Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Adding to Anti

Anti has a great comment in response to Archduke F.F.’s post on the MN gas tax:

“Yeah I like nice roads and what not but why I really support it is because it is a start to getting people to realize the true cost of our transit system. Our current transit system is one of the largest perverse subsidies that government provides. Now a perverse subsidy is one that does both environmental and economical harm, therefore not providing a negative net result.I would make the argument that this tax needs to go much further, but I am realistic enough to understand that green taxes will only work on a national level. Our current economic system rewards those who can decrease their personal costs at the expense of increasing societal externality costs. If we are ever going to achieve an economy that enhances our standard of living, provides economic growth, and does so through sustainable means we are going to have to implement taxes that causes people and business to experience the actual costs of their activities. And by doing so we will fuel industrial innovation and creativity, because nothing makes people and companies more creative than when they are trying to figure out ways to save money.”

I think part of the problem with our transportation system and the method of financing it is borne of cultural expectations or maybe an entitlement mentality surrounding our car culture. The D.C. metropolitan area is a good example of this. People constantly discuss the need to widen I-66 (a major highway that goes from the far reaches of the Virginia exurbs to D.C.). Whereas the discussion of rail (whether it be heavy rail, underground, or light rail) is framed within the language of a subsidy, almost as if it were some sort of fashionable amenity like a new ballpark. National budgeting reflects this sentiment as well. The federal gas tax which goes to funding our public infrastructure is apportioned overwhelmingly to highway infrastructure. Amtrak gets a meager $1-2 billion and is expected to recoup the rest of its operating expenses in ticket revenues (nevermind any capital investment and the sheer impracticality of this propositon due to mandated routes that have virtually no ridership and the absurd subsidies of air transportation which compete with rail on short and medium haul routes). Any federal funding that is earmarked for light rail or metro expansion is derided as pork, whereas the highway funding itself is viewed as sacrosanct. This view perpetuates itself as people organize their lives to a considerable degree around their transportation wants and needs.

No comments: