the taxpayer picks up an additional $3. If the trip is by mass transit, the taxpayer picks up most of the total costs of the additional travel. For buses, the additional cost to taxpayers is about $28, and for light rail, the additional cost to taxpayers is between about $19 and $76. Why should transit users be provided these vastly higher subsidies than automobile users?

          So I ask again: What about the subsidy per trip?

          I don’t know why you’re asking again. I already explained why subsidy per trip is not meaningful. It doesn’t take account of the higher costs and benefits of longer trips.

          • I’m not asking whether you like the idea of measuring subsidy per trip, I’m asking how the modes compare on that measure.

            You’re telling me that it’s worth it for taxpayers to subsidize someone’s commute an extra $750 a year (based on your estimates) so that they can get cheaper suburban housing?

            • Gordy

              I’m not asking whether you like the idea of measuring subsidy per trip, I’m asking how the modes compare on that measure.

              I don’t know how the modes compare on that measure. You still haven’t explained why you think subsidy-per-trip is meaningful.

              You’re telling me that it’s worth it for taxpayers to subsidize someone’s commute an extra $750 a year (based on your estimates) so that they can get cheaper suburban housing?

              No, I’m telling you that in the example you described, the additional subsidy to a driver would be only about $3, but the additional subsidy to a transit user would be between $19 and $76. Why should transit users receive this vastly higher subsidy?

              • How many transit users are there commuting for so long a distance they receive $76 in subsidy?

              • Gordy

                How many transit users are there commuting for so long a distance they receive $76 in subsidy?

                I don’t know. And your point is….?

              • The average transit user doesn’t receive more subsidy than the average driver. He only receives more subsidy per mile traveled.

              • Gordy

                How do you know? And why should transit users receive more subsidy than drivers per mile traveled?

              • Because miles do not vote.

              • Gordy

                Huh? How does the fact that “miles do not vote” demonstrate that “the average transit user doesn’t receive more subsidy than the average driver?” You obviously don’t know whether that assertion is true or false. You’re just guessing.

          • Why should transit users be provided these vastly higher subsidies than automobile users?

            They’re not. If you’re going to say “higher”, at least have the decency to append your beloved “per passenger-mile”. Because in absolute terms cars are subsidized far more, and the same is likely the case when measuring per trip.

          • Adirondacker12800

            A car commute from the exurbs gets a subsidy of 3 bucks. NYC subway ride is available for $2.25. So we could make the NYC subway free and spend less per trip than the ride in from the exurbs.

            • Gordy

              A car commute from the exurbs gets a subsidy of 3 bucks. NYC subway ride is available for $2.25. So we could make the NYC subway free and spend less per trip than the ride in from the exurbs.

              Huh? Delucchi’s estimate of the subsidy for heavy rail transit is between 17 and 53 cents per passenger-mile. So if the commuter in Michael D’s example used a subway instead of driving, the additional cost to taxpayers would be between $12 and $37, instead of just $3.

  • orbit7er

    We are not going to have a choice but to support public transit, waling and biking as we run out of oil.
    Gas is back above $3 per gallon, eventually it will be
    above the tipping point of $5 per gallon again as it was
    before the Great Recession shortly after oil prices hit
    $147 per barrel in July, 2008.
    The following series promises to be quite informative:

    from some of the worlds experts on Peak Oil and Climate
    Change…

    http://www.thenation.com/article/157434/peak-oil-and-changing-climate

  • Gordy

    People vote; passenger-miles don’t. People who live in central cities don’t deserve any less subsidy than people who live in exurbs and commute multiple tens of miles each way.

    People who live in central cities aren’t getting any less subsidy.

    • People who live in central cities aren’t getting any less subsidy.

      So, for instance, someone who walks for 95% of their trips and drives for the other 5% is using the same amount of subsidy as someone who drives for 100% of their trips? Right.

  • Gordy

    So, for instance, someone who walks for 95% of their trips and drives for the other 5% is using the same amount of subsidy as someone who drives for 100% of their trips?

    No, I didn’t say anything about walking. The amount of subsidy a person receives is determined by their use of transportation, not by where they live.

    • A transit city is a denser city than a car city, so people in it take shorter trips. Good transit is not fast enough to allow a city to expand too far out, and highways consume too much space for the capacity they provide to allow a city to densify. By deciding maximizing passenger-miles is a social goal you’ve already staked out a position for the superiority of intercity to intra-city transportation, cars to transit, and motorized transportation to walking.

    • Adirondacker12800

      How much transportation they use directly relates to where they live.

    • “No, I didn’t say anything about walking. The amount of subsidy a person receives is determined by their use of transportation, not by where they live.”

      Sure. And where a person lives has everything to do with how they get around.

      So I’ll rephrase: why does someone who lives in a center city and walks for 95% of their trips and drives for the rest deserve less subsidy than someone who lives in an exurb and drives for 100% of their trips?

      • Gordy

        So I’ll rephrase: why does someone who lives in a center city and walks for 95% of their trips and drives for the rest deserve less subsidy than someone who lives in an exurb and drives for 100% of their trips?

        Because they’re getting less of the subsidized benefit. It’s the same reason why you think someone who walks for 95% of their trips and uses transit for the rest deserves less subsidy than someone who uses transit for 100% of their trips. If you don’t really believe this, why do you support any policy that provides more subsidy for more use of transit?

        • I only support transit subsidies in the presence of massive roads subsidies.

          • Gordy

            I only support transit subsidies in the presence of massive roads subsidies.

            This statement is not responsive to the question I asked. If you don’t believe that transit subsidy should increase with transit use, why do you support any policy that provides that, such as a subsidy-per-transit-trip policy? Conversely, if you do believe it, why don’t you also believe that auto subsidy should increase with auto use? Again, it’s hard to extract any coherent position on transportation subsidies from your numerous conflicting statements on the issue.

            • Again, it’s hard to extract any coherent position on transportation subsidies from your numerous conflicting statements on the issue.

              Perhaps you might find it strange, but I don’t have a motivating ideology or business interest. In real life there are conflicting priorities.

              All you do is nitpick, misinterpret, criticize, cite a handful of numbers, and repeat talking points about transit subsidies.

              I’d love to see you lay out for us the transportation policy you would like to see adopted and why. So we can see the bigger picture of Gordy or Mixner or garyg or DillonS or Wendell Cox or whoever you are instead of the endless “Mixner hates transit subsidies”. We know that already.

              • Gordy

                I’d love to see you lay out for us the transportation policy you would like to see adopted and why.

                I would like to see a large reduction in total subsidies to mass transit, because there is no rational basis for the enormous level of subsidy that it currently receives. I especially oppose subsidies to rail transit, which are mostly a huge waste of money.

                Your own position seems to be a complete mess. One minute you’re articulating a principle about who should pay what, and the next you’re defending a policy that flies in the face of that principle. I think you need to figure out why you believe transportation should be subsidized in the first place, then figure out your rules and principles for allocating subsidies, then apply those rules consistently regardless of mode. Then you might be able to come up with a coherent, consistent position. Given your preferences, I doubt the position you come up with will be very popular, but at least it might be more internally consistent.

              • Adirondacker12800

                I don’t think it’s so much that Mixner hates transit subsidies as it is Mixner hates people. Transit implies rubbing shoulders with other people now and then.

              • I would like to see a large reduction in total subsidies to mass transit, because there is no rational basis for the enormous level of subsidy that it currently receives. I especially oppose subsidies to rail transit, which are mostly a huge waste of money.

                What, that’s it? The only transportation policy you support is “less transit subsidy”? I asked for the big picture, and transit is not the only transportation mode.

              • Adirondacker12800

                I especially oppose subsidies to rail transit, which are mostly a huge waste of money.

                The vast majority of rail transit subsidies go to metro New York. Mostly because the vast majority of rail riders are in metro New York. In other words that’s where all the passenger miles are. Shut down the subway and the commuter trains into Manhattan and you have to turn Manhattan into one big bus parking lot. That makes Manhattan a much less attractive destination. Not to mention the wide swaths of highway you would have to carve through the outer boroughs and the suburbs to achieve that level of bus traffic. Try to do it with private automobiles and Manhattan ceases to exist except as a highway interchange. There would be serious problems in other cities if you shut down the rail transit. Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago would probably be the worst.

              • Gordy

                The only transportation policy you support is “less transit subsidy”?

                No, not at all. But that is the major policy change I favor regarding transportation subsidies.

                I’m still waiting for you to articulate any semblance of a coherent policy on the subject.

              • I’m still waiting for you to articulate any semblance of a coherent policy on the subject.

                You first. “Status quo but with less transit subsidy” is not a coherent policy. Given your preferences, I doubt the position you come up with will be very popular, but at least we might get to see more than hints of it.

