I've written about the horrible inefficiencies of light rail lines in the past, and now P.J. O'Rourke is pondering the expense of mass transit in general.

There are just two problems with mass transit. Nobody uses it, and it costs like hell. Only 4% of Americans take public transportation to work. Even in cities they don't do it. Less than 25% of commuters in the New York metropolitan area use public transportation. Elsewhere it's far less--9.5% in San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, 1.8% in Dallas-Fort Worth. As for total travel in urban parts of America--all the comings and goings for work, school, shopping, etc.--1.7 % of those trips are made on mass transit.

Then there is the cost, which is--obviously--$52 billion. Less obviously, there's all the money spent locally keeping local mass transit systems operating. The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides." Heritage cites the Minneapolis "Hiawatha" light rail line, soon to be completed with $107 million from the transportation bill. Heritage estimates that the total expense for each ride on the Hiawatha will be $19. Commuting to work will cost $8,550 a year. If the commuter is earning minimum wage, this leaves about $1,000 a year for food, shelter and clothing. Or, if the city picks up the tab, it could have leased a BMW X-5 SUV for the commuter at about the same price.

My favorite suggestion of his is, "a lot of commuters don't want to go to work anyway. Slot machines could be put on all forms of mass transit." I like it!

Anyway, mass transit is a wasteful joke. As Clayton Cramer recognizes, mass transit isn't designed to move people around cheaply, "the primary purpose of public transit is putting union workers on the public payroll". As I wrote about light rail in Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles light rail system is costing taxpayers around $500 million annually by now (that was written in 1999); for the price of light rail for one year we could add new lanes to freeways that people actually use. I know, it's a revolutionary thought.



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