Depreciation, Operating Deficits and Rail to Dulles

James Simpson, the Federal Transit Administration honcho who axed federal funding for the Rail-to-Dulles project has explained his thinking to the Washington Examiner. There’s not much in the article that I didn’t cover yesterday in “Rail to Dulles Is Dead. Give It a Pauper’s Burial,” but it hits the highlights with greater clarity than I managed to do.

Plus, Simpson does elaborate on his concerns about the ongoing financial viability of the Washington Metro system. Metro faces a $7 billion backlog of capital and maintenance needs, he says, that remain “unfunded and dire” — even without the additional commitments entailed by extending a heavy rail line to Dulles airport.

That’s what happens to heavy rail systems: They depreciate. It’s not enough to raise the money to build them. It’s not enough to cover the annual operating deficits. You have to continue to invest in them or they fall apart. You can get away with under-funding for a few years, maybe even a couple of decades. But eventually the under-funding catches up with you.

The entire debate over the Rail-to-Dulles revolved around finding the money to build the project. I have neither read nor heard anything about how much it will cost each year to fund the depreciation and operating deficits, much less who would pay for the shortfall. Has anyone made that calculation?

Say what you will about road projects — the process of selecting where to build them is highly politicized, and they often reward developers while promoting dysfunctional human settlement patterns — but at least there is a mechanism in place in Virginia to pay for ongoing maintenance and operations. It’s called the gas tax. The maintenance backlog for Virginia’s roads, highways and bridges is not nearly as bad, apparently, as the backlog for Washington Metro.


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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What is different now about METRO’s finances and maintenance backlog that is different than a year or 18 months ago?

    What has changed?

    I’d not dispute the circumstances cited in the FTA letter but weren’t those pretty much the same circumstances a year ago when they were giving preliminary approval?

    And when FTA said no to the tunnel option.. were they not implicitly agreeing that the price of moving forward was to take the tunnel option off of the table?

    At the time the tunnel option was removed… was the impression that the project was still hanging by a thread or that a significant obstacle had been removed?

    I’m just asking questions.. not particular dog in this hunt other than from a process/procedural perspective.

    It is pretty hard to believe that a dozen or more officials got the wrong message…..not once.. but multiple times in the timeline..

  2. Groveton Avatar

    My bet? The feds were rolling along fat, dumb and happy on lots of projects. Then Dubya finally manages to see that the economy is headed for a fall. He needs a stimulus package that means handing out cash without any new taxes. Even Dubya’s math skills are good enough to figure out that this will increase the deficit even more than he has already increased it. He puts out the word, “Go find me some spendin’ to cancel”. All the agencies start looking at their project lists. The FTA decides that the Rail to Dulles project can be thrown on the ash heap. They suddenly “discover” that the project has problems.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You know.. I think you have it.

    what are there.. about 2.5 million folks in NoVa?

    and the stimulus rebate is $1200 bucks per married….

    2,500,000 x 1200 = 3 Billion.

    yup.. they save the 900mil then some… and they’re off the hook for future money also…

    Gee.. what a shock it would have been for FTA to come right out and say:

    “because of the economy – we’ve been directed to cut back on our grants and this is one of them”

    Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth …. begin…

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    bad math.. sorry

    1/2 * 2.5 million * 1200 = 1.5 billion

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    You are all kidding yourselves. Every elected official in Richmond and NoVA knew, or had the facts to know, that this project was in trouble.

    It was in trouble under the old system because it does not provide sufficient commuting time savings for the costs. The FTA raised the funding standards for all projects. Frank Wolf and John Warner got legislation passed that grandfathered the old, weaker standard for Dulles Rail. So, under the old rules, we played with 8 foot baskets. The league raised the height to 10 feet, but said Dulles Rail could continue to play its games with 8 foot baskets. Now they are crying that the 8 foot baskets are too high.

    Next, Governor Kaine needed to decide whether to propose a tunnel or not. After receiving huge campaign contributions from West Group and other Tysons players and studying the data, Kaine decided to stick with the elevated line, which enraged his contributors, who stood to gain more financially with a tunnel. The Governor stated that the project’s ability to obtain federal funding was too close to risk the unknowns of a tunnel. Does anyone truly believe that Kaine would have made a decision so contrary to the interests of his backers if he thought the project was in good shape? Kaine knew the team would have trouble winning even with the 8 foot baskets.

    Meanwhile, construction costs have continued to sky-rocket; the agreement remains no-bid; Bechtel’s Big Dig falls apart, killing some unsuspecting traveler; WMATA’s operations are unravelling; no one who lives or works in and around Tysons wants the tunnel (except the the landowners who don’t care what happens, so long as they get their density); Tysons Tunnel is formed and becomes active; numerous civic groups are also fighting the elevated line; construction costs continue to leap higher; etc. Plus, the DOT’s Inspector General writes a severely critical report on the project.

    Gee, I would think that most people, especially those smart enough to get elected to office, should be able to figure out that the project is in trouble.

    I would suspect that no one in the FTA told Kaine that the project was a piece of crap. There’s a certain decorum that applies; FTA employees were likely polite and less than direct to the Governor. I’d do the same. But anyone who has played in Washington quickly learns how to read through the politeness. Kaine and everyone else surely understood the real meaning of the FTA’s communications.

