Filed under: economy, Energy, Transit | Tags: airplanes, cars, Regional Plan Association, trains, transit, transportation
A common theme of U.S. political dialogue is that while highways are sustained by tolls and gas taxes, trains and other mass-transit systems are heavily subsidized by the government through tax revenue.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Federal, state and local governments have subsidized all modes of transportation since the birth of the nation. Tolls and dedicated taxes such as the gas tax have paid for only a small portion of our nation’s road system. In the past century, road and air transportation have received more government money than rail.
And, especially during the last century, government subsidies have favored cars and air travel over trains:
By comparison, the amount spent on train travel pales in comparison, unless you go back to the 19th century … But the record is very different in the 20th century, and in the last 100 years the amount of government money spent on railroads have been paltry compared with what is spent on roads and air travel. As government money has poured into air and roads, the once robust network of intercity passenger rail has shriveled to a skeletal framework.
A pitch is made for multi modal systems as an antidote to the mono-culture we more or less have with cars and roads:
If well designed, a transportation system does pay for itself through larger benefits to the economy and society. International experience and historic example in the U.S. has demonstrated that a multi-modal transportation system with many choices is far more flexible than putting all our eggs in one basket.
How come we still believe we are paying our own way when anything serious we read on the topic says the opposite? Maybe we – a little desperately – need to cling to a sense of having done it on our own. No one wants to admit to being on the dole – especially not when the top is down and the tunes are turned up and the girls are out. Cars are about freedom and independence, not government handouts.
Maybe that is what it will take to get the multi modal system that seems to serve other people so well: to finally admit that we aren’t paying for what we have, that the government is paying for most of it and that if it’s got to be a public service, then why not pay for something that is efficient and comprehensive and inclusive, and if it’s sexy that’s great, but if it’s not who cares, at least I can get around without the government paying for my gas.
The Public Money Behind Road, Rail and Air Travel, Osman Dadi and Alex Marshall, RPA
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