Whose Benefits? Whose Costs?
The Kansas City Star recently reported on Kansas City’s adoption of a long-range transportation plan to “emphasiz[e] energy conservation, environmental protection, public health and creat[e] places that are compact, walkable and bike-friendly.”
Conservation and improved public health are great, but expanding transportation options isn’t necessarily so. Plans to overhaul roads and transportation access require a careful consideration not just of costs, but especially of consumer demand. Millions of dollars spent on public transportation projects — whether for buses, light rail, or cars — need to be seriously evaluated not just in terms of cost, but also in terms of projected use based on actual demand, not wishful thinking.
Many of the problems (beyond cost alone) with the Kansas City transportation project were already highlighted in a 2008 Show-Me Institute policy study. Chief among present problems, however, is that long-term public financing can be uncertain and unsustainable not only because of state-level budget concerns, but also because many transportation projects are heavily subsidized at the federal level.
From the article:
The federal government is taking other steps to encourage alternatives to the car.
The Department of Transportation is loosening the criteria for picking rail projects, which could benefit Kansas City as it pursues a commuter rail network and a downtown streetcar line.
And [Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood recently drew fire when he announced on his blog that the government would “discourage” transportation spending that negatively affects bicyclists and pedestrians.
“This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized,” LaHood wrote.
Relying exclusively on large public financing distributions may in fact distort the transportation options commuters actually want and would use. Most importantly, if citizens do demand alternative mass transit options, public financing needn’t be their only recourse.