    The project barks and even foams at the mouth. It should be mercifully put to sleep. A new mass transit plan that is about moving people efficiently, effectively and safely should be developed. Bechtel and the Tysons landowners can just lick their wounds.

    TMT

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I know this sounds perverse but I think some of the elected will be hurt more for the project falling through than they would have been if the project had succeeded.

    The BLOGs are ablaze about this.

    Loudoun County is up in arms … says that this directly affects their growth plan….

    but what I also sense .. is that most folks want some version of this.. they just don’t like the current players involved nor the non-competitive bid.

    Could it be that FTA called everyone together and said “this project is going sour – as currently configured – and we need to get out of it, let the dust settle.. and go back and do it right”?

    This issue is rich in irony as it is the Smart Growth folks who usually are pointing to developers promoting highways to provide a gravy train for developers and here we have something that the Smart Growth folks like (I think).. and it gets in trouble because, in part, there is a perception that it serves developers interests more than the public interest.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “Say what you will about road projects, but at least there is a mechanism in place in Virginia to pay for ongoing maintenance and operations. It’s called the gas tax. The maintenance backlog for Virginia’s roads, highways and bridges is not nearly as bad, apparently, as the backlog for Washington Metro.”

    The gas tax only pays about 55% of road expenses (according to FHWA); we would have to nearly double the gas tax to cover the shortfall. This means we have to pay for a lot of highway repairs out of general funds. I personally don’t have an issue with subsidizing all forms of transportation since the sum is greater than the pieces, but you can’t argue for 100% user pays and then support the current road funding formula.

    As far as the backlog of work goes, that really depends on what you consider adequate maintenance. The generally poor road quality in VA along with some other states definitely transfers expenses from the maintainer to the user. All the suspension damage, broken exhausts, curb rash, etc. is a real expense that randomly hits various users.

    “That’s what happens to heavy rail systems: They depreciate. It’s not enough to raise the money to build them. It’s not enough to cover the annual operating deficits. You have to continue to invest in them or they fall apart. You can get away with under-funding for a few years, maybe even a couple of decades. But eventually the under-funding catches up with you.”

    Everything depreciates over time and needs either periodic maintenance, complete overhaul, and/or eventually replacement. There are a number of large road, airport, rail projects that will have to be undertaken in the near term to overhaul or replace infrastructure that was done on the cheap from the 60s-80s. Look at the Wilson Bridge replacement (I say replacement because a widening would have only required one new bridge) as a sign of things to come. Other big ones such as I-66, I-95, and the beltway along with heavily traveled roads in Richmond and HR will need major overhaul at some point, which are going to end up being nightmares for traffic.

    This brings up the whole issue if we should be investing in new infrastructure, while existing infrastructure needs a huge amount of rehabilitation.

    ZS

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    ZS, we can argue about what share of road *construction* the gas tax pays for in Virginia. 55% sounds about right, perhaps even a little high. But there isn’t any arguing how much maintenance the gas tax pays for. It pays for 100%. There is no other source of maintenance funding for roads. I don’t care what the FHWA says about national averages…. that’s what the number is in Virginia.

  9. Groveton Avatar

    It was a bad plan, poorly executed. However, I still believe the FTA’s sudden announcement was the result of federal belt tightening.

    Sometimes belt tightening gives the right answer.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: road maintenance vs metro maintenance

    tell me again how many bridges that we know need work that we claim we don’t have money to fix even though we have 3 billion a year in funds?

    tell me again how many obvious bottlenecks that we have that we know how to fix that we do not have money for….?

    tell me again why 1/2% of the sales tax DESERVES to be spent for roads rather than say Transit or in NoVa, Metro Maintenance and/or a dedicated source of funding for METRO?

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: TMT’s Metro Proposal

    I like it …. a LOT.

    this aligns with my philosophy that we build transportation facilities for transportation purposes FIRST and let the private sector worry about economic development which includes paying for the ACCESS that “for-profit” want/need.

    Whether it be a TOD rail station or an Interchange.

    In both cases… NOT done on the taxpayers dime and not done on the cheap as a quick and dirty straw to funnel/siphon traffic but instead whatever it takes to MAINTAIN the design LOS of the transportation facility while providing reasonable access to business.

    But with respect to the current fiasco… TMT’s suggestion is such a reasonable vision that an honest question is the how/why the current proposal got to be what it is which has so many alarm bells going off that even the public is wary about?

    How to NOT repeat the same mistake.

    and I agree also.. that given the current players.. who had every opportunity to NOT let this project go wrong.. that someone external to it – like Kaine may be the only “honest” broker as perceived by the public (and even with Kaine that might be an optimistic view given his current involvement which was/is more “me to” than “clean this mess up”).

  12. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry…

    On bridges: Philip Shucet told me a couple of years back that one reason that road maintenance costs were consuming a larger part of the transportation budget is that VDOT is more aggressively moving to reduce the backlog of maintenance issues on bridges. Assuming a continuation of existing policies, the state would effectively work the backlog down to zero within 18-20 years. That would be unprecedented in the United States.

    On bottlenecks: I never said the gas tax provided all the money we need to eliminate bottlenecks, only that roads in Virginia pay 100 percent of their own maintenance.

    On the sales tax: You’re blogging too early in the morning and need a cup of coffee! That 1/2 percent sales tax covers a lot of transportation needs other than roads. Ports. Airports. And, I think (subject to verification) mass transit. But, again, that’s not germane to my point in response to ZS, that roads *do* pay their own way for maintenance.

    The problem with road funding is for new construction. There, the connection between who uses/benefits from the roads and who pays for them has been totally severed.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: 1/2% sales tax

    FYI:

    “Highway funding is derived from state and federal gasoline taxes, vehicle title fees, vehicle sales taxand one-half percent of state’s sales tax.”

    “Funds for the Secondary Six-Year Plan and the construction budget are derived from state and federal
    fuel taxes, vehicle title fees, vehicle sales tax and one-half cent of the State’s general sales tax.”

    http://www.virginiadot.org/about/resources/BOSmanual2006.pdf

    note the VDOT url.. but let’s not quibble…

    so why not DEDICATE the WHOLE 1/2% to non-highway transportation and let the “gas tax funds roads” argument be a pure as the driven snow?

    then from now on… Road transportation funding will come solely from the fuel tax and tolls and transit/rail from the 1/2% sales tax.

    I like it.

    I bet most urban-dwelling Virginians would vote yes for the 1/2% dedicated funding for transit.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “But, again, that’s not germane to my point in response to ZS, that roads *do* pay their own way for maintenance.

    The problem with road funding is for new construction. There, the connection between who uses/benefits from the roads and who pays for them has been totally severed.”

    In the original post you stated that the gas tax payed for both maintenance and operations, now it’s just maintenance. I sincerely doubt that the gas tax pays for fire, police, rescue, or roadside assistance which are required to operate a road system.

    The 55% number is a mix of both capital and maintenance expenses, not solely capital, and since VA has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation, I would imagine that capital expenditures are almost entirely not funded by gas taxes.

    As I noted before even if you are doing maintenance, depending on how you define the standards and quality, which are very low in VA, can easily defer or transfer costs to other parties or other colors of money. Heavily deferred maintenance on things like the Wilson Bridge or I-66 right outside the beltway is a way to essentially change maintenance dollars to capital dollars.

    I don’t personally have an issue with roads being funded from general funds, but don’t pretend they aren’t and then get on transit for not being 100% self-sufficient. The idea that transportation can be funded by user pays would really only occur in high demand corridors, but would leave us with a lack of interconnectivity that is necessary for a system to work as a whole. To make that happen you need everyone to fund the whole system. There a couple good econ papers on why a la carte cable TV doesn’t work that have very similar funding arguments.

    ZS

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    VDOT’s total budget is about 4 billion annually.

    Virginia gets about a billion a year from each percentage of the sales tax.

    VDOT gets about $843 million comes from the state gas tax.

    422 million comes from the 1/2%
    910 million from the Fed gas tax.

    http://www.virginiadot.org/projects/resources/VDOT_Budget.pdf

    the idea that the gas tax and those who pay the gas tax “fully fund” highways is a myth.

    Guess what? HORRORS! Roads.. are subsidized… TOO! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    “The gas tax only pays about 55% of road expenses (according to FHWA); we would have to nearly double the gas tax to cover the shortfall. This means we have to pay for a lot of highway repairs out of general funds.”

    And where do the general funds and sales taxees come from? Mostly from people who (gasp!) drive cars.

    The users are paying whatever gets spent on roads. That might not be enough, but arguing over who is paying whatever it is, is just silly. We pay for roads out of several sources of funds because there are several kinds of road beneficiaries (at least, the way I see it). I wouldn’t have any problem with shifting to more of a user pays pardigm (and, currently, the gas tax is the only workable way to do this) as long as the other sources are equally reduced.

    But, if that happened, you would hear even more knashing of teeth over subsidies to landowners and developers.

    There is no point in arguing about whether roads are subsidized, without recognizing who is providing the money. In the case of roads, it comes down almost uniformly to people who use the roads.

    You just can’t say the same for transit. If we think that a Prius driver isn’t paying his share, because of high fuel economy, and then say that buses are more economical, what does that say about what bus riders pay for their use of the roads, in that big heavy vehicle?

    Rail transit is also supported by auto drivers. A big portion of Metro funds comes from renting parking spaces. We suggest that it is correct to have auto drivers help support Metro through other means as well, based on the idea that Metro reduces congestion.

    Thirty years of experience ought to show us it has done nothing of the sort. Even if it is true, on some corridors, why should those who have no access to, or use for, Metro have to help pay for it?

    ZS has hit it on the head, as usual.

    “don’t pretend they aren’t [funded from other sources] and then get on transit for not being 100% self-sufficient. The idea that transportation can be funded by user pays would really only occur in high demand corridors, but would leave us with a lack of interconnectivity that is necessary for a system to work as a whole. To make that happen you need everyone to fund the whole system. ”

    User pays would only work in high volume corridors, and that goes for roads, too. If we really had user pays (for the service they get) ROVA would pay a lot more. Instead, the proposition is to make those who get the worst service, and use our investment the most, pay more.

    Probably, by the time you work out all the economics, first and second order, for all the modes combined, ZS is correct: the best thing to do is have everybody pay, and get on with it.

    RH

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Why does it make any difference if money comes from state gas tax or Fed? Someone fills up in Maryland, drives through the state and fill sup again in South Carolina.

    Why shouldn’t that money be shared? How is that a “subsidy”?

