Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Transit versus cars

SF Citizen photo

Two years ago, the Antiplanner predicted that self-driving cars would put most transit agencies out of business. So it’s not surprising to see push-back against self-driving cars from transit supporters. What’s surprising is that it took so long.

Cities need more public transit, not Uber and self-driving cars,” says Kevin Cashman, a policy analyst with the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research. “We don’t need self-driving cars — we need to ditch our vehicles entirely,” argues California writer Rebecca Solnit in the Guardian.

Cashman’s argument is that self-driving cars won’t be “affordable,” while public transit is. Excuse me? In 2014, American transit agencies spent $59 billion to move people 57 billion passenger miles (see page 106). That’s more than a dollar per passenger mile.

All spending on cars and driving, meanwhile, amounted to $1.1 billion (add lines 54, 57, and 116 of table 2.5.5). Highway subsidies in 2014 were about $45 billion (subtract gas tax diversions to transit and non-highway purposes from “other taxes and fees”). For that cost, Americans drove 2.7 trillion vehicle miles in light-duty vehicles. At an average occupancy of 1.67 people per vehicle (see table 16), that’s 4.5 trillion passenger miles, which works out to an average cost of 26 cents a passenger mile.

In other words, transit is only “affordable” because three-fourths of the cost is subsidized, while less than 4 percent of the cost of driving is subsidized. 

I’m in favor of ending both subsidies, but someone has to pay those costs; when adding them in, driving is four times more affordable than transit...

Back in 2014, after the Antiplanner predicted the doom of public transit, Human Transit writer Jarrett Walker wrote a more insightful, but still flawed, response. Really dense cities will still need transit, he argued. I don’t disagree with that; my paper admitted that transit would survive in New York City and perhaps Chicago and San Francisco...

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At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to see a Trump supporter's opinions finally getting some coverage! Thanks Rob. It's time to scrap MUNI and bike lanes and provide more parking for cars.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That's a gross non sequitur. O'Toole supports Trump, but he's good on transportation and rarely comments on other policy issues. To the extent that Trump has a transportation policy, it is of course dumb like almost everything else he says. He supports high-speed rail, for example, which aligns him with Governor Brown and progs like you.

As I've been saying here for years, local issues are not often conveniently analyzed using the usual left/right ideological concepts. Commenters like you have always tried to label me a right-winger and a Republican ever since I challenged the great bicycle revolution and City Hall's Bicycle Plan ten years ago, but I'm clearly too much of a liberal for that slur to stick: I'm a liberal Democrat who supported Obama and I support Hillary, who, by the way, has the most progressive agenda since George McGovern.

Democrats are sometimes stupid on issues, particularly transportation. O'Toole said it best: "All you have to do is mention the words 'public transit,' and progressives will fall over themselves to support you no matter how expensive and ridiculous your plans."

Local progs like you also of course support the stupid high-speed rail project, not to mention the bicycle fantasy and anti-carism in general.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With self-driving cars, there's no need for MUNI or BART. It's time to cut all funding for them and return the money to the taxpayers. Go Trump!


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