              • Gordy

                The vast majority of rail transit subsidies go to metro New York. Mostly because the vast majority of rail riders are in metro New York. In other words that’s where all the passenger miles are. Shut down the subway and the commuter trains into Manhattan and you have to turn Manhattan into one big bus parking lot.

                I don’t advocate “shutting down” subway and commuter trains into Manhattan. I do favor a gradual reduction in subsidies to them. Social and economic activity would change in response and Manhattan would reach a new equilibrium, probably one in which many fewer people live and work there.

              • Gordy

                You first. “Status quo but with less transit subsidy” is not a coherent policy.

                Huh? What’s “incoherent” about it.

                Given your preferences, I doubt the position you come up with will be very popular,

                My preferences seem to be very popular, given the overwhelming dominance of automobiles in the transportation market. Even with its enormous subsidy advantage, transit’s share of the market is tiny, and its long-term prospects are even worse.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Social and economic activity would change in response and Manhattan would reach a new equilibrium, probably one in which many fewer people live and work there.

                Manhattan would probably continue it’s current trend of increasing population and jobs. Especially if the vastly higher subsidies to automobiles were cut.

              • Gordy

                Cutting subsidies to rail transit in Manhattan would make it more expensive to live and work there. Making something more expensive tends to reduce demand for it.

                Automobile subsidies are just a small fraction of rail transit subsidies, both as a share of total costs and in cents per passenger-mile.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Automobile subsidies are just a small fraction of rail transit subsidies, both as a share of total costs and in cents per passenger-mile.

                Talk about pulling numbers out of thin air. The Federal Transit Agency’s budget for 2009 was 9 billion dollars, That’s a rounding error in the highway budget.

              • My preferences seem to be very popular, given the overwhelming dominance of automobiles in the transportation market. Even with its enormous subsidy advantage, transit’s share of the market is tiny, and its long-term prospects are even worse.

                Hah.

                You’ve still avoided answering my question. What is the transportation policy that you want in place, from the ground up? Without referring to existing policy (which is a convenient way of dodging the question), describe who or what should pay for what kind of transportation infrastructure/operations and why.

              • Gordy

                I don’t want to remake “transportation policy from the ground up.” I don’t want major changes to the funding structure of the private transportation sector. As I’ve already told you, I want large cuts in public subsidies to mass transit, particularly rail, because the current enormous subsidies are irrational.

              • I don’t want major changes to the funding structure of the private transportation sector.

                I was hoping you would actually describe that status quo (for everything except transit, especially rail) that you so like.

                I’ll have to assume that you support all existing roads subsidies, which constitute the largest transportation subsidy in the U.S., both in absolute terms and per trip.

                Let’s take a particular example. There’s a trivial amount of transit subsidy for the 800,000 people in South Dakota, but quite the roads subsidies to support their 80,000+ miles of roads and 600+ miles of interstate highways. So you support all the taxpayer subsidies that go into maintaining and expanding the system of free roads and highways in South Dakota?

              • Gordy

                There you go again, making up facts out of thin air. Show us how you know that road subsidies are the largest transportation subsidy in the U.S. per trip.

              • Glass house. Stones.

  • Gordy

    By deciding maximizing passenger-miles is a social goal

    I haven’t decided “maximizing passenger-miles is a social goal.” I haven’t decided that maximizing passenger-miles is a goal of any kind. I merely note that transportation is a benefit, and that the benefit increases with the distance of travel. People choose to pay the higher costs of traveling further because they get some benefit in return — a cheaper house, a quieter neighborhood, a higher-paying job, a store with a larger selection of products, a better restaurant, a more exotic vacation, or whatever else it may be.

    • Adirondacker12800

      I merely note that transportation is a benefit, and that the benefit increases with the distance of travel.

      Which is why rents are so low in Manhattan, The commute is too short.

      In other news density causes social problems which is why the Upper East Side or the Miracle Mile is filled with slums.

    • I haven’t decided ‘maximizing passenger-miles is a social goal.’

      Except that you’re vehemently opposed to the very notion of costing out trips. So whether or not you consider it a goal, you clearly prefer encouraging longer trips to encouraging more trips. Why?

      (Sounds to me like maximizing passenger-miles isn’t a social goal but a business goal.)

      • Gordy

        Except that you’re vehemently opposed to the very notion of costing out trips.