    RH

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    There continues to be a big disconnection between those who benefit from growth and those who are bearing, or believe that they bear, the costs for growth.

    Needless to say, we need to grow and there are both costs and benefits associated with growth.

    A good example is Dulles Rail and Tysons Corner. Bill Lecos, from the Chamber of Commerce, is running around screaming that Fairfax County will grow by 200,000 jobs, such that we must pay the cost for building Dulles Rail so that many of those jobs come to Tysons Corner and the landowners can reap big profits either building higher density or flipping their lots with higher FARs.

    Let’s assume Lecos is right about the jobs, such that none of them can go to other counties. OK.

    But why must the bulk of the jobs go to Tysons? Why is it not reasonable to expect, or even to steer, many of those jobs to Reston, Herndon, Springfield, etc.? Are there no benefits to landowners in those areas? What if infrastructure costs are less with more growth occurring in those other parts of Fairfax County?

    The WaPo today contains sob stories from Tysons Corner landowners and businesses who are crying because they invested on the assumption that taxpayers and DTR users would pony up for Dulles Rail regardless of cost. But now, they might lose money. Gee, let’s all cry!

    Kaine should build the rail line exclusively in the DTR median and let the landowners build their own stations and internal circulator systems. But that’s not as good as taxpayers and DTR users sucking up the costs. Gee, let’s all cry.

    TMT

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: subsidies and user pays

    it matters when the road advocates claim that roads pay for themselves and transit does not.

    then we go further claiming that because people prefer to drive that therefore roads are more deserving of general funds over and above by a factor of twice as much as drivers generate in funds – a clear subsidy.

    Who says that roads are MORE deserving of a subsidy than transit and why?

    When we subsidize roads, we encourage more solo driving at rush hour that eats up capacity at a rate far higher than that persons individual gas taxes AND subsidy actually pays for – and so the professed solution to that is to raises taxes higher on everyone who buys gasoline no matter if they don’t drive as far or at times and places that require higher levels of infrastructure… they will pay more for gasoline even though their driving habits are relatively modest compared to the solo SOV rush-hour folks – often more euphemistically referred do as higher VMT drivers.

    I have a problem with any subsidy that results in more and more consumption and thus more and more demand for more subsidies to keep up with demand.

    When demand outstrips a subsidy it means that “user pays” is needed.

    Subsidy’s are intended only to provide a core services that are required for basic health and welfare and charging for it would result in a denial of services to the people intended to benefit.

    When we subsidize something and the result is an increase in demand then we have two choices – increase the subsidies or convert to a “user pays” paradigm.

    when you increase the subsidies, you are, in fact, making everyone pay more for a smaller group so the folks that pay that don’t benefit are paying more to subsidize.

    that’s why I feel it is oxymoronic to imply that a subsidy is a system “everyone pays and everyone benefits”.

    It’s simply false.

    A subsidy means.. a benefit to some at the expense to others.

    When you raise the Vehicle Sales Tax on new cars statewide – are those increased revenues re-distributed proportionally back to the localities?

    If they are – then why not have the locality receive the tax to start with?

    The same would be true of the fuel tax.

    Then let the locality be financially responsible for the roads in their own jurisdiction AND let them decide how to prioritize that money AND let the folks who live there and pay those taxes elect those who will spend that money per voters preferences.

    Why send that money to Richmond in the first place for it to be put into a giant fund .. and then let unelected folks decide how to prioritize it?

    What we need is the structural reform that JLARC recommended several years ago.

    Let VDOT maintain statewide “connect” roads – Interstates and Primary roads that span jurisdictions and regions.

    Let the MPOs and Transportation Authorities take care of roads that serve regions by MPO/MSA boundaries.

    And let localities tend to the roads that are primarily local – arterials and collectors.

    Give VDOT the Fed gas tax Revenue and let them toll roads especially the ones that have out-of-state driving (that’s user pays).

    Let the Regions have some regional taxing authority plus perhaps a share of the sales tax and let them decide what mix of transit/road is appropriate for their region by putting together a regional plan that must be approved by a super majority majority of the member jurisdictions.

    Let the localities have their share of the state fuel tax to maintain their roads and let them set up transportation districts via CDAs and perhaps even TIFs to generate funds for improved/new local roads.

    The localities could choose VDOT as their planning, maintenance and construction agent or they could put it out for PPTA low bid.

    Our problem right now is that we have such a byzantine patchwork of funding and allocation that no average citizen can understand much less make intelligent comments about when they have their public hearings.

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “There continues to be a big disconnection between those who benefit from growth and those who are bearing, or believe that they bear, the costs for growth.”

    I don’t doubt there is a disconnect, but how do we know what it is, or whose numbers to believe? I can’t een see a way to get agreement on how to go about mesuring and deciding, let alone what the results are.

    Besides that, I think you can also say there is a big disconnect between those who benefit from no growth and those that pay for no-growth.

    RH

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    Why does it matter when the road advocates claim that roads pay for themselves and transit does not, if that turns out to be the case in fact? Whose numbers do you believe? Are road advocates wrong, just because they are road advocates? Then transit advocates must be equally likely to be wrong, no?

    “because people prefer to drive that therefore roads are more deserving of general funds “

    It is government by the people, no? Why shouldn’t theire funds go for what they prefer? Since so many people drive, don’t the general funds come from drivers? Who is to say that drivers actually pay only half their costs? This is a matter of who is doing the counting.

