Infrastructure Spending: Transit or Cars

Though virtually all personal or work-related transport by individuals in America is by car, government spending for non-car related transit still exceeds 20% of all federal transportation related funding; creating a real equity problem some in congress want to make even worse by doubling the percentage to 40%; as this article notes.

An excerpt.

“For years, transit funding advocates have claimed that national policy favors highways over transit. Consistent with that view, Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to change the funding mix. He is looking for 40 percent of the transportation funding from the proposed stimulus package to be spent on transit, which is a substantial increase from present levels.

“This raises two important questions: The first question is that of “equity” – “what would be the appropriate level to spend on transit?” The second question relates to “productivity” – “what would be the effect of spending more on transit?”

“Equity: Equity consists of spending an amount that is proportionate to need or use. Thus, an equitable distribution would have the federal transportation spending reflect the shares that highways and transit carry of surface travel (highways plus transit). The most commonly used metric is passenger miles. Even with the recent, well publicized increases in transit ridership, transit’s share of surface travel is less than 1 percent. Non-transit highway modes, principally the automobile, account for 99 percent of travel.

“So if equity were a principal objective, transit would justify less than 1 percent of federal surface transportation expenditures. Right now, transit does much better than that, accounting for 21 percent of federal surface transportation funded expenditures in 2006. This is what passes for equity in Washington – spending more than 20 percent of the money on something that represents less than one percent of the output. Transit receives 27 times as much funding per passenger mile as highways. It is no wonder that the nation’s urban areas have experienced huge increases in traffic congestion, or that there’s increasing concern about the state of the nation’s highway bridges, the most recent of which occurred in Minneapolis, not far from Congressman Oberstar’s district.

“In addition, a substantial amount of federal highway user fees (principally the federal gasoline tax) are used to support transit. These revenues, which are only a part of the federal transit funding program, amounted to nearly $5 billion in 2006. Perhaps most amazingly, the federal government spends 15 times as much in highway user fees per transit passenger mile than it does on highways. Relationships such as these do not even vaguely resemble equity.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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