Does Subsidized Blacksburg-to-D.C. Bus Service Make Economic Sense?

Virginia Breeze bus route. Map credit: Megabus

More than 19,300 people rode the Blacksburg-to-D.C. “Virginia Breeze” bus line launched by the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) during its first year in operation. The $200,000 subsidy amounts to a subsidy of roughly $10 per ticket. Was that a good expenditure of public funds? Let’s dig into that question.

Partnering with Megabus, the inter-city bus company, DRPT rolled out the service in November 2017 with seven stops along Interstate 81 and in Northern Virginia. Greater Greater Washington describes the partnership this way:

Virginia has access to buses and logistical support without having to buy its own fleet or hire staff to maintain and drive them. For a ticket price ranging between $15 and $50, passengers on the 56-seat Breeze buses get a restroom, baggage storage, free Wi-Fi, and in-seat power outlets just like regular Megabus customers. Breeze riders can even buy interline tickets for Megabus destinations beyond the Union Station terminus, a first-of-its-kind feature in the US.

Farebox recovery, the percentage of costs recovered by ticket sales, has consistently run around 70% to 80% since launch, far superior to the typical transit company’s 30% recovery.

Now DRPT is planning to launch two more bus services next year: a Martinsville-to-Richmond route and a Danville-to-Washington route, also with multiple stops along each route.

The obvious question a skeptic would ask is why the need for an average $10-per-passenger subsidy? If a Virginia Tech student is willing to pay $50 for a ticket home to Northern Virginia, would he or she hesitate to pay $10 to $20 more? And if they’re not willing, why not? Do they have other means of getting home? When I was in college (in the Dark Ages), kids posted notes on bulletin boards looking for ride shares. Typically, car-less students could find someone to take them in exchange for gas money. Somehow Hokies managed to find their way home before the advent of Virginia Breeze. How, oh, however did they do it?

I’m no longer connected to that world, but I bet that most have smart phones and ride-sharing apps like this one: Waze Carpool.

Conversely, reasonable arguments can be made in support of Virginia Breeze. The bus consolidates 30 or 40 or so students into a single vehicle. A bus takes up a lot less space capacity on an overloaded Interstate 81 than many cars. If the state is willing to expend billions of dollars to expand I-81’s capacity, surely it’s worth expending a few thousand to reduce traffic on the same arterial.

Actually, that depends. I don’t have the data to make that calculation, but it would look something like this (using totally made-up figures for purposes of demonstrating the logic): Let’s say the Virginia Department of Transportation proposes spending $3 billion for I-81 upgrades to be financed through the sale of 30-year bonds. Let’s say that the cost of financing + maintenance + operations equals $200 million a year. And let’s say that the improvements increase I-81’s throughout by 20,000 vehicles per day. That amounts to an expenditure of about $14 per vehicle. Now, let’s say the average vehicle carries 1.3 people. That works out to an expenditure of about $10.50 per passenger — slightly more than the $10 Virginia Breeze subsidy. Under that scenario, the Virginia Breeze might make economic sense.

But wait… We cannot assume that every Virginia Breeze passenger would have driven a single-occupancy vehicle instead. Perhaps some would have ridden a commercial bus service. Perhaps some would have carpooled. Perhaps a few would have hitch-hiked, and some would have foregone taking the trip. The only way to estimate the alternative behavior is to conduct market research — actually questioning would-be passengers. Whatever the case, we can be reasonably certain that the 19,300 Virginia Breeze riders would not have added 19,300 cars to the roads. The number would be significantly smaller.

As you can see, the analysis can get very complicated. Is the $10-a-head subsidy worth it to reduce traffic on I-81? You tell me.

(Hat tip: Win Barber)

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42 responses to “Does Subsidized Blacksburg-to-D.C. Bus Service Make Economic Sense?

  1. and the METRO subsidy? let’s compare that to the VB bus route…..

    remember, not all students pay full tuition and room and board.

    AND ABOUT VT’s over admission acceptance debacle…..i know two students who were accepted within the last three weeks…….. despite ‘no room at the Inn [at VT]……who is responsible for that piling on?

    • METRO subsidy? That’s a laugh riot. Take all the money raised in taxes, fees, etc in each of the seven regions in Virginia. Subtract the amount spent by the state in each region. Now, let’s talk subsidies. Rural Virginia is more of a welfare state than any inner city neighborhood.

  2. I didn’t know this bus service was subsidized. My daughter has used it twice to get from Staunton to Dulles to catch a flight. For me it was all about convenience — putting her on the bus meant I didn’t have to drive to and from Dulles just to get her on a flight and that was definitely worth $29. In all probability it would also be worth up to about $50 for my convenience factor and the time I’d save.

    That said, I’m not sure the analysis as proffered is entirely one-to-one. In an age of global warming and energy decline (where the kinds of fuel production/refinement from, say, shale oil, deepwater, and tar sands are significantly dirtier and much more energy intensive and thus lower EROI than light sweet crude) it’s long past time that we stopped editing out the real economics here as well as the damaging externalities inherent in fossil-fuel intensive projects and infrastructure that are foisted upon the economy, the “only one we got” environment, and peoples’ lives.