    Who says that roads are MORE deserving of a subsidy than transit and why, who says they are not? We don’t have any answers that anyone can believe, or that some will believe, even if proven true beyond a shadow of doubt.

    ” eats up capacity at a rate far higher than that persons individual gas taxes AND subsidy actually pays for…” and why is that? Because that’s what people want. Now figure out how to make them pay. But, first, how do we know it is more than they pay in direct and “subsidized” costs? Well,because it’s overused. Why is it overused? Because that’s what most people want. Why should we let a few people who manage be sit-at-homes or get by with less usage by luck, planning, or mind-set, control what the majority want, use, and are willing to pay for?

    “the professed solution to that is to raises taxes higher on everyone who buys gasoline no matter if they don’t drive as far or at times and places that require higher levels of infrastructure… they will pay more for gasoline even though their driving habits are relatively modest”

    See what I mean? Whoever uses gas and pays the tax, gets exactly that use out of it. If he spends it sitting still in traffic, so be it. How is that a screw job for the guy that is able to get actual use out of his gas by driving only in the middle of the night?

    “When demand outstrips a subsidy it means that “user pays” is needed.” Maybe. Or maybe it means the basic unit provided is insufficient for other resons. Whose numbers do we believe? We used to provide only grade school, now we provide high school, and subsidize college.

    “…that’s why I feel it is oxymoronic to imply that a subsidy is a system “everyone pays and everyone benefits”….” No method will be completely fair. If the heavy users paid thier full costs for all the peak capacity load needed, the modest users would be getting, basically a free ride, by using expensive peak infrastructure (paid for by others) off peak.

    If we think the heavy users should pay more, in order to rebate costs to modest users, how would we do that? And why not apply the same theory to land use?

    Whose numbers would you believe?

    “Our problem right now is that we have such a byzantine patchwork of funding and allocation that no average citizen can understand much less make intelligent comments about when they have their public hearings.”

    So the solution is to make it more byzantine and less accountable. ‘User Pays’ maximizes Byzantine.

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ..”Why does it matter when the road advocates claim that roads pay for themselves and transit does not,”

    because it is not the truth – according to VDOT’s own budget?

    or do you not believe the VDOT budget either?

    or let’s see.. OH – you want the homebuilders of Virginia to tell us what the VDOT budget really means

    correct?

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Anonymous Avatar

    Where does it say in VDOT’s budget that transit pays for itself?

    Let’s make a distinction here. I never said that roads pay for themselves. What I said is that all the money spent on roads essentially comes from people who use the roads, and that the same is NOT true of funding for transit.

    One issue is whether the users are paying. One issue is whether they are paying enough. One issue is whther the payments and use are fairly distributed. And one issue is whether the investment provides a suitable ROI to begin with.

    If you are saying that the as tax doesn’t pay for 100% of road use, I agree. If you ae saying that (one way or another) road users don’t provide nearly 100% of the funds spent, then I don’t agree.

    If you are saying that the Metro fares (and other subsidies) pay the full cost of Metro, I don’t agree. If you say that Metro and VRE riders are not subsidized by non users, I don’t agree.

    As to whether either roads or transit pay for themselves, I doubt you find that in the VDOT budget.

    What we do know is that the first thing underdeveloped places want is roads, and the last thing overdeveloped places want is roads.

    I wouldn’t trust the home builders numbers any more than yours, VDOT’s, or PEC’s.

    So, where does it say in VDOT’s budget that the road advocate claiming that roads pay for thmselves ond transit doesn’t – is not telling the truth?

    RH

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t think anyone claims that Transit pays for itself no more than anyone would claim that schools, or prisons, or police “pay” for itself.

    But many road advocates make two claims, the second claim based on the first:

    1. first that roads are paid for fully from fuel taxes – which is not true.

    2. then based on that, they claim that transit does not pay for itself (like roads do (sic)) therefore it is not as cost-effective as roads.

    The reality is that both are subsidized – heavily and that roads have additional externalities that are not included in their costs.

    The 3rd claim is that more money for roads is justified because it will come from road users instead of general taxpayers and that is false also.

  25. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ve never heard anyone claim that roads are paid for entirely from fuel taxes. No more that Air Trafic control is paid for entirely by Aviation Gas taxes.

    I have heard anti-road activists make the rather obvious claim that they are not, and are therefor subsidized (as if subsidy is necessarily a bad word).

    It’s like the southern redneck politician railing against the East, claiming that liberal acadmics are matriculating in groups.

    It’s obvious that roads are not paid for entirely by gas taxes: what’s the point of saying so unless you think they SHOULD be?

    “then based on that, they claim that transit does not pay for itself (like roads do…”

    I never, ever, heard that one. I have heard, and have said, if paying the way is the criteria for transportation, then it should be equal.

    Since paying the way is obviously not the only criteria, we can drop that subject.

    The next subject is how can we agree on what the criteria reallly is?

    I suggest that it has to do with congestion, pollution, cost, utility and ROI.

    If you compare the utility of the avrage auto against the utility of Metro, the auto wins hands down.

    Metro might win on the other counts, but we just don’t know, or cannot agree, which amounts tothe same thing.

    As far as I can figure out, the scenario you have cooked up is a fantasy. But, if anyone ever does raise that issue with me, I’ll argue on your behalf.

