More on Transit Insanity, This Time in California
I got a little bit of blowback on my article a couple weeks back called Minnesota’s Billion Dollar Mistake with Light Rail. It was not so much because people disagreed with me that building 10 miles of track that nobody will use for $1 billion that we have no hope of paying off is a monumentally stupid idea. Instead, they disagreed with my elitism.
I enter a demurrer.
Fact is, I agree with the wise words of Jeremy Clarkson, who says that public transport is for poor people, and walking is for readers of the Guardian. In any event, I would not seem so elitist if other people stopped being so shitty.
But on a serious note, my lament over the state of transportation financing in Minnesota has its corollaries across the country, and none seem to provoke any more optimism than Minnesota’s.
Over at Reason, Tim Cavanaugh spells out California’s coming disaster in an article called “America Pays for Villaraigosa’s Transit Legacy.” Transit plans in Los Angeles are expected to cost $13.7 billion, which in government math is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion. But, as Cavanaugh says, the real joke is on American taxpayers, who will be expected to foot the bill when the transit projects inevitably fail to pay for themselves.
Perhaps befitting a town known colloquially as “la-la land,” politicians and rail boosters in Los Angeles have completely deluded themselves about the financial condition of their railway fantasies. Here’s a fun bit of nonsense:
L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten, one of the idea’s largest boosters, pronounces that the project—which includes an extension of a subway line to the West Side V.A. hospital and an at-grade rail line from USC to Santa Monica, as well as a plan to take away one lane of highly congested Wilshire Boulevard and turn it into a bus-only route—would “create 918,300 jobs paying $50.8 billion in wages.”
Cute. Ridiculous, but cute. If everything were this successful, why in the world would there ever be private industry? The government could just employ every single person in the country and watch the money multiply!
And anyway, what better to way to rev the economic engine than to take away a lane of traffic in a bustling business district?
The idiocy doesn’t end there, of course. When in 2008 Angelenos approved a 0.5% county sales tax, they were told that it would go toward things like potholes and road resurfacing:
The Los Angeles County MTA’s Measure R splash page highlights the road and driving elements of the measure, with its top bullet point noting that MTA has disbursed “$100 million for…projects such as pothole repairs, major street resurfacing, left-turn signals, bikeways, pedestrian improvements, streetscapes, traffic signal synchronization and local transit services.”
That’s worked about as well as (wait for it) …light rail:
More than two years in, Los Angeles now fixes nearly a third fewer potholes than it did before. According to the Measure R expenditure plan a mere 15 percent of money from the sales tax is designated for road service. The largest portion goes to new rail projects, though only the Expo Line from USC is currently under active construction.
I suppose I would be pretty angry to be told that road resurfacing funds directly applicable to my daily commute are now being funneled into a rail line so that spoiled children at USC find it easier to get to Sharkeez on Thursday night. (Full disclosure: I used to be one of those spoiled children, though Sharkeez was never my scene.)
But I suppose I would be even angrier to be told that that particular waste of money is the only line that is even being built. Only in the world of public expenditure can so much wasteful spending go to things that do not even exist yet.
But I am no longer an Angeleno, which means that I am angriest of all. The half-percent sales tax is, as Cavanaugh noted, something that the morons who voted for it totally deserve. But why do I deserve to have tax money siphoned out of my wallet so that someone half a country a way can feel good about how “green” their county is before hopping back into the car for their 40 mile commute home?
Ultimately, it is unfair for all of Minnesota, and all of the country’s taxpayers, to fund a rail line to get the spoiled children at the University of Minnesota to the bars in Lowertown more easily on Thursday night. (Full disclosure: I was a Gopher too.) It is unfair for the rest of the country to subsidize California’s rail lines that nobody will use either. And fundamentally, the financing situation is dismal across the board – the projects are built on laughable projections and have no viable chance of independent financial success.
Nevertheless, you (yes, you) will be paying for them for decades to come. It is time for some real outrage about federal involvement in local transit projects. Let’s get angry.