Road and Rail side-by-side

In my last post, rebutting Edward Glaeser, I mentioned the hidden costs of roads that he was not accounting for and the fundamental problem with assuming that any means of transportation has to be profitable in itself. Stephen B. Goddard does an admirable job of listing several of the costs we forget about that are assumed in driving in his book Getting There: The Epic Struggle between Road and Rail in The American Century.

  • patrol highways
  • clean polluted air
  • insure that foreign oil flows freely to U.S. shores
  • subsidize downtown park for millions of commuters
  • dispose of millions of junked cars, tires, and batteries
  • cover higher health-care costs associated with the breathing of gasoline fumes
  • deal with fuel wastage and time lost in traffic jams
  • cope with losses of life and human capacity in traffic accidents
  • pay courts and judges to handle personal injury lawsuits
  • pay auto insurance premiums.

Each of these bullet points deserves its own blog post.  My general point is that no amount of taxes on cars or gasoline covers all of these costs to the country and the American consumer.  Rail is not perfect and roads cannot be done away with.  However, communities that depend more on rail for more of their traveling needs will also lower many other costs including auto insurance, health-care costs, patrol costs (including state police and ambulance duties), the pace of car and car part disposal, and the epic loss of life at the hands of highways.

The most dramatic of these costs for me is the human cost. 37,261 people died in vehicle accidents in 2008 and 41,259 in 2007.  To put that in perspective, 58,228 American servicemen died in the Vietnam War.

Roads cannot and should not be demolished, but rails (high speed or not) are necessary to alleviate many of the costs, environmental and beyond that our country currently subsidizes by depending so heavily on our cars.

    Advertisements