NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

MASS TRANSIT: SEPARATING DELUSION FROM REALITY

September 13, 2007

Transit spending has failed to reduce traffic and wasted money that should have been spent on increasing road capacity, says Wendell Cox, a visiting fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

Consider: 

  • The diversion of federal road user fees to non-highway projects began in 1982; since that time, annual transit expenditures have doubled, after adjusting for inflation.
  • Fair value would have been for transit ridership to double, but today, annual miles of travel by transit are only 25 percent higher than in 1982.
  • This means that, after adjusting for inflation and the increase in ridership, spending on transit by all levels of government is at least $15 billion more per year than in 1982 -- more than twice the amount being diverted at the federal level from fuel taxes paid by motorists.

Further, the massive diversion of highway money to transit did not reduce traffic congestion or road use:

  • In every one of the nation's urban areas with a population of more than one million (where more than 90 percent of transit ridership occurs), road use increased per capita and by no less than one-third.
  • Even worse, peak-period traffic congestion rose by 250 percent.

This paltry performance does not mean that transit does not have a role, says Cox.  Transit does a superb job of getting people to the largest downtown areas in the nation.  The problem is that, on average, 90 percent of jobs are not located in downtown areas.  Those 90 percent of employees are spread over an area more than 500 times as large as the downtown areas.  The only real way to reduce traffic congestion is to provide more roadway capacity.  That, or watch traffic congestion worsen and suffer the economic losses.

Source: Wendell Cox, "Mass Transit: Separating Delusion from Reality," WebMemo #1607, Heritage Foundation, September 10, 2007.

 

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