08 June 2009

Subsidy of Drivers Redux

From Streetsblog:
....Road space is scarce -- that is, not unlimited. It therefore has a positive value, which should be reflected in a market price. If it isn’t -- if prices are fixed at zero (as is the case with most roads) -- then a shortage will result. This is well understood; if the president attempted to fix the price of any other good at a below market rate, libertarians would cry foul and immediately argue that shortages would result. Yet when free roads produce congestion, they conclude that the best solution is to spend taxpayer money on more roads.

...backdoor subsidies to driving have been rampant. An example -- most communities have rules establishing minimum parking requirements for new construction. Cheap and plentiful parking is a significant subsidy to driving, and such parking requirements make it difficult or impossible to build more compact and walkable streetscapes.

... government has intervened heavily to create the road network so beloved by libertarians, and the country continues to bear heavy costs as a result. Any clear-eyed examination of costs and benefits will indicate that the time to rebalance investments away from highways and toward transit is long overdue.


John Schneider said...

I noticed Randal O'Toole is mentioned in the article.

O'Toole is a master at cherry-picking data and selecting metrics showing cars are almost always superior to transit. He's a gifted writer. He calls himself an economist, but he has never earned a degree in the field.

O'Toole focuses on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT's) as the most important thing of all. So when you consider wait times for transit, transit's speed, and the generally short trips made on transit -- the average trip on light rail is only four miles --- then because auto trips are on demand, and over longer distances, they naturally have lower unit costs when the number of miles traveled is large. For example, the dollar cost of driving one mile over a long distance, in terms of time and depreciation and fuel, may well be lower than the cost per mile of a short trip on a streetcar, which may not even be a mile long. And O'Toole may claim the per-mile environmental cost of driving a car is lower than that of someome on a bus or train, even though the transit passenger may travel many fewer miles each day. I suspect, to O'Toole, the city-dwelling bus rider is a major polluter. Which of course isn't true -- NYC is estimated by some to be the greenest city in America right now.

So if you really boil it down, O'Toole's default view of the world is that almost everyone naturally wants to be driving as far and as much as possible. And we should all be prepared to adapt to that norm. For those who've reconfigured their lives within a smaller footprint -- in O'Toole's world, it probably doesn't matter much in the scheme of things.

Quim said...

You guys are talking to the wrong libertarians.
Quite a few would love to see every road in the country be privately owned, developed & maintained.
They are also very opposed to restrictive zoning codes that have screwed up urban areas over the years.
They also are adamant about your constitutional liberties that the Republicans & Democrats would just as soon flush down the toilet.
One of the reasons the private roadways doesn't come up much is that it shines a very bright light on what I call "Libertarianism's Dirty Little Secret" - A true libertarian society would cost a fortune.