On Monday I wrote a post regarding the relationship of the size of metropolitan areas in the US to public transit ridership.  The DARTpost called out Houston, Dallas and Phoenix, in particular, for their low ridership numbers.  Today on the Streetsblog network Sarah Goodyear focuses on the state of Dallas transit as a follow-up to my piece.  Goodyear cites articles by Michael Lindenberger in the Dallas Morning News regarding delays and the state of transportation in the city.  Lindenberger vents his frustration at the city citizens who complain about the transit but are unwilling to pay for anything better (the utlimate American thought process).

First, courtesy of the Dallas Transportation Blog at the Dallas Morning News, a report on passenger frustration with delays on the city’s newest light rail route, the DART Green Line. Those delays are causing ripple effects throughout the city’s transit system, and it’s not clear when they will be resolved. Stories in the paper about the delays have gotten a lot of comments from readers angry that the problems were not better anticipated and planned for.But reporter Michael Lindenberger says the city’s voters need to take some responsibility for the way the system is developing:

The general tone of many of the comments has been dismissive, along the lines of, Idiots! How could DART not build a system that could avoid the kinds of problems we’ve encountered this week.…

Some have recalled former City Council member Max Goldblatt’s campaign to build an elevated monorail, rather than at-grade light rail lines.…

But … voters here rejected a plan by DART to borrow $1 billion to fast-track the development of DART.

Maybe an elevated monorail would have made sense — or maybe not. But it would have been a lot more expensive. And who was going to pay for these underground or elevated systems? If you wanna sing the blues, you know it don’t come easy — and transit systems (or highways for that matter) don’t come free.…

You could argue that…DART should have moved faster, and should have built a more innovative system to avoid pesky things like downtown crossings. But you can’t argue that, unless you’re willing to also argue that it should have spent more money.

And that money, friends, is our money. I think that’s worth thinking about. DART is trying to build the best system we can afford.

Americans are always wanting more services for less money and do not want to pay government for anything better (think healthcare).  I recognize that there are many Americans who view transit as some sort of liberal boondoggle and that cars are a holy birthright.  However, roads are just as much a government service as public transit.  We always pay for transit, it’s just a matter of what we pay for, how we pay, and what services we want to receive.  Public always has and always will require significant public investment.  However, the more people use it the more they will demand of it and hopefully the more willing they will be to put their taxes toward its success and reliability.

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.