    RH

  26. Anonymous Avatar

    “One issue is whether the users are paying. One issue is whether they are paying enough. One issue is whther the payments and use are fairly distributed. And one issue is whether the investment provides a suitable ROI to begin with.”

    I’ve tried to break this down into pieces. Let’s try to argue each one separately, and not confuse or obfuscate them.

    RH

  27. Anonymous Avatar

    As far as rail to Dulles goes, TMT has the right idea.

    We could have built rail to Dulles instead of the toll road. Then we could have built the toll road in the remainder of the right of way.

    Why do you suppose we didn’t?

    RH

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    The reality is that both are subsidized – heavily and that roads AND RAIL have additional externalities that are not included in their costs.

    When we are willing to throw all the externalities in, at the same level on both sides, then we can begin to have a meaningful conversation.

    There is a major difference in the subsidies, if you choose to call them that. Subsidies for roads come mainly from people who are also road users, and that is NOT true for Metro riders.

    BUT

    Metro depends heavily on roads, and people who drive to Metro still depend on Metro. That doesn’t mean that everyone who drives and cannnot avail themselves of Metro ought to pay more than what Metro actually buys them.

    Larry should recognize this argument because it is very similar to what he says about road users who drive less than 50 miles SOLO.

    —————————-

    “The 3rd claim is that more money for roads is justified because it will come from road users instead of general taxpayers and that is false also.”

    Nearly 100% of general taxpayers are also road users. I don’t see the point, or the distinction.

    Anyway, what has that got to do with the claim that more money for Metro, VRE, or transit in general is justified? Won’t that also come from general taxpayers?

    I’m not trying to be mean here. I just don’t understand the argument, and expect a better one.

    RH

  29. Anonymous Avatar

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that schools, prisons, and police pay for themselves.

    It is only that the “current subsidies” have a long payback.

    On average, those that avail themseles well of school earn more money. Later we take that from them in wealth transfer and welfare schemes to make up the difference, and to support those that fail.

    Prisons and police work on the 95% rule: 5% of people cause 95% of prblems.

    In all three cases, if we really didn’t think it was worth the money, we would stop supporting them.

    There are some noises in the wings to that effect now. How many people canwe afford to keep in jail? What is the cost effectiveness of keeping a 70 year old in jail? How much can we spend on NCLB?

    I don’t se why Metro (or roads) should be subject to any different scrutiny.

    RH

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Subsidies for roads come mainly from people who are also road users, and that is NOT true for Metro riders.”

    this is a key issue because it’s a false perception based on generalities and not specifics.

    both are subsidized and what this reduces to is.. that roads are better because they are subsidized less … across the board no matter who or what… and this is false.

    Using your own argument, I could argue that if we collected money from everyone and built rail and transit everywhere that it would be justified because everyone would pay and everyone would use – like they do in Europe and Japan.

    We have biased our transportation infrastructure in this country to favor solo driving… as a convenience.

    You say that having a seat on metro and not standing is one reason why folks drive.. and they do what??

    well.. they do have that seat but what good is it at 25mph.. every day cheek by jowl with others doing the same thing until there is so much pollution that the elderly, children and people with compromised immune systems – folks who do not drive .. are harmed.. and the Feds have to step in and decree “no more roads” until you cut back on pollution levels.

    Okay.. so then the road advocates ignore this like it’s a non factor and continue to argue that “roads are less subsidized than transit” .. therefor the solution is tobuild more roads.

    Where in the ROI equation does the idea of pollution fit in?

    Do we just ignore it or is it also a kind of a subsidy?

    The only kinds of new roads that are allowed are ones that do not add to overall pollution levels.

    Is there a disconnect between the idea that “roads are cheaper…and more cost effective”…. if you cannot build more of them?

    this is sort of like saying that toys painted with lead-based paint are cheaper than toys that are not so it’s pretty clear.. based on pure ROI.. lead-based toys are “better”.

    …. cars are cheaper/better/less subsidized than transit .. so more roads are the answer…. (if we want to ignore realities).

  31. Anonymous Avatar

    Subsidies for roads come mainly from people who are also road users, and that is NOT true for Metro riders.

    Explain to me how that is a false perception. All the money for roads, however you label it (as user fees or subsidies or whatever) one way or another comes from people who very probably (above 98%), (there are people who don;t own cars, but even transit depends on roads.) use the roads. But a good deal of money used for transit does not come from people who use transit. That doesn’t mean that those that send the money don’t get SOME benefit, but they don’t all get equal benefits either.

    As you point out, those that pay for and use the roads, also don’t get equal beneifits.

    I don’t see how any of that or any conclusion from that boils down to the idea that roads are better because they are subsidized less.

    I think that roads are better because they have more utility. Worse because they pollute more and carry fewer people (which is not the same as saying they have less capacity, Metro doesn’t carry much freight.)

    But, I don’t buy any kind of argument that says road users are not paying their full costs or less of the cost than transit users, unless we carefully outline the ground rules for both.

    My claim that road money one way or another comess from people who use roads is just that and nothing more. It says nothing about how, where, why or if roads are better or worse, or under what conditions.

    It adresses one issue: what is the root source of the money spent. That is all it does. If you think that is wrong, then say so and why. Don’t say it’s wrong because it could lead to some other thought.

