Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Being Taken for a Ride

The Mighty Wizard takes Metro to task on its 2010 report to Congress (HT: blogHouston). The Wizard reports that the Federal Transit Administration states that:
spending $897 million on the North Corridor rail alignment is going to result in a mere 7,500 new riders being attracted to using transit (see page 221 of the report). The Southeast Corridor rail alignment is projected to cost $911 million and is expected to attract a mere 4,500 new riders to transit (see page 227 of the FTA report). Yes gentle readers, you read that correctly. The FTA is telling Congress that it is recommending helping Metro spend $1.8 billion to attract 12,000 new riders to rail transit, a figure that works out to spending $150,000 to attract a new rider to transit.

This is the type of asinine policy that results from public planning and government intervention. If a private business attempted such a thing, it would quickly go bankrupt, if it could even raise the funds to launch such a program. And the only individuals harmed would be those who invested in such a folly. However, since Metro is supported with tax dollars, we all get to participate in this enormous waste of money.

Metro's alleged purpose, as best I can tell (I couldn't find an explicit statement on their web site), is to improve transportation in Houston and the surrounding communities. Whether it is tearing up existing roads for construction, or clogging roads with buses, or crashing trains into automobiles, Metro has failed horribly. Further, despite the constant urging of government officials for commuters to "go green" and use more public transportation, The Wizard reports that Metro's ridership has declined by 10 percent to 20 percent in the past year.

This means that taxpayers are paying more and more to subsidize the transportation of fewer and fewer.

The Wizard notes that Ray Chong, who was Deputy of Traffic and Transportation in the City public works department, recently predicted that in the year 2035 the average commute in Houston will be 3 hours. Calling Chong's claim "garbage", The Wizard correctly points out one important fact:

It overlooks [Chong's claim] that people, that real estate developers and landlords, as well as employers and employees, all make decisions as to where to locate. Very few people will tolerate making a 3 hour daily commute, much less a 2 hour commute, and they will adapt accordingly, often by deciding to leave a little earlier or later to get to their jobs.

In other words, when individuals are free they make decisions based on their values. Those who find a 3 hour commute unacceptable will move closer to work, find a new job, or take some other action. The popularity of town homes inside The Loop and downtown lofts attest to the fact that the market--that is, individuals--can address these issues without government meddling.

Government should not be in the transportation business. Like every other improper government activity, public transportation is inefficient, expensive, and fails to deliver on its stated goals. It requires taking money from some individuals to pay for the transportation of others. It requires seizing private property to build roads and rail lines. In short, it violates the rights of individuals.

If a market exists for mass transit, private companies will meet that demand--they have done so in regard to increasing the density of housing inside The Loop and downtown. And if there is no market--which appears to be the case--then nothing Metro does will change that fact.

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