Why are roads favoured by the right and trains by socialists?

From Christian Wolmar’s blog: Why are roads favoured by the right and trains by socialists?
An interesting question, I posted a reply, repeated below.

“From the US, I think part of the problem is the definition of “subsidy”. Here, auto users pay a user fee, most of which is in the form of a gas (petrol) tax, that is dedicated (hypothecated) to road construction, and pays in most places essentially 100% of the cost for major roads (freeways, state highways). (Local roads are largely paid for with property tax, but you would have these even without cars). So rather than thinking about it as a public subsidy, it is a service in exchange for a fee. In contrast public transit users pay about 1/3 of the operating cost (and about 0/3 of the capital cost) in most systems, the remainder is paid for out of general funds, dedicated sales taxes, and from highway user fees. The system is thus more subsidized by non-users. Also in the US 90+% of taxpayers are regular auto users, about 1% to 2% are regular transit users, so the cross-subsidy from transit users to highway users when using general revenue is relatively small and the cross-subsidy from highway users to transit users is relatively large. All of which sets the stage for the left/right divide. Things that are subsidized by the general public for the disadvantaged few (and riders of buses generally have much lower incomes than average, trains are different) are consistent with a “left”/Democratic point-of-view. People left to their own devices paying for what they use is a more “right”/Republican point-of-view. Trains, especially commuter trains, have attracted Republican support. This is because the users are well-to-do suburbanites who often vote Republican. Transit advocates endorse this as a way to broaden the base for transit support (though of course it will take resources away from other transit investments).”

Impatient Subway Riders Revolt in Chicago

From the NYT:
Impatient Subway Riders Revolt in Chicago
“Impatient Subway Riders Revolt in Chicago
CHICAGO — The packed rush-hour subway train had been stopped for about an hour Tuesday morning, held up by a malfunctioning train ahead. In air hot and stuffy, the passengers had turned nervous and impatient. Ignoring pleas of transit workers, they decided to leave the train and walk through the dimly lighted tunnel toward freedom.
The unauthorized evacuation, transit officials said, caused a bigger problem. Fearing that passengers could be electrocuted by the third rail, officials cut off power to part of the Blue Line, which travels a large U-shaped route between the West Side and O’Hare International Airport. Service was disrupted for about four hours, and more than a thousand passengers had to be helped off several trains.
“If those particular passengers had not self-evacuated, we could have gotten people out on trains and restored service much sooner,? said Ron Huberman, president of the Chicago Transit Authority. …

I wonder how common this is. I remember reading about this happening in London’s Underground early in the last century. Would certainty about how long the delay would be have calmed the riders?

McCain Proposes Break in Gas Taxes

McCain Proposes Break in Gas Taxes
“To help people weather the downturn immediately, McCain urged Congress to institute a “gas-tax holiday” by suspending the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. He also renewed his call for the United States to stop adding to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and thus lessen to some extent the worldwide demand for oil.”
An amazing pander from an amazing politician. Perhaps we should suspend payments to private oil companies for gas as well. Since the user fee for roads doesn’t need to be paid, neither does the user fee for energy.
We knew he cared about the environment, but it seems, apparently McCain is for global warming.
At least it is a non-starter.

Housing + Transportation Affordability

Center for Neighborhood Technology: Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
An interesting idea, though I don’t really buy the results, since housing as a percentage of income is a choice and there should not be a standard against which we judge this. If I choose to consume more house and less entertainment, who is to say that is “unaffordable”. If housing + transport in the exurbs take a higher share of income than the cities, isn’t that what the exurbanites prefer, and don’t they get better houses than we city folk (i.e. likely to be new with all the amenities and more sq.ft. per person)?


From the Strib: Northwest Airlines agrees to be acquired by Delta
1) Will the new Delta be any less dominant at any hub than either airline was before?
2) Will there be more service or lower prices?
3) Will fuel prices be lower?
4) Will labor costs be lower?
A merger really only makes sense (for the acquiring company) if it increases benefits (revenue) or lowers costs. I.e. are there synergies or economies of scale/scope to be had, and do those benefits outweigh the transaction cost of the acquisition and integration of two organizations. Given that airlines have not been cumulative profitable over their history … as Warren Buffett has said
(quoted in New York Times) “If we knew then what we know now, we’d have shot the Wright Brothers down.? (“A Profitable 18 Hours That’s All Business,? Tuesday March 11, 2008, C-6) ”
it is doubtful a merger really does much of anything, especially since airline alliances and inter-ticketing are as seamless as regular air travel (not seamless, just “as seamless”)
This article looks at the issue more formally, suggesting profits are centered on zero and are getting more and more volatile, and that the cause is part the large capital orders of airplanes, which have a long lag, are ordered in good times and arrive in bad times, exacerbating the excess capacity problem.
From a local pride issue, the Twin Cities loses another headquarters. However NWA has been steadily slipping in the airline league tables (along with MSP airport in the airport league tables), so this was probably an inevitable loss. But since MSP remains a hub, one expects a similar level of non-stop service and similar level of semi-monopoly prices. If MSP were to lose hub status, a low cost carrier could move in and allow competition to drive down prices, which would not be too bad.

Private Toll Roads

Article in NY Times about experience of privatization on Indiana Toll Roads: Toll Road Offers New Jersey a Fiscal Test Drive . While noting critics, the article is generally favorable. This is an issue primarily for existing public toll agencies which a number of governors want to sell off for cash up front. Secondarily, the issue arises of tolling existing untolled roads and building new private toll roads.
The article did not raise the issue of non-compete clauses, which were the undoing of California SR-91’s private ownership.

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