Monday, December 27, 2010

U.S. not ready for rail projects

With a few exceptions, rail projects in the U.S. are premature. They consign the advocates to a spaghetti plate of conflicting interests, and open them to the charge of "picking winners and losers" in the market.

The auto and sprawl have critical mass. It took a hundred years and trillions of dollars of subsidy. It cannot be reversed without some economic thinking.

Do not superimpose rail on autosprawl. First, end autosprawl subsidy. The most harmful subsidy is the hobbling of public transit. Local public transit has been kept in disarray by the following intentional, purposeful devices:

  • the charging of fares
  • mismanagement
  • uneven funding
  • unpredictable service
  • infrequent service
  • arbitrary service cuts

Remove those fares first. Fare-free local transit will increase ridership and lead to demands for decent service. This will eventually break the critical mass of the autosprawl system.

Otherwise you will spend all your political capital getting a rail project done, only to find it declared a boondoggle and used as a reason to cut public transit.