In which I respond to the towering genius of rude commenter Paul, part III

This post is a response to a commenter on my earlier post, Public transportation, solution or problem? You can see the original post and the comment in its entirety here:

Commenter: “As far as tax payer subsidies, who do you think pays for the roads you drive on? Billions and billions of dollars are spent on road infrastructure, and you’re not complaining about that. The 14th st bridge project alone cost over $100,000,000… just for the fixing of one bridge over the highway.”

Response: Thank you for raising this point. Proponents of MARTA often try to equate the cost of public transportation with the cost of building roads but let me be clear, the two things are completely different and to compare them shows a lack of objectivity.

We all pay for roads because they are a basic component required for our society to function. Every human in the United States depends on a roadway system. A woman can walk to the grocery store but the food gets there on a truck.  A man may not have a job but his unemployment check was delivered on a road. A person might take MARTA to Starbucks but there wouldn’t be any coffee without roads. Comparing roads to MARTA is like comparing water to arugula.

I agree with your assertion that road construction is often too costly but that simply illustrates the point I made earlier. Governments and their dependent agencies are inefficient delivery systems and should be tasked with the fewest responsibilities possible.

Commenter: “In addition, study after study by the CDC and Universites have shown the benefits of public transit. Atlanta has a high obesity rate and one of the highest asthma rates in the country, all of which are are tied to the automobile lifestyle. In fact, we have previously lost Federal highway funding because our air quality was so bad that it violated EPA standards.”

Response: It is easy for a person to claim validity by citing “study after study” but it is impossible to determine the veracity of the claim or the study without a specific attribution. I would like to point out that the CDC and the EPA are not independent, objective organizations. Both the CDC and EPA depend on federal funding for their livelihood and as such are political instruments.

That concludes my response to commenter Paul. I am glad that he took the time to comment because this is an important issue to the future our state. In the next few years Georgia is going to face increasingly difficult budgetary decisions and we will all have to make some tough choices. If you have anything to add to what Paul and I have written please feel free to leave a comment but play nice or it may not see the light of day.

4 thoughts on “In which I respond to the towering genius of rude commenter Paul, part III

  1. Well first of all, I was not intending to be rude or arrogant, so I apologize if it came off that way. It is very difficult to discern someone’s tone in an internet post. I was being passionate, because public transit is something I deeply care about.

    Yes, I am aware that Fulton and DeKalb are in Georgia. However, you did not respond to my main point in that sentence – that the voters themselves approved both the construction of MARTA and the 1% sales tax to maintain MARTA. Fulton and Dekalb voters chose to support MARTA, so I stand by my assertion that it is in no way a “drain” on taxpayers. In addition, it is not a “$350,000,000” cost for taxpayers – that is exactly why MARTA is proposing cuts right now, to reduce overall costs.

    You quoted Beverly Scott, that she would “need a one-cent sales tax in the eight metro counties outside the Perimeter, plus 65 percent of an additional penny tax in Fulton and DeKalb just to keep MARTA running as it is.” In fact, this is the very plan that Republican Governor Perdue, as well as the Atlanta Regional Commision, support. It absolutely does not sound like a drain on taxpayers to me. I have tried, and I do not understand the anti-tax mindset. What do you think pays for our schools, our police, firefighters, and yes, our public transit? We already have by far the lowest tax rates of any developed country. I really don’t think a 1% sales tax is going to hurt anyone, especially if it provides a service that many of them use. I gave stats on MARTA, it is heavily used by a very large number of people. The 7th most used in the entire country. We use taxes to provide services, and in this case the voters had a chance to rejects the taxes and decide to keep them. Like it or not, the majority of taxpayers in this two-county area are supportive of MARTA.

    I also have to re-stress the equity issue. In your response, you stated that you don’t want to “subsidize [my] choice” to take MARTA. What about the people who have to take MARTA? The poor, the elderly, those that can’t drive for whatever reason (legally blind, narcolepsy, DUIs, etc). Our nation has an obligation to provide them with a way to to get to the store, to work, to medical appointments. Yes, the road system works for most people, and I am happy that our taxes pay for roads. But it doesn’t work for everybody, and that is why public transit is needed.
    Here’s an article from the American Planning Association showing how public transit, specifically MARTA, is needed to promote equity and availability of jobs, and has economic benefits because of this:

    Click to access sanchez_connectionpublictransitemployment.pdf

    You say MARTA is “a government subsidized pseudo-monopoly.” Again, I refer back to the absolutely massive amounts that are spent on roads. Yes, roads are used for transport of food and goods, but so is rail. The amount spent on public transit in this country is absolutely nothing when compared to the amount spent on roads. Your statement that private scetor companies would step in if there wasn’t a governement “subsidized” transit system has shown to be false over and over again. Look at cities without rail transit – where are the private lines? Why hasn’t some private developer built transit lines where there is no government competition? In fact, there is only one place in the entire country where that has happend – the “South Shore Line” in Northern Indiana/Illinois, and even that recently had to receive government money to stay afloat. Long gone are the days of private streetcars.

