Cross-posted on

The Transit Equity Network has just published a study called More Transit – More Jobs
in which it suggests switching 50% of highway funding to transit in 20
metropolitan areas to create an additional 180,000 jobs over the next
five years. Their basic thesis is that each kajillion in spending can
produce more jobs in transit than in highways. We don’t comment on
that, because, frankly, the purpose of transportation spending is
neither to create transit jobs nor highway jobs.

We spend on transit and highways because of benefits that extend beyond
any direct employment. And, the extent of those benefits cannot be
compared between the two modes. At current rates of spending each
billion dollars spent on highways supports about 25 times as much
personal mobility as one spent on transit. Beyond that, highway
spending supports the movement of more than 1.25 billion ton miles of
truck freight, which keeps product prices low and supports our affluent
life style.

Transit carries 0.0 ton miles of freight. Researchers such
as Prud’homme & Chang-Wong and Hartgen & Fields
have shown that the type of ubiquitous mobility provided by road
systems produce greater economic growth. Moving money out of roads
would increase traffic congestion, destroy jobs and increase product
prices by slowing down trucks.

Why, on earth, then would anyone make such a dubious proposal? To
paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It’s the ideology, stupid." As we wrote
within the past week, much of transportation spending over the last 25
years has been solidly based in an anti-mobility ideology
that has produced virtually nothing in return. Already, transit, which
accounts for one percent of national travel and no freight movement,
accounts for more than 20% of spending on highways and transit
combined. Things would be better if that were raised to 60%?

If the Transit Equity Network were right (which it is not), then why
stop at 50% for transit? Why not take all of the transit and highway
money and just employ people to dig holes with shovels and then fill
them up again. The only costs would be wages, benefits, shovels and
administration. We could save money by not buying concrete, rails,
fancy trains or palatial administrative buildings. Another advantage is
that the holes would require no longer term operating subsidies.

So, we need to do more than dump the ideology. We need also to dump
the stupidity. Government does not exist for the purpose of government
services and transportation programs do not exist for the good of
transportation employees or vendors. Each dollar of infrastructure
expenditures should be used to facilitate the greatest economic benefit
throughout society as a whole, not just among people employed in
transit (or highways for that matter).