“Pumping Up” Our Transportation Network

Albuquerque Journal columnist and former Richardson advisor Ned Farquhar wrote an article recently in which he argued that western cities (including Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City) need to “pump up” their transportation networks. It may not have been a direct response to my recent article in which I argued against extending the Rail Runner to Santa Fe, but it might as well have been. That said, I’ll pick his arguments apart from the beginning.
First, Farquhar laments $3 per gallon gas and its impact on poor and low-income people. These crocodile tears are amusing for any number of reasons, but I’ll name just a few:
1) It is environmentalists like Mr. Farquhar (and his associates at the National Resources Defense Council) who want to keep most of our domestic oil supply (ANWR for example) out of production;
2) The Legislature is looking to raise the gas tax to pay for roads in part because the Rail Runner is eating up revenues that would otherwise have been allocated to build and maintain roads;
3) Gas prices are not that high by historical standards.
The rest of his article basically laments “inadequate” public transportation systems in the West and argues that it should be tougher to build roads. While he makes a few valid points about politicians preferring to build new roads than maintain existing roads, Farquhar is barking up the wrong tree if he thinks transit is really the solution.
While a genuine “free market” transportation system is a long way off, the fact is that people are willing to use roads — even toll roads — but mass transit has never come anywhere close (page 4) to sustaining itself financially. I’d like to see something approaching a “free market” transportation system in which the government role is minimized, but until that day, it is important to stop wasting taxpayer money on expensive rail projects like the Rail Runner and Mayor Marty’s trolley.

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One Reply to ““Pumping Up” Our Transportation Network”

  1. Excellent points, Paul. The hard thing to get through in a soundbite is the fact that public transit is usually more cost effective in total costs per trip, but autos are are a better value because of a much higher service level. The liberal and libertarian viewpoints, basically, and both true. These viewpoints come together when the system in question is a high-service cost effective system (like Copenhagen or Berlin), and the viewpoints diverge when the system in question is a low-service expensive one (like the mayor’s streetcar). The question that is rarely asked is how to come up with the system for this area that is cost effective and high service – the one that would be supported by the whole political spectrum.

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