MARTA vs. Roads and privately operated transit

This is another chapter in my continuing response to commenter Paul. In this chapter I will try to sort through the following paragraph to make some sense of the claims and arguments and then answer them to the best of my ability.

 “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 sector 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.”

Commenter: “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”

Response: Surely you jest. As I pointed out before roads are the lifeblood of our entire society. To compare roads to public transportation is patently absurd and it shows that you are grasping at straws. “Massive amounts” are spent on roads because everything you need to survive is dependent on functioning roads. Roads are not an option they are a necessity. Public transportation would not exist if not for the roads that buses and cars use to reach the train station. Railroads do transport goods but they don’t deliver them to stores and unless MARTA has started a freight service it is just silly for you to bring up railroads in a discussion of public transportation. Also, roads are paid for by user taxes. Every gallon of gasoline sold in Georgia costs 50 cents more because of federal, state and local taxes.

Commenter: “Your statement that private sector 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?”

Response: I never said anything about private rail. I said private transit system. That private system would probably be composed of buses, cabs and other options just like it is in the vast majority of cities around the world. Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone else that there are only a handful of cities in the United States that even have commuter trains and those are the cities with the worst traffic. Perhaps the billions of dollars used to subsidize MARTA over the years could have served a better purpose and Atlanta wouldn’t face the traffic problems we see today.

2 thoughts on “MARTA vs. Roads and privately operated transit

  1. The gas tax doesn’t even come close to paying for roads. Georgia’s state gas tax is the second lowest in the entire country (only Alaska’s is lower). I would fully support a user tax in the form of tolls to pay for the roads. Semis transporting goods wouldn’t have to pay the tolls, so there would be no increase in shipping/delivery costs. Goergia is moving in this direction. The general assembly recently voted to allow tolls on existing highways, and both GDOT and the ARC have plans to introduce tolls and congestion pricing to metro Atlanta highways. MARTA users have to pay $2 to use the rail, why shouldn’t people driving also have to pay to use the roads?

    In a discussion of public transit, you have to talk about roads. To compare roads to public transit is not “absurd.” I did not equate the two, I simply pointed out that rail is also used to transport goods. In fact, the vast majority of coal is shipped by rail, and that is what powers your house, especially in Georgia where we get most of our electricity from coal fired plants. However, that is focusing on freight rail. We’re talking about subways, light rail, and commuter rail. Yes, you are absolutely right, they do not transport goods. They are meant to transport people, and in that respect they are just as neccessary as roads, especially for those who are unable to drive.

    I have never denied the importance of roads, in fact in a previous post I said that I’m very glad our taxes pay for the building and upkeep of roads. I wish we spent MORE on maintaining our roads. There are some nasty potholes and those huge metal plates all over the metro area. I am advocating for both roads AND public transit. But, the fact is, when you keep building more and more lanes onto the highways, its makes congestion worse. Expanding capacity increases demand, which increases sprawl and usage, increasing vehicle miles traveled and lowering quality of life due to air pollution and poor built environments in suburban communities.

    As far as your statement that cities with transit and commuter rail have the most congestion, that is incredibly misleading. The reason cities like New York and Chicago have bad traffic isn’t because they have commuter rail. It is not a causal relationship. It is because they are incredibly dense cities. Or, take Los Angeles for example – it has the worst traffic congestion in the country, but a very bare-bones transit system. Or, compare Houston to Atlanta. They both are similar in terms of traffic congestion, but Houston does not have commuter rail (and only very recently installed one short streetcar line). To claim that adding rail transit makes car congestion worse is simply false. It does the exact opposite.
    In Atlanta’s case, poor urban planning and huge sprawling suburbs create the traffic. Most people live in the suburbs, but most people work in downtown, midtown, buckhead, and perimeter. That is what causes the bad traffic. Transit usage helps to ease the congestion.

  2. Paul,

    I understand you are passionate about this issue and our exchanges enlighten me in many ways but I would ask that you please check your facts. You have made many claims over the past week and many of them are just plain wrong.

    According to Georgia’s 2010 budget (available online) the state will take in nearly 1.2 billion dollars in motor fuel taxes and motor vehicle license taxes. The state will then spend $520 million on roads. In fact the state will only spend about $700 million on the entire Department of Transportation. That’s less than the 895 million dollars the state takes in from fuel taxes alone.

    The truth is that drivers in the state of Georgia will be a cash cow of half a billion dollars in 2010!

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