Would Eliminating Road Subsidies Encourage Transit Use?

Not only are transit systems subsidized, but so are America's roads. While some advocate for the reduction of road subsidies to better incentivize transit use, Josh Barro argues for more effective ways to make mass transit work better.

Barro, writing in City Journal, points out the sometimes conflicting arguments regarding transit subsidies versus those of road subsidies, finding that roads require a much lower subsidy than transit, at ~8% and ~41-55%, respectively. "More important is that the 41-to-55-percent figure is misleading: it refers only to the cost of roads, not to the total cost of driving," says Barro, "[t]hat total cost includes not only public spending on roads but also a host of private purchases-of cars themselves, maintenance, gas, and insurance."

"All told, then, $1.08 trillion was spent on road travel, with government subsidies providing only $83 billion of the total. That's a subsidy of less than 8 percent," writes Barro, who argues against the commonly-held concept that eliminating these subsidies will encourage greater transit use. "An end to road subsidies would raise gasoline prices by about 50 to 60 cents a gallon. Over the last decade, fuel prices rose much more sharply than that, which led to a modest reduction in vehicle-miles traveled, but there hasn't been any sea change in our transportation practices."

Instead, he argues for a drastic change in the way Americans approach planning and zoning. Leveraging the fact that properties near transit increase property values and, therefore, property taxes, Barro believes "[c]ities should allow dense development, collect the property taxes that are generated, and use them to finance transit."

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Comments

Comments

Change city policies such as Minimum Parking Requirements

This road construction figure is misleading as well since roads being heavily subsidized:
> leads MORE people to drive INSTEAD of using public transit.
> does not include the PARKING infrastructure that is also heavily subsidized, both on-street and in the parking garages. The City of Ithaca NY, loses a lot of money on parking meters (only operate 9-5 M-F) so parking is free and occupied when higher rates of parking turnover would benefit restaurants and many businesses: nights and weekends. Free/cheap on street parking also continues the tax-payer funded city parking garages that lose ~$900,000 every year.
Many cities have car-promoting poclicies in place which hinders public transit, at the same time these same cities are using tax-money to promote public transit.

Better than increasing subsidies to public transportation, the cities can get rid of burdensome minimum parking requirements for new and change of use housing developments that would otherwise both reduce the amount of additional housing and keep driving up housing/rent prices. Increasing urban density is a great way to increase people who choose to live without a car or to use public transit more often.

See: the High Cost of Free Parking, by Professor Donald Shoup.

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The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
-- Nelson Henderson

Property Tax Rebate

" "...but there hasn’t been any sea change in our transportation practices." Instead, he argues for a drastic change in the way Americans approach planning and zoning. Leveraging the fact that properties near transit increase property values and, therefore, property taxes, Barro believes "[c]ities should allow dense development, collect the property taxes that are generated, and use them to finance transit."

I agree completely that change of zoning, such as getting rid of the burdensome Minimum Parking Requirements is a great way to support public transit as it will allow for an increase density and of course the city's tax base. More people living per acre is a great way to add more paying customers on public transit.

Other ideas is to give a PROPERTY TAX REBATE, that would need to also need to apply DIRECTLY in LOWERING RENT at the same rate. How would a city/county afford this in time of budget cuts?? Great question! Via a gasoline tax of the EQUIVALENT RATE, or as close a rate as possible. None of the money goes to the municipality, it is all given back in lower property taxes.
>>e.g.Johnny Driver chooses to log just as many miles as before the change, so he pays about the SAME.
>>Jane Walker/Busser/Biker chooses to drive LESS and so she SAVES. Who wins? People-- who choose to drive less or ride the now-better supported (by the sudden increase in ridership!) public transit system. People-- by lower emissions in the area. People--by fewer cars on the road so they can walk/bike more safely, especially with children. People--who can opt-out of paying the tax, by choosing to drive less-or not to drive.
Who loses? OPEC, BP, Exxon-Mobil, etc. who extract fuels from our earth and rake in the profits at our expense.

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