Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Don't Listen to Joe Sixpack, We Know Better.

P.J. O'Rourke has a funny piece called "Mass Transit Hysteria" at this morning. It's entertaining and rather infuriating at the same time. O'Rourke says, "There are just two problems with mass transit. Nobody uses it, and it costs like hell."

I had no idea how sparingly people use mass transit in our country. Nationally, it is only 4% and even in New York City, it's less than 25% of commuters. As a Californian, I assumed everyone rode the subway to work in the Big Apple! Nationally, the costs run into the billions of dollars each year (actually, that's just L.A.). Talk about a boondoggle. Everyone pays taxes to build systems that are used by a few. And because next to nobody rides mass transit, we all have to pay more in taxes for transit subsidies. These subsidies keep the empty trains running, fares affordable and the metropolitan transit authorities "solvent," I presume.

If we're talking in environmental terms, just how much are we doing when only 4% of commuters use mass transit? And are we really reducing traffic congestion by any measurable amount? When I read the O'Rourke piece I was reminded of a maddening L.A. Times article I read a few years ago. I wish I had a blog back in 2002. Miraculously, I found the article here (archived on another website). This paragraph says a lot (emphasis mine):
"Lots of people are opposed to transit," said Mike Ward, an OCTA board member and Irvine councilman. "But we are trying to make decisions that will affect the county 20 to 25 years from now, when we will have 600,000 more people."

It wouldn't matter if there were 10 million more Orange County residents in 20 years! (The OC has roughly 3 million now). This OCTA bureaucrat was quite comfortable jamming a light rail system down the throats of Orange County's residents. Forget that citizens don't want it. Forget that the numbers don't work and it will never pay for itself. Orange County is too geographically, um, diverse, to make economical sense out of a light rail system (in other words, Countie L'Orange is too spread out!).

Don't believe me? Look at the numbers from the OCTA itself. Total cost is estimated at $1.1 billion (expect this to go up, as most cost estimates do). They expect 15,000 daily riders (that's only 0.50% of all residents, and ridership estimates rarely meet expectations anyway). If you amortize the capital costs over ten years, it works out to over $700 per month per rider. O'Rourke is correct, giving each rider a BMW X-5 would be cheaper.

Fortunately for those behind the orange curtain, it seems their rail project is dying on the vine. What is troubling though is the elitist mentality of a few bureaucrats who get behind their pet projects and lose sight of the greater needs of society. Whether it's judicial activisim of varying sorts, or other unelected bureaucrats running our lives, one thing is certain: these big government types will do what they want, not what Joe Sixpack wants.

Your note about the billions for mass transut reminds me of the Big Dig in Boston(a Tip O'Neill boondoggle) that had billions of dollars worth of cost overruns....not counting the leaking tunnels. And, now, the beginning of Spring weather has ice falling from the artistic looking bridge and breaking auto windshields. Didn't anyone think of that possibility? No, and bureaucrats never consider any other unintended consequences in anything they do.

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