    ——————————–

    You think I’m joking about seats, but I’m not. If metro had to provide seats, (and to be considered a civilized conveyance it should) then its capacity benefit would drop substantially. I think this is a perfectly reasonable requirement for apples to apples comparison. To say that metro can theoretically carry 20,000 an hour without this caveat is misleading.

    Sure, even with seats, Metro could carry more passengers per hour during rush hour. But, in fact they have trouble doing that: there are issues with the eight car trains, etc. But, now take the actual volume carried over a week long period, and the capsity issue looks a whole lot different. What highways lose ground on during rush hour, they make up for at night and weekends.

    All I’m saying is that there are more than one way for perfectly reasonable people to look at this. I think it does no good to use smarmy arguments like the gas tax doesn’t pay for roads, or transit can carry 25 times as many people per hour.

    For example: “they do have that seat but what good is it at 25mph” what do you suppose the average speed on Metro is?

    For example: “the Feds have to step in and decree “no more roads” until you cut back on pollution” OK, residences are responsible for about 1/3 of pollution. roads are responsible for a lot, but they are not the only source. It’s an assymetric argument. Anyway, who sets the emission standards? The feds, or California, take your pick. It is a meaningless red herring, I think.

    They are not strictly speaking correct, and any idiot can see them for what they are: an attempt at agenda driven spin, which they will dismiss out of hand. It is a bad sales pitch and it reflects badly on the seller. I recently wrote a nastygram to American Express because they have fallen into the habit of using deceptive sales practices.

    What we need to make your argument is ideas that are carefully crafted, airtight, obvious, and unarguable.

    ———————————

    Where in the ROI equation does the idea of pollution fit in?

    I would argue that a ton of pollution is a ton of pollution. It is possible to construct an argument that compares the amount and location of pollution caused by Metro and Highways on an even basis, and assign a price on an even basis. I would include in that cost the several hundred tons of throwaway newspapers used by transit riders every day.

    When you get all done, i think you find out that trains are more efficient and cleaner, but only by a little bit. It is not the blowoff that some people claim, and therefore it is not only another example of misleading salesmanship, but if we use bad data to make bad decisions we could wind up with even worse pollution than otherwise.

    For example someone noted the efficiency of trains, saying they can carry a ton of freight 400 miles on a gallon fuel. There are several things wrong with that statement, but it has NOTHING to do with carrying passengers (the context in which it was made).

    So, I say, rather than shoot ourselves in the foot with stuff that is obviously wrong, lets get it right and do it in such a way that we in such a way that we still have a good argument.

    ————————-

    I agree that the first thing an underdeveloped place wants is better roads and the last thing an overdeveloped place wants is more roads. They can’t afford it and don’t have the space.

    So what? What does that tell you? We can put subways underground, but that comes at a tremendous energy cost. What if you do a fair and accurate analysis, and the answer comes back that roads actually are better, all things considered equally?

    Would you still insist on spending the money to bury a metro line, if you knew it was a net social loser? Would you build still more businesses in a downtown you knew you could not support sustainably? Or would you say, OK, that’s a bad idea, and maybe the next least worst thing is a new business center in Fredericksburg, supported by a nice new road?

    All of that is IF you knew for a fact, and it had been beaten into your head, irrevocably, that metro was a net social loser.

    Now, ask youself what kind of argument it would take to convince yourself of that idea.

    That’s the kind of argument you need to make on your side, instead of the half baked and deceptive ones we have.

    RH

  32. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m so ashamed.

    I finally figured out that for every word I write..you’re gonna write 100 that make no sense.. just to egg me on.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Anonymous Avatar

    I’m sorry you think this is an adversarial situation.

    I’m sorry you don’t get it.

    I want our side to succeed, and I think we are doing a lousy job of it.

    What needs to be done is difficult, painstaking, and expensive. Selling it as if it was easy and cheap won’t cut it. Making promises that don’t come true, won’t cut it.

    I find the way you do a big job is to cut it down into pieces. then you have to do each piece well, or when you get done they don’t fit.

    One thing to do is take a hard look at who takes the hit on depreciation and operating deficits – where the money comes from – to support the pieces of our transportation system. Then you know who the audience and the stakeholders are.

    I agree money to support our roads comes from several funding streams, but whether it is real estate tax, gas tax, registration fees, insurance tax, sales tax, income tax, or tolls almost all of that money comes from people who use the roads.

    You apparently think that is incorrect.

    Yeah, it’s a generality to say that the guy who pays real estate tax probably has a car, but I don’t think that’s a bad generality. I think children the elderly and those with compromised immune systems use cars, too, even if they don’t drive.

    But, you think my statement is incorrect, primarily because you don’t like where it might lead.

    ——————————–

    I think there are a lot of people who pay to support metro who don’t ride and get relatively minor benefits for their money.

    You apparently think that is incorrect also. Again because it leads to the perception that metro is “more subsidized”.

    But we haven’t even determined, yet, whether subsidy is a bad word, in this case. You have a hard time with subsidy, and I don’t. Call it an incentive and get past it. It could be that the incentive we offer for people to ride Metro is a good thing: we might not be offering near enough, but we haven’t got there yet.

    —————————-

    Is it wrong to say that most people paying the money used to support roads also use cars?

    Is it wrong to say that some people pay to support metro and don’t ride metro? Is it wrong to say that some people pay to support metro and get incidental external benefits, excluding a ride (even without a seat)?

