This Wall Street Journal Article would be amusing if it weren’t so infuriatingly dishonest. Let’s have a point-by-point review, just in case you missed the blatant misinformation and twisted logic that produced this piece of journalistic excrement:
“Clear evidence of inefficient transportation spending comes from a new Treasury study estimating that traffic gridlock costs motorists more than $100 billion a year in delays and wasted gas. In cities like Los Angeles, commuters waste the equivalent of two extra weeks every year in traffic jams. This congestion could be alleviated by building more highway lanes where they are most needed and using market-based pricing—such as tolls—for using roads during peak travel times.”
Has the WSJ journal ever heard of induced demand? Apparently not. As far as I know, virtually every expert in transportation except Randall O’Toole and Wendell Cox have accepted that it is impossible to build your way out of road congestion. That’s because for every spot you open up on the road by building more capacity, someone fills it up who would have otherwise waited until roads were less crowded.
When the price you charge for driving is $0, this is exactly the behavior you would expect. Interestingly, they actually got one thing right – more tolls would help alleviate the problem. But we don’t need more roads; we’ve already far overbuilt our road networks in most areas. What we need is to be more efficient with how we use our roads. Most of the nation’s highways sit practically vacant during off-peak hours.
“In a typical year only about 65 cents of every gas tax dollar is spent on roads and highways. The rest is intercepted by the public transit lobby and Congressional earmarkers.”
I won’t dispute the 65 cents figure because I don’t have time to research it, but there are 2 significant problems with this statement:
- It is absolutely true that a portion of the gas tax goes to funding transit. Now, how much of our roads are funded by the gas tax? According to a short and thorough study by US Public Interest Group, only about half of the cost of our roads are paid by gas taxes. Where does the rest of the money come from? My pocket. That’s right, I, an evil, non-car-owning transit user, am subsidizing your “free” drive to work. For all the WSJ’s right-wing rhetoric about socialism, this sure smells like a socialist scheme to me.
- The public transit lobby? If the public transit lobby were even half as powerful as the WSJ seems to think they are, we might actually have good, working transit systems here in the US. Even New York’s MTA, the nation’s largest transit provider, is clinging to life having to feed off the scraps fed to it by Albany every once in a while.
“Transit is the biggest drain. Only in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. does public transit account for more than 5% of commuter trips. Even with a recent 2.3% gain in bus and rail use due to high gas prices, public transit still accounts for a mere 2% of all inner-city trips and closer to 1% outside of New York.”
I’d love to see where they got these statistics from just so that I can be sure they aren’t deliberately lying to make their case. Here, WSJ, let me Google that for you. The problem is that these statistics are so woefully inaccurate that I can’t think of any reasonable explanation for how they could have gotten them so wrong. If you trust Wikipedia (since I’m lazy and in this case the numbers from the Census Bureau look accurate to me), here are the real figures.
“Federal data indicate that in 2010 in most major cities more people walked to work or telecommuted than used public transit.”
Convenient to use un-cited “federal data.” Their numbers may even be accurate, but which cities are they talking about? One plausible explanation for low transit ridership could be that most major cities have woefully inadequate transit systems. Of course no one takes transit to work – there is no transit to work! In other news, snowball fights are virtually non-existent in the Sahara Desert.
“One reason roads are shortchanged is that liberals believe too many Americans drive cars. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been pushing a strange “livability” agenda, which he defines as “being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car.” This is the mind of the central planner at work, imagining that Americans all want to live in his little utopia.”
That’s right, Republican former congressman Ray LaHood is a closeted Communist. If the WSJ bothered to read its own headlines, they might find that walkable neighborhoods command a price premium over their less pedestrian-friendly counterparts. In other words, US consumers prefer to be able to walk places, all else held equal. As for the “centrally-planned utopia,” I have yet to hear a satisfying explanation for how investing in transit and other non-car modes is central planning, while pouring government money into multi-lane expressways is the free market at work.
“The current scheme also creates giant inequities. Politically powerful cities get a big chunk of the money, while many Western and Southern states get less back than they pay in. But why should people in Akron, Ohio or Casper, Wyoming have to pay gas taxes to finance the New York subway or light rail in Denver? One reason there is so much overspending on inefficient urban transit is that federal matching dollars require residents in other states to foot up to half the bill.”
They’re trying really hard to convince me that they are deliberately being dishonest. Does New York State get more money from the gas tax than Wyoming? Uh, yeah. Does it get more money than Wyoming on the basis of how much it pays in? Uh, no.
How to pay for our transportation systems and what those systems should look like is a good debate to be having. Lies and misinformation should not be part of that. Claiming that our terrible highway infrastructure is in such bad shape because “the transit bogeyman stole our money” is just plain dishonest. I expect more from a nationally-syndicated newspaper – even if it is the Wall Street Journal.