You Guys Are Losers Because You Are Not Paying For My Stuff

The Thin Green Line has been running a series of articles complaining about price increases and service cuts at the local MTA.  I will leave aside for today the critique I have been putting in the comment section of that blog, which is that if you really care about transit service for the working poor, then you never should have started down the light rail path in the first place.  Light rail is an expensive yuppie toy that inevitably, through its high costs and continuing capital requirements, starves money from the bus services that the working poor actually depend on.

But anyway, I thought it was endemic of a certain type of political outlook that the author could write this with a totally straight face:

Also problematic is that the MTA did not hit drivers and riders equally [with proposed fee and fair increases].

Wow!  You mean a price increase for a service does not hit users and non-users of that service equally?  On what planet does one have to live on to believe that they should?


  1. Jens Fiederer:

    To be fair, I - a regular reader - pay the same amount for your blog as people that don't read you do.

    I'm OK with that.

  2. Dan:

    I've learned a lot from this site about the problems associated with light rail systems, and I'm inclined to believe you're onto something. What a shame that cities dismantled their streetcar systems 50 years ago, because there is nothing inherently bad about rail systems - it's just difficult to build them from scratch. Had we kept the infrastructure from the past (obviously while upgrading it constantly), this country would have better public transit.

  3. morganovich:

    as a resident of the people's republic of san francisco, please allow me to provide a few more interesting details about san francisco muni.

    many of the drivers make over $100,000/year. no, that's not a joke. nor is it just one or two guys. these guys absolutely rake it in.

    further, they have a health plan that the US senate would envy. it even covers sex changes.

    drivers have little or no accountability. there are no penalties for absenteeism, poor performance or safety on the job, being on time in your runs, or nearly anything else.

    there is an extraordinary layer of middle management that makes big money and does not appear to do much of anything.

    so, faced with all this, the obvious answer is to raise prices and cut service? really?

    the system as is could be make to throw off cash easily if it were not for the outrageous labor contracts and staffing decisions. fire them all, hire new people, and it would be fine in 2 months.

    but this is san francisco, where such thoughts are uncontemplatable.

    hell, we recently cut street sweeping to save money (and saved $1 million) only to discover that the lost revenue from ticketing cars on street sweeping day was $4 million...

  4. Bob Smith:

    Given current events, how do public transit advocates (which as you can see most hate drivers and would mandate public transit if they had the power) deal with the canary in the coal mine: public transit as a massive disease transmission vector?

  5. Dr. T:

    Squeezing together, sneezing together, wheezing together, waiting in the ER together, dying in the hospital together: it's the community togetherness that matters. We've thrown off that distantness and aloofness and aloneness: we live and die as one. Hurrah for Mass Transit!

  6. Tudorman:

    I'm always amazed that liberals don't mind subsidizing train rides for $250/hour attorneys who have a Lexus and a Benz parked in the garage.

    If you want to see the ultimate in commuter rail cram jobs, check this out:

    This is for real. My brother lives not far from the station pictured. It's a daily occurance. Anybody want to speculate on the cause and cost of this phenomenon?

  7. gadfly:

    Since mass transit has remained viable in most areas only because of taxpayer subsidy, I was shocked to read that a transit board even bothered to raise rider rates anymore. Ridership means nothing if a rail or bus service cannot sustain itself without subsidy. So . . . isn't this much ado about nothing? All that politicians have to do is say "mass transit" or "light rail" or "high-speed rail" and Congress appropriates billions.

  8. Bob Smith:

    Since mass transit has remained viable in most areas only because of taxpayer subsidy

    Is commuter transit viable without subsidy anywhere? I'm pretty sure even NYC's vaunted subway system requires subsidy on an operating basis, and even if not I'm absolutely sure it requires massive subsidy when capital costs are taken into account. Rail is by far the worst at recovering its costs at the farebox, which must be why liberals like it so much. I still don't understand why so many people think rail transit means "first class city", when I think it's obvious that rail is such a poor way to move people that no sane person would undertake constructing a rail line. Rail is a monstrous polluter too, producing literally dozens of times the NOx, hydrocarbon, and particulate emissions per passenger mile that a car does. Cars are so clean these days that on a smoggy day the air exiting the tailpipe is cleaner than the air entering the engine.