    If wecan agree on these, then we can move on.

    ——————————-

    You think both Metro and roads are subsidized. I’m perfectly happy to entertain that idea. Who is paying for something they don’t get and other people do?

    I agree there are gradations here, but let’s get the black and white out of the way.

    ——————————-

    Next look at gradations. You think that those that use the roads only a little, and off peak are subsidizing those that drive 50 miles solo suv.

    Is the guy who rides one station subsidizing the guy who sleeps all the way from Vienna Station?

    Probably not, because Metro is biased toward the in-town user: Metro gets more of its income from the parking and long distance riders than it does from the in-town users. Metro is biased the opposite way you say the transportation system is.

    Now who us paying for what they don’t get? In this case, I’d say it was the long distance car-parking metro riders that pay for 18 hr a day local service, and use it twice.

    ——————————–

    Your hypotheticqal short distance diver gets a break on his gas tax because he drives less. How is he subsidizing the long distance driver in the SUV who pays far more gas tax?

    Oh, that’s right, it is because of the other taxes he (a driver after all) pays. He ought to be lobbying for a higher gas tax (with an offset from the others) so that he gets a bigger break due to his low VMT and the big user (with a bigger car) pays a higher fee.

    That is politically unacceptable because he would still have to pay a higher gas tax. Better to propose a toll road, one he seldom drives on, and catch money that way. What we will do is argue against subsidized roads and come up with a plan for a different subsidy – one favorable to short distance drivers.

    Then, we can be just like the downtown metro users, getting subsidized by the long haul drivers.

    Except, most of those roads will have to be maintained, anyway. And now that we have incentivized the big users to become short distance users, we have even less maintenance money…and more short distance users pay that will have to pay more for less and less.

    ———————————

    But short distance drivers real estate tax is also partially based on the idea that he has a road in front of his house. Even if he doesn’t drive or have a car, having a road there is still useful, and should be paid for. He can’t expect to escape that portion of the (road) tax because otherwise road construction is a subsidy to landowners.

    What would his tax bill be if he had a Metro stop in front of his house?

    And you thing MY ideas make no sense. If you just stop worrying about subsidies, and think about what’s fair to begin with…..

    RH

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s what I think.

    Transit is a reality – worldwide.

    The best, most passionate argument ever -that transit is wrong – not only ignores realities but it presumes that transportation professionals and elected officials on a worldwide basis are dumb and/or conspiring to force something down folks throats that they don’t want.

    The EPA is not going to go away. The courts, the legislators and the people who elect them do believe that EPA is correct.

    To presume that the EPA is wrong and that only ignorant leaders unknowing support the EPA .. is not a reality that I can agree to.

    So.. I start with this basic premise.

    dialog is not worthwhile in the main if the starting versions of reality are not the same…

    Useful discussion of change has meet two standards:

    1. – agreement on what the current realities are no matter how much one may not agree

    2. – the realm of possible changes to discuss has to be also in the realm of possible.

    When agreement on the two is not present.. we’re into the ephemeral.. IMHO.

  35. Anonymous Avatar

    “Transit is a reality – worldwide.

    The best, most passionate argument ever -that transit is wrong – not only ignores realities but it presumes that transportation professionals and elected officials on a worldwide basis are dumb and/or conspiring to force something down folks throats that they don’t want.”

    Agreed.

    Now, if transit is so “right” let’s just identify what exactly it does that is so “right” instead of attributing to it things it clearly does NOT do.

    It DOES NOT carry 20,000 passengers per hour, except maybe in Mumbai.

    It DOES NOT reduce congestion, otherwise you wouldn’t need congestion tolls in London, and we wouldn’t have it in Washington.

    It DOES NOT pay its way from rider charges.

    It IS NOT fast, convenient, or comfortable. It isn’t even much less expensive, or energy saving.

    I have no problem with promoting transit where it works, but I get tired of hearing people promote it anywhere and everywhere with a pack of lies.

    Once we figure out what IS right about transit, we will have a bettter idea about where and when to place it, who benefits, and how to finance it.

    Unless and until we know those answers, the reality could be that all those officials are wrong, and a good portion of what has been invested in transit is wasted.

    We have a number that says congewstion in DC costs $1089 per driver per year. How much Metro would you have to build to reuce that to $0, and how much would that much METRO cost?

    THAT, is the reality.

    RH

  36. Anonymous Avatar

    Just for starters, what politician wouldn’t love to have a transit system under his thumb? Just think of the patronage.

    RH

  37. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “We have a number that says congewstion in DC costs $1089 per driver per year.”

    so.. how can that be if everyone benefits from roads?

    Is the implication that if folks paid $1089 MORE a year for roads that it would effectively end congestion?

    If not, then what is the point of that number?

    re: transit

    the ridership numbers are valid.. if you bother to read the URLs provided that come from what most folks agree are credentialed organizations.

    Table A 3.3 Route characteristics and ridership1 page 4

    http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_rpt_13-f.pdf

    Peak hour ridership = 20,110

    this data is the reason why places like NYC and Chicago and Loudoun and Tokyo use transit and you demonstrate your acceptance of reality by ..saying that the data is wrong or you don’t believe it.

    what am I to deduce from this in terms of a potential of a useful dialog on the merits?

    if you won’t accept real data.. then what is the point of discussing?

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