    This is to say nothing of dramatically profitable industries like fossil fuel companies themselves still being subsidized at an outsized rate for long-proven industries. I’d say “talk about corporate socialism” except that the very same subsidies essentially subsidize us all into the unquestioned car paradigm and the unquestioned fossil fuel economy as a whole. We’re all culpable.

    Then there’s the serious issue of climate change — do we keep building out MORE car infrastructure and thus endorse the very lifestyle excess that has challenged us — humans — in so many ways now that such a lifestyle is proving untenable in many regards?

    Surely we can argue about particulars but my bigger point is the paradigm, the material culture, our set up as a whole and where we direct our brain power in a systems-thinking sense to take on such questions at a much higher level than capitalism, partisanship, and governance alone. It’s time for bigger questions than any one man’s imagined balance sheet. And if we stay down into balance sheets, then let’s be real about the state of subsidies, and the impact of the same, including the unrecorded externalities and their costs.

    • OK, let’s factor the social cost of carbon into the calculation. At this point in time, we still have no idea whether the subsidy makes rational sense.

      • “Social” cost?

        • Isn’t the “social cost of carbon” the commonly used term to describe the externalities you mention?

          • Perhaps. I’m less familiar with it described that way, though I think I can infer the logic there.

            I’m thinking of more hard costs — like climate change itself as a direct result of runaway fossil fuel use leading to worse storms, damaged infrastructure, lost work, more flooding, degraded air, soil, and water all of which, once damaged/taken off line, cost untold amounts of money to clean up, restore, etc.

            Sure, there’s increased cancers, worsened asthma, displacement of persons, etc., and they have their “social costs” (never too far from economic ones). But I was mostly meaning hard costs outsourced to society at large (even AFTER fossil fuel companies are already subsidized for already profitable businesses, another point I made about costs).

  3. So despite their calls for government action, taxes and fees on fossil fuels to prevent our oceans from rising even further, both former president Obama and his spouse have just purchased $14.85 million estate on Martha’s Vineyard. Right on the ocean. If one believed that the rising seas are a threat to landowners to the point where one wants to increase the cost of living nationwide, why would that same person buy incredibly expensive ocean-front real estate? Perhaps, the ex-president doesn’t believe all of his own rhetoric!

    And, of course, silence from the majority of environmentalists.

    • I was, and am, a supporter of Obama, but that news disappoints me. I agree with you that it is both short-sighted and somewhat hypocritical to buy a ocean front property. Also, I am put off by the conspicuous consumption–$14.85 million for a vacation house while he already has a multi-million dollar home in D.C. Why does an empty-nest couple need an estate with 6,892 sq. ft. in the “main house”? (Are there other houses?)

      Of course, the Bushes had their Kennebunkport estate. It could be argued that it had been passed down through the family, so that makes it different. But neither of the Obamas had rich ancestors to build them a beach estate, so the family compound has to start somewhere, I guess.

      • Forget sea-level rise: A $15 million, 7,000-square-foot house consumes a lot of energy to heat, cool, and light. That creates a big carbon footprint. Two big houses creates an even bigger carbon footprint. It totally undermines the moral authority of people like the Obamas when they talk about the need for others to cut their carbon footprints to combat climate change.

        I’ll take peoples’ concerns about the overheating of the globe and looming collapse of civilization when their actions match their rhetoric.

    • TMT, $14.85 million is, perhaps unfortunately, just a relatively few speaking engagements for an ex-President and his spouse.

      • It’s also so neither here nor there. Just tawdry, low level partisan sniping to no meaningful conversational or intellectual end.

        So the Obamas have a few years, maybe a decade or two of oceanfront property to enjoy, and lots of square footage as they likely have many guests, staff, etc. Who cares? None of it says anything about the issue before us in an on-topic sense and it’s just such a derailment of any worthy adult conversation on either actual subsidies for this bus program or costs in general to the Commonwealth on infrastructure in general and related elements.

        At some point it’s such an eye roll to hear the Obama stuff. Whatever, he’s an ex-prez, let it go already.

        I just read this really great book titled, “Everything’s F*cked, A Book About Hope,” and, except for the ridiculous last chapter which went all into how AI is going to “save us,” it was an excellent read spanning significant Western philosophers and how their insights point us in the direction of being adults. Behaving as adults. Adults don’t say, “But what about Obama? Huh? What?” Adults deal with the topic with insightful thinking, respectful dialog, and earnest inquiry in a forward thinking sense (while drawing on precedent and historic context to help delve in deep).

        Here’s hoping the “better angels” among us can and will prevail because actually being adults, dealing with problems, not worrying as much about team sports partisanship and worrying more about problem solving in a respectful, mature way to the benefit of all (even if we have to compromise along the way and not get everything we want) is an infinitely better path for America and Americans.

