Friday, April 29, 2011

How to make politics boring

Bike guy Michael Sonn urged me in a comment to attend this forum (below in italics) next week. If I don't attend, he wants me to stop "bitching" about the city's anti-car policies on this blog, as if criticism and/or negative thinking aren't among the primary purposes of blogs, especially this one. 

Whoever wrote this calendar item for the Chronicle, like most groups that stage these events, apparently thinks this is the way to proceed: restrict the subject matter of the event to ensure that nothing meaningful---or, horror of horrors, anything negative---can possibly be said. A forum on "service"! Will any of the candidates oppose public service? Hard to imagine anyone even saying anything interesting on the subject. This approach drains the political process of interest and guarantees that the opposite of "exciting"---"boring" is the word I want---will be achieved. 

As a candidate I experienced this over the years. A favorite tactic: prevent people in the audience from directly asking the candidates questions.Instead make them write their questions on index cards so that the minder moderating the event can ensure that nothing of interest can come out of the process. Hard to say what these folks are afraid of, since politics is only interesting when there's a genuine conflict of ideas.

An evening featuring the candidates listed below can't possibly be "exciting." If they stray from the topic assigned by the milk monitors, or, even better, go out of their way to highlight their differences, the event might possibly be interesting. 

USF hosts exciting Mayoral Forum on service
Thursday, May 5, 6:00 pm
at University of San Francisco, CA
Price: FREE and open to the public
Phone: (415) 422-2697
Age Suitability:None Specified
USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good in partnership with BuildOn hosts special forum with San Francisco Mayoral candidates.
Modeled on the 2008 Presidential Candidate Forum on service, this forum will allow the mayoral candidates to address questions about the future of service and engagement in San Francisco. Participating candidates include: Michela Alioto-Pier, David Chiu, Bevan Duffy, Tony Hall, Dennis Herrera, Joanna Rees, Phil Ting and Leland Yee.


How the Feds subsidize transportation

Per passenger mile, federal subsidies to Amtrak are 30 times greater than federal subsidies to airlines and 500 times greater than federal subsidies to intercity buses, according to a new study from the American Bus Association. The study also reports that federal subsidies per passenger mile to public transit are 3,200 times greater than federal subsidies to autos.

The report, written by economist Robert Damuth of Nathan Associates, compared federal outlays for each mode with excise taxes collected from highway users and air travelers. It also apportioned costs to users such as auto drivers, intercity buses, and commercial airlines.

For example, the study found that federal expenditures on air travel between 2002 and 2009 averaged about $19 billion a year (p. 7), and it cited a Federal Aviation Administration report attributing about 70 percent of that cost to commercial air passengers (p. 12). The study also found that various taxes collected from air travelers averaged about $9 billion a year (p. 14), for a net subsidy of about $4.5 billion a year (p. 24).

A summary of the report compares subsidies per trip. But no one has estimated trip numbers for autos, and it doesn’t seem fair to compare transit trips, which average about 5 miles, with Amtrak and airline trips, which average hundreds of miles.

Fortunately, the full report also calculates subsidies per passenger mile. From 2002-2009, the report says, federal subsidies per passenger mile to air travel averaged 0.8 cents; to autos averaged 0.006 cents; to intercity buses averaged 0.05 cents; to Amtrak averaged 25.4 cents; and to urban transit averaged 19.3 cents. The federal subsidy to highways was actually negative (meaning highway users paid more than highway costs) until 2001, and turned positive mainly because Congress made spending mandatory regardless of revenues (a policy that was corrected this year).

Despite these highway subsidies, subsidies to autos are tiny, the report says, because auto drivers pay about two-thirds of the revenues into the Highway Trust Fund (p. 16) but only impose about 60 percent of the costs (p. 12). Even then, the report erred in counting only passenger car passenger miles, ignoring light trucks (pickups, SUVs, and full-sized vans). Adding these passenger miles would reduce the subsidy per passenger mile by 40 percent...

The rest of the article is here.