Public Rail Transportation Highlights Bad Big Government Solutions

I advocate for Limited Government chiefly because, despite claims to the contrary, Government fails miserably at having the wisdom and experience to solve problems in the various economic market segments. For proof, one need look no further than Transportation, specifically Public Transportation.

Since 2006, Nashville, TN has had The Music City Star; a 32 mile long rail line from its eastern suburbs to downtown. Stories run routinely in local media touting the Star’s public benefits. But they never talk about the cost.

One puff piece profiled riders, employees and their Star experiences. How do they afford their idyllic commute? You and I pay for it. Public Transportation does not pay for itself. It is subsidized by millions of tax dollars annually.

In the case of the Star, “Mt. Juliet currently pays $30,000 annually, while Wilson County kicks in $10,000. Compare that to Metro Nashville, which contributes $1.5 million to the train’s $4.57 million annual operating budget, much of which comes from state and federal dollars.” Not only do local tax dollars pay for Nashville commuters, tax dollars from around the nation do, too!

Only about $700K in costs are covered by fares. For it to be self sufficient passengers would pay about six times as much; putting single ticket seats at $12 to $30 and monthly passes at $384 to $1024, depending on which station you use.

A Transportation planner suggested, “… transit pays for about 30-percent of its operations. But a road doesn’t pay for any of its operations, ever. It’s 100-percent subsidized. It’s all through taxes.” This ignores that the Road and Fuel taxes used to fund roads are paid by those who use the roads and not by airline or rail passengers or those who don’t drive.

Increased ridership won’t help the Star. In 2006 it projected 1500 daily passengers after 9 months. 2011’s 1225 daily riders is a record. That volume uses 75% of the seats. The train would need to be almost 5 times as long – and full every trip – to accomodate enough passengers to pay for itself. Assuming we ignore the extra costs in a 500% size increase.

It’s not just here in TN, of course. California is the poster child for how bad it can get when Government is in complete control. Their rail issues nicely compliment the rest of the outrageous Government solutions to problems in the Golden State and elsewhere.

The San Jose Mercury News calls California’s high-speed train project a “$6 billion waste of tax funds” noting this is more bad news for the effort. The state’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office “not only questioned the legality of launching a high speed-train, but also warned legislators that starting construction on the rail line could be a $6 billion waste of tax funds,” according to the paper. It goes on to quote the report as saying it is “increasingly likely that the (initial stretch of track) may be all that is ever built.” Ultimately, the report concludes, the project is “unlikely to justify (the) expense,” according to the Mercury News.

This high-speed train wreck sounds suspiciously like another boondoggle infrastructure project on the ballot for California voters this June: the so-called California Cancer Research Act that’s been organized by a career politician. By raising taxes on overburdened Californians by nearly $1 billion per year, this flawed spending measure allocates about $117 million per year on new buildings and facilities in order to duplicate existing programs. However, the proposition doesn’t even guarantee that the money will even be spent in California! That means Californians could be footing the bill for infrastructure they never even get to see!

Leave it to California’s political class to come up with building trains-to-nowhere and sending millions out of state as solutions for the state’s fiscal mess. This June, let’s hope voters send them a message by voting no on the out-of-control spending that has ruined California.

Back home in Tennessee, let’s hope we learn from California’s bad example and take a clear look at the numbers on public transportation. Despite saving a very small number of people a few dollars and making for nice newspaper stories, it’s a really bad deal for taxpayers. In the name of fairness and fiscal responsibility, we need to find new and better solutions and not just recycle the same old bad ones!