  9. Max:

    On the planet that thinks social costs have to be divided on the whole population: e.g. Europe =)
    And believe me it will get worse =) The majority of the US citizens only wait for the chance to turn the US in a modern Europe style all-service state.
    Because people like you and me, we will always be a minority with no protection.

  10. Elliot:

    The majority of the US citizens only wait for the chance to turn the US in a modern Europe style all-service state.

    A frequent "joke" of mine, sure to set off eye-rolling, is to tell my kids, "Want to hear something really scary? Social Security will be completely bankrupt by the time you retire." If I could find a pithy way to say what you just wrote, I'd make an update. Gallows humor.

  11. Katherine:

    Is commuter transit viable without subsidy anywhere?

    Any kind of transportation - including cars - is subsidized in one way or another, no? It's just easier to quantify rail.

    How do you account for/aggregate the costs of (for example): local police and fire budgets (patrol, moving vehicle violations, accidents, cleanup, ambulance); dead animal cleanup (deer, eg. a common occurance around here.) Not to mention local pothole repair.

    Road costs also seem to be spread over a large percentage of the population - even among those who don't use the roads. It is difficult to imagine that, even though diesel is taxed more than gasoline, that moving heavy construction equipment pays its own way in terms of road repair. Finally, when a lot of people use roads designed 50 or more years ago (think Rte 128 in MA), and the roads need to be widened to accommodate the increased traffic, the immediate financial burden is born by everyone through federal highway money along with state highway money. The hidden costs of dislocation, land taking, and so on, are not necessarily taken into account, but are real nonetheless. Pollution problems? This is real, but this strikes me as a NIBMY argument, nonetheless.

    I think that the rail vs. road discussion is much more complicated that we would like to admit. I also think that both forms of transportation are good. Which do I prefer? Depends on the traffic jam that I'm sitting in, or the schedule that says that I can't get to where I need to go when I need to!

    Sorry if I'm a little rambl-y here...I really like your blog. Thanks!

  12. DrTorch:

    "Since mass transit has remained viable in most areas only because of taxpayer subsidy,"

    In DC ridership on the Metro went way up w/ last year's gas prices. Then the complaint was it was stressing the rail cars, and more riders was going to raises costs for the Metro.

    What? What kind of lunatic supports a business model that loses money regardless of economy of scale?

    Is commuter transit viable without subsidy anywhere?

    Any kind of transportation - including cars - is subsidized in one way or another, no?

    The answer is NO. I'm always stunned that people propose this like it's some sort of counter-argument to allowing people to drive.
    Gasoline taxes, tolls, and car registration fees are not subsidies...they are user pay fees. Perfectly reasonable transactions, until the gov't starts spending those receipts elsewhere. But that doesn't take away from the argument that autos aren't subsidized, it proves it even more. Cars would be even more affordable if gas taxes, tolls and registration fees were reduced to the actual costs for roads.

  13. mjh:

    Some of us are of the opinion that privately funded roads, would be good, too. In such a case the confusion between subsidy and user fees would go away.

  14. katherine:

    Dr. Torch: Gasoline taxes, tolls, and car registration fees are not subsidies…they are user pay fees. Perfectly reasonable transactions, until the gov’t starts spending those receipts elsewhere.
    Agreed. But costs of (certain duties of )police, fire, local potholes and so on (as I stated,) are definitely subsidies. If we were all walking, we wouldn't be paying for this, would we?
    Again - getting a handle on the true, _total_ cost of auto transportation, short of private roads (as Mjh suggests) is practically impossible, and blurs the whole picture.
    (Take snow removal costs for an example. Our little town (pop. 7000) with about 31 miles of roads, pays nearly 635K in salting and plowing every winter. The town next to us is suing the state highway dept. over mishandled salt that has contaminated about 125 private wells. Where do those costs get figured into per passenger mile cost? They are car-only expenses, not figured into the highway bottom line, AND they are costs that are subsidized by the entire tax-paying population. Snow removal for a train is relatively easy to calculate (since the numbers of owners/track miles are relatively small.) The total highway cost, because it is composed of so many different pieces, is not known.
    Don't get me wrong: I'm not anti-car, I just think that in some cases rail transportation is a more efficient use of resources than many people think.