    And, you’re right, I wouldn’t lose my job if MARTA went away, but it would be a severe inconvienence. I cannot afford to take a cab to work every day, I cannot afford a new car, and I am under lease with my apartment so I cannot move closer to work. I imagine I would probably find someone to carpool with, or perhaps I would be able to find a cheap used car (but then you have insurance costs, gas, etc). My main point was that there are literally tens of thousands of people who take MARTA to work each day, and some of them have no other options. If they live somewhere cheap in South Atlanta and take MARTA to work at a restuarant in Buckhead, do you really think they can afford a car or a cab? Our economy would suffer tremendously if MARTA were to dissapear.

    And on to the big point that you didn’t have an answer for – environmental and health concerns. Do you really want me to cite hundreds of studies? Try a search on google scholar. Here are a few examples:

    A 147 page review of transportation and land use studies from Georgia Tech and CDC:

    Click to access aces-workingpaper1.pdf

    Or how about this U. of British Columbia Study? As reported by US News:

    Take a look at CDC’s transportation and air quality page:

    Here’s a good summary from the university of South Florida, with multiple scholarly references at the bottom of the page:

    Of course, the benefits of public transit on our health and the environment add up to huge cost savings. Lowered medical costs, reduced car accidents, and as I mentioned before, it helps us to keep federal highway money. Everytime the air pollution levels in Atlanta violate the EPA’s standards, we lose money. This happend in 1998, and we were unable to draw upon federal highway funds that year (which by the way make up 80% of our highway budget). Spending money on systems like MARTA help us have cleaner air quality, which somewhat paradoxically help us receive more money for roads.

    There is also a very good study that was collaborated on by multiple agencies (Morehouse Medical School, Emory, Egleston Children’s hospital, CDC, Georgia Division of Public Health), published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, that showed that during the Olympics, the number of cars on the road went way down (because some people just got out of town, and everyone else used MARTA). There was a directly measurable effect on visits to emergency rooms for asthma – it went way down. If this lower level of cars was always in effect, there would be annual medical cost savings of millions of dollars. You can see the results of that study here:
    So if you want to go from a purely economic point of view, it makes sense to fund MARTA, because in the long run we save money.
    Here’s a summary from the American Public Transportation Association that shows some of the economic benefits:

    Click to access apta_media_kit_r2.pdf

    I hope this helped to address some of your concerns about spending tax dollars on public transit. It benefits our health, our economy, and our environment, while providing equity and improving quality of life.

  2. One more thing, I forgot to post a link to this MARTA summary:

    Click to access the-case-for-investment(1).pdf

    Yes, it’s from MARTA, but it uses outside sources to back up its facts, such as:

    MARTA is directly and indirectly responsible for the creation of over 20,000 jobs in Georgia.

    Georgia realizes a $2.1 billion impact to the state’s economy because of MARTA.

    If MARTA stopped running, annual traffic delays in Atlanta (already second only to Los Angeles) would increase by 1.25 million hours and cost an additional $245 million in “congestion costs” (i.e. gas consumption, tardy deliveries and employee productivity).

    Every $1 billion invested in public transportation investment also yields $3.6 billion in business sales and generates nearly $500 million in federal, state and local tax revenues.

    MARTA provides 500,000 daily passenger boardings – 54 percent of those are customers going to work and 10 percent use it get to school.

    46% of MARTA customers report they do not have another readily available transportation option.

    Riding a transit bus is 91 times safer than travelling in a car.

  3. Paul, I appreciate your passion and thank you for taking the time to clarify your points. When time allows I will be glad to continue this discussion.

  4. Thanks Jim, of course feel free to respond, but I imagine we will probably have to agree to disagree on this one. I would put public transit in the same category as abortion or climate change – people tend to be pretty set in their beliefs on the issue.

    I also want to say that I highly appreciate that you actually responded, and put thought into your responses.

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