Roads vs. Mass Transit
February 1, 1996
Competition for taxpayers' funds between special interest lobbies promoting road building and social engineers favoring mass transit has resulted in taxpayers funding both -- although roads pay their way through taxes while mass transit has required increasing subsidies.
Today, more than $900 billion is spent annually in the United States on surface road and rail transportation.
- The largest portion is spent privately on automobiles and freight, but government spends more than $70 billion annually on roads.
- By contrast, nationwide operating expenses for mass transit -- train, subway and buses -- is $18 billion.
- Only about one-third of this amount is covered by commuter fares, with nearly two-thirds coming from taxes.
- Federal grants for transit construction and equipment have grown from $3.0 billion in 1990 to $4.6 billion fiscal 1995.
Supporters of road building successfully lobbied last year for passage of the National Highway System bill, which makes nearly 170,000 miles of roads eligible for federal aid.
- Opponents of additional road building, such as the American Public Transit Association, argue that motorists gain $345 billion in benefits while paying $44 billion in taxes -- a net $301 billion in public subsidy.
- However, the Highway Users Federation and the American Automobile Association calculate that motorists are net losers by $38 billion annually, paying motoring-related taxes of $114 billion for only $76 billion in services.
An alternative to continuing conflict over transit versus highway funds is building privately-funded and managed toll roads. State turnpikes with revenues of $5 billion annually are also ripe for privatization.
Source: Peter Samuel, "The Transportation Lobby: The Politics of Highway and Transit," Organization Trends, February 1996, Capital Research Center, 727 15th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 393-2600.
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