        No, I’m not at all opposed to the notion of “costing out” trips, if that is supposed to mean estimating their costs.

        So whether or not you consider it a goal, you clearly prefer encouraging longer trips to encouraging more trips.

        You’ll have to explain this bizarre claim also. At present, the subsidy provided to both auto trips and mass transit trips increases with the trip distance. Are we to understand that you oppose this, and believe that all trips should receive an equal subsidy regardless of distance? If so, why? If not, I have no idea what you’re trying to say about subsidies and trip distances.

        • If not, I have no idea what you’re trying to say about subsidies and trip distances.

          You claim that transportation modes should be judged based on subsidy per passenger-mile instead of subsidy per trip. Let’s suppose mode A has a lower subsidy per passenger-mile than mode B, but mode B has a lower subsidy per trip than mode A. The only way for that to be true is if trips on mode A are longer. Going with the passenger-miles metric necessarily means prioritizing the length of trips instead of their number.

          If a metric of subsidy per trip didn’t show driving in a different light than subsidy per passenger-mile, I doubt you would be so defensive about the distinction.

        • Adirondacker12800

          At present, the subsidy provided to both auto trips and mass transit trips increases with the trip distance.

          Except for the mass transit lines that make money. Then longer trips result in increased profits.

  • Gordy

    As I just told you, our current subsidy mechanism provides a greater subsidy to longer trips. A 10-mile bus trip gets a larger subsidy than a 5-mile bus trip. Unless you favor replacing this with a system in which all trips are subsidized an equal amount regardless of their distance, you yourself are “prioritizing the length of trips instead of their number.” So why are you complaining about this? Or do you in fact want to scrap the current subsidy system and replace it with a system in which every trip is subsidized the same amount regardless of length? If you do want to do this, why?

    • You’re willfully misreading my comments.

      • Gordy

        No I’m not. I’m trying to extract a coherent position on transportation subsidies from the numerous conflicting statements on the subject. You complain about “prioritizing the length of trips instead of their number,” but that is exactly what current transit subsidies do. A 30-mile bus trip gets a much bigger subsidy than a 1-mile bus trip. So do you want to replace our current subsidy mechanism with a fixed subsidy per trip, regardless of length? Or what? What is your point?

        • Adirondacker12800

          A 30-mile bus trip gets a much bigger subsidy than a 1-mile bus trip.

          that depends on the fare structure and the utilization of the line. Some bus lines make money.

        • I’m not talking about subsidies being length-dependent or not. It’s about the choice of passenger-miles as a metric for comparing different modes. The only way a mode comes out looking better than another based on subsidy per passenger-miles rather than subsidy per trip is if its trips are longer on average.

          Other things being equal, I don’t think that trips which are longer on average should be preferred.

        • Actually, surprisingly many advocates of social equity want to allocate transit subsidies equally per passenger. It’s usually the flaks who stick to passenger-miles to argue for subsidizing each urban bus or rail trip $1.50 and each commuter rail trip $5.

          • Gordy

            Actually, surprisingly many advocates of social equity want to allocate transit subsidies equally per passenger.

            Do they? And what’s their argument for that policy? In fact, I’m not sure what “equally per passenger” is even supposed to mean.

  • Gordy

    I’m not talking about subsidies being length-dependent or not. It’s about the choice of passenger-miles as a metric for comparing different modes.

    Your complaint was that passenger-miles is an inappropiate metric because it “prioritizes the length of trips instead of their number.” But transit user subsidies and auto user subsidies also “prioritizes the length of trips instead of their number.” A single very long trip will receive much more in subsidies than two very short ones. So why is passenger-miles an inappropiate metric for measuring transit and auto subsidies? Why would subsidy per trip be more appropriate, or meaningful at all?

    Other things being equal, I don’t think that trips which are longer on average should be preferred.

    Then I ask yet again, why don’t you favor a fixed subsidy per trip, regardless of the length of the trip, instead of a variable subsidy that increases with trip distance?

  • Then I ask yet again, why don’t you favor a fixed subsidy per trip, regardless of the length of the trip, instead of a variable subsidy that increases with trip distance?

    I have to say that it seems like a reasonable proposition, if difficult to put into practice.

  • Gordy

    I have to say that it seems like a reasonable proposition, if difficult to put into practice.

    Why do you think it’s a reasonable proposition? Why should subsidies to transit users increase with the number of trips they make, but not with the distance of their trips?

