Why Can't [X] Be Free

In the Warren Meyer style guide, any phrase like this one -- Why Can't Public Transit Be Free? -- would be reworded "Why Can't Other People Pay For My Transit" so as to be more accurate.  Because it clearly can never be free (short of an Iain Banks post-scarcity future world).  An even more generic title for this would be "why can't non-users pay for users' services?"

One other thought -- since when did "getting people out of their cars" become the goal of public transit?  Is that really a goal worth spending money on?   I understand that many transit advocates have this goal nowadays, but in the new systems being built (outside of New York) there is little or no energy reduction in moving people by transit.   And the cost per passenger mile of these system is much higher than for building more roads for more cars.   And it is no longer about mobility for poorer folks -- new light rails systems cost a fortune, and are built to appeal to professionals and the middle class, while crowding (due to their huge costs) buses that are the traditional source of mobility for the poor.

I get the sense that the argument for transit nowadays is almost aesthetic -- people find cars and roads and suburbs aesthetically distasteful, and want to replace them.  That would explain the focus on insanely expensive light rail systems, that look cool, over buses that actually move people for a reasonable cost.  I saw a great quote the other day, I wish I can remember who said it.  Something like, "Progressives aren't trying to create a rational world, they are trying to create Portland."

update:  Thanks to a reader, here is the actual quote (and source):  "The goal of progressivism is not to make the world rational; it’s to make the world Portland."


  1. Jim A:

    This is where I read the quote about Portland.


    "Progressives aren't trying to create a rational world, they are trying to create Portland."

  2. HenryBowman419:

    I think the primary idea behind modern progressivism/socialism/communism (essentially all synonyms) is simple: we love to steal from other people. And we really don't care too much if the other people are rich or poor, as long as we get what we want.

  3. lelnet:

    What, is there supposed to be some other goal? Fewer people in cars, ergo less congestion on the roads, ergo improved quality of life.

    Of course, unless you're willing to spend the money for either elevated or underground trains, you end up needing to widen the roads anyway, to make space for the tracks. And they're a lot less flexible in response to changing travel patterns than bus routes are. (I know...nobody wants to be stuck behind a bus. But being behind a bus is way better than being behind 50 extra cars, one for each occupant of that bus.) And if you're in one of those places where (unlike here) "widen the roads" doesn't inevitably equate to "demolish the neighborhoods that the roads go through", there are lots of relatively flexible ways to make multi-use expansions work.

  4. mx:

    Building more roads is not an option in many of the areas we're talking about. That's not true everywhere, which is why each transit project should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but in urban centers, building a new road is impossible without taking through eminent domain

    billions of dollars worth of buildings and tearing them down. Once you've done all that, you still don't have enough parking for the additional cars or capacity on other roads for them to drive on.

  5. randian:

    Yes, there is another goal: eliminate cars. A lot of transit "advocates" are quite open about it. Never mind that public transit doesn't use less energy (in the case of rail, a lot *more* energy) per passenger-mile, is more expensive, and pollutes more per passenger mile. As for "improved quality of life", my life is greatly improved through mobility on my schedule rather than a schedule imposed by a driver's union.

  6. mesocyclone:

    Getting people out of cars, forcing people to live in high density developments and powering civilization with unicorn farts are all part of a complex leftist delusion system.

  7. jon49:

    I don't like long commutes. Just moving from the Prescott area down to Phoenix for a new job. I'm moving into a small home 2.3 miles from work (I'll ride my bike). Public transit is a joke. It always takes at least twice as long as it does to just drive a car (from what I've seen). I considered living farther away from work and taking light rail, but it just isn't worth it, it is too slow. If it is going to take me a while to get to work I would rather be exercising (kill two birds with one stone).

  8. Jim Collins:

    In some places decreasing traffic congestion is as simple as opening up the HOV lanes to all vehicles, instead of the few who are deemed worthy.

  9. Don:

    often building trains of any sort will also take up those same buildings or private property to make room in urban areas. Nashville even wants a dedicated super cool bus lane and will take out right of way and a lane each way of existing roads. also as a side note, I am also not sure that ridership goes up, or any cars are removed from the roads with light rail. It seems like a slight shift from bus to rail. Same ridership, just more expensive. http://www.valleymetro.org/publications_reports/ridership_reports chart doesn't look like a big jump in ridership, due to rail. portland shows a decrease in miles from 1999 to 2014 used in bus and rail. but cabs almost doubled. http://trimet.org/pdfs/publications/trimetridership.pdf

    But hey, it's cooler to drink a latte on a train than the smelly bus that the people we claim to be helping are on.

  10. Joe:

    Living in New Jersey a few miles from NYC I prefer to take the train* into the city and the subway around the city as opposed to using my own car.

    *I try to avoid the bus if I can help it. I never really got over a quasi fear of buses ever since a bus I was on flipped over driving me home from preschool several decades ago.