    • A trip is a single unit of usefulness, and facilitating individual trips is economically beneficial. The longer the trip, the more will have to come out of pocket. So a per-trip focus avoids contributing to unnecessary sprawl and inefficient use of transportation resources while still encouraging economic interaction.

  • Gordy

    A trip is a single unit of usefulness, and facilitating individual trips is economically beneficial.

    No, a trip is not a “single unit of usefulness.” The fact that people are willing to pay more for longer trips means that longer trips provide more benefit (or “usefulness”).

    The longer the trip, the more will have to come out of pocket.

    The more trips, the more will have to come out of pocket. If higher out-of-pocket costs is a reason to oppose longer trips, it is also a reason to oppose more trips. So why aren’t you proposing a fixed subsidy per person, instead of a fixed subsidy per trip?

    So a per-trip focus avoids contributing to unnecessary sprawl and inefficient use of transportation resources while still encouraging economic interaction.

    I have no idea what “unnecessary sprawl” and “inefficient use of transportation resources” are supposed to mean. How are you determining whether sprawl is “necessary?” Why should sprawl be limited to whatever amount you think is “necessary” rather than to whatever amount people choose to create? How are you measuring the “efficiency of use of transportation resources?”

    • The fact that people are willing to pay more for longer trips means that longer trips provide more benefit (or “usefulness”).

      I am willing to pay more for shorter trips, since my time is valuable.

      If higher out-of-pocket costs is a reason to oppose longer trips, it is also a reason to oppose more trips.

      What? I didn’t say higher out-of-pocket costs was a bad thing.

      Why should sprawl be limited to whatever amount you think is “necessary” rather than to whatever amount people choose to create?

      I would ask the same of you. I don’t think transportation subsidies should make sprawl the default. If sprawl is allowed and desired anyway, that is another story. If people really want to create sprawl, they will do so and pay its true costs instead of having all taxpayers unwittingly paying it for them.

  • Gordy

    I am willing to pay more for shorter trips, since my time is valuable.

    Shorter trips don’t cost more. They cost less. The fact that people are willing to pay more for longer trips means longer trips provide more benefit. Your claim that all trips provide equal benefit (“usefulness”) regardless of their length is contradicted by fundamental economic principles of the relationship between costs, benefits and demand.

    I didn’t say higher out-of-pocket costs was a bad thing.

    You said “The longer the trip, the more will have to come out of pocket.” If you don’t think higher out-of-pocket costs is a bad thing, what was the point of this remark?

    I would ask the same of you.

    Since I haven’t asserted that sprawl should be limited to whatever amount is “necessary,” I don’t know why you’re asking me to justify that assertion. It’s your assertion, not mine. So what is your answer?

    • >Shorter trips don’t cost more. They cost less.

      Who said anything about cost? I was talking about willingness to pay.

      >Your claim that all trips provide equal benefit (“usefulness”) regardless of their length…

      I don’t claim that. There are differences between trips, but the difference between no trip and one trip is a bigger one.

      >If you don’t think higher out-of-pocket costs is a bad thing, what was the point of this remark?

      If longer trips really are beneficial to people, then they can pay the extra cost on their own without having every mile subsidized.

      >Since I haven’t asserted that sprawl should be limited to whatever amount is “necessary,” I don’t know why you’re asking me to justify that assertion.

      You argue day and night for transportation subsidies that ensure the creation of sprawl.

  • Gordy

    Who said anything about cost? I was talking about willingness to pay.

    The fact that you personally are willing to pay more for shorter trips is utterly irrelevant. Longer trips cost more than shorter trips. The fact that people are willing to more for longer trips means that longer trips provide more benefit than shorter ones. People aren’t going to pay the higher costs of a 30-mile commute if they can get the same benefit from a 1-mile commute. In one of your earlier comments, you acknowledged that one of the reasons people are willing to pay the higher costs of longer commutes is cheaper housing. Now you are ignoring that fact.

    I don’t claim that.

    You said, “a trip is a single unit of usefulness.” So do you still believe this, or don’t you? How can a trip be a “unit of usefulness” when different trips provide different amounts of benefit? Your claim is just absurd on its face.

    If longer trips really are beneficial to people, then they can pay the extra cost on their own without having every mile subsidized.

    Then if more trips really are beneficial to people, they can pay the extra cost of more trips on their own without having every trip subsidized. Yet you just said you favor a subsidy for each trip. Make up your mind.

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