        It’s time.

        • Thank God he is an ex-president. And please don’t lecture us on being an adult.

          • thepolichick

            Not so much lecturing “us” in general as targeting anyone who would say, “Obama, nanny, nanny boo boo,” as a response to something. If it’s “I disagree with this Obama era policy about X and here’s why…,” that’s fine. But “Lookie, Obama has a big house by the beach and he talks about climate, HYPOCRISY,” it’s just idiotic and should be called out for lacking adulthood.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Now your language turns into that of a Kindergarten child.

          • I must disagree, Polichick. Liberals and progressive constantly say that people should align their behavior with their values. And quite often they do just that. If you sincerely believe that global warming is a looming environmental disaster, there are certain things you need to do to harmonize your lifestyle with your environmental beliefs — live in small, energy-efficient houses; use energy-efficient appliances; walk, ride bikes and take mass transit; drive electric vehicles if one absolutely must own a car; don’t fly, but if you do, buy carbon offsets; and, most recently, stop eating beef. We all know the drill. We all know what you’re supposed to do.

            Now, if you’re seriously worried about global warming, you don’t wait for other countries to change their behavior — or so we’re told. Sure, China and India might be building new coal-fired power plants and ratcheting up their carbon emissions, but the United States cannot exert moral leadership unless we take the lead in reducing carbon emissions ourselves. Likewise, I would suggest, you don’t wait for your fellow citizens to change their behavior. You take the lead yourself to set a moral example to others.

            President Obama is not engaging in a harmless hypocrisy. By buying a 7,00-square-foot house on the waterfront, he is signalling that he does not take seriously (a) the need to conserve energy, or (b) the reality of rapid sea-level rise.

            Just as no one would look to President Trump as a moral exemplar in the area of how to behave around women, no one can now regard Obama as a moral exemplar in regard to the necessity of altering our lifestyles in order to combat climate change. Just as no one wants to hear Trump lecture them on etiquette around women, no one wants to hear Obama lecture them on the need to re-engineer the U.S. economy.

        • It’s called credibility. In the federal advocacy arena, where I’ve worked since the mid-80s, one is supposed to advocate one’s cause, answer the other side’s arguments and demonstrate credibility. Inconsistent behavior with one’s rhetoric is critical. A company who argues X but does Y isn’t going to be as successful as if the company does X. And its fair game for the other side to point out to the Hill staffer or agency employee that Company A is actually doing Y.

          Decades ago, I was confronted at the FCC with a statement made in the UK to a regulator by a corporate affiliate that was inconsistent with the arguments I had been making for months. I never really got past that one. But we did institute a process to review major advocacy positions of European affiliates before they were made. The inconsistency never occurred again.

          The biggest and strongest argument Climate Change extremists make is that warmer temperatures are melting glaciers and, in turn, causing sea levels to rise. To slow this process, they often advocate measures that would limit carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. They’ve been very slow to push for an end to building or reconstruction in flood plains and beaches or to impose higher taxes on people who own property in those areas. In the law, this is the requirement for one harmed to mitigate his/her damages. If I break your window with a baseball, you must put up some temporary patch to prevent rain from coming in and ruining your wooden floor. If you don’t the court won’t consider the rain damage.

          If one truly believed all of the rhetoric, one would not fly in private jets or buy land that is likely to flood. It is a very logical argument to claim a climate change zealot who flies in private jets or buys expensive beach property must not really take his/her arguments as seriously as one might have thought. Attacking aggressive climate change zealots as lacking credibility is a very fair and strong argument. And attacking the climate change crowd for failing to criticize inconsistent behavior is a good argument as well.

          Obama’s flying private jets to global warming conferences and buying a multi-million dollar beachfront house is inconsistent with his argument on climate change. It is fair game to argue his behavior suggests he doesn’t believe all that he argues. It’s fair to undermine your opponent’s credibility by arguing this in return.

          • Similarly the logic conservatives give in a generalized ideological sense is that they want “more freedom,” and to “return decision-making to localities.”

            Yet time and again when Virginians seek to gain local control of issues like, say, regulating single-use plastics at the local level and the immense amount of hard waste such plastics result in at local landfills (or on say, municipal utilities, or solar PPAs, or pipeline throughways, or water-safety measures), conservatives at the state level, almost ALWAYS, vote against allowing localities to make these decisions about use and impact.

            And conservatives never seem to put forth a bill or back a movement to undo Virginia as a Dillon Rule state.

            Combined, this leads to several things:

            1. Stronger centralized governmental control at the state level, something conservatives SAY they oppose.
            2. Less freedom to decide at the local level, something conservatives SAY they want.
            3. Less ability for localities to move forward on issues their citizenries agitate for, work together on, and come to majorities on, something conservative rhetoric almost universally PRETENDS to despise.

            So, one might argue that there’s sure enough hypocrisy to go around.

            I’d argue that one man’s so-called hypocrisy on climate, however wrong (if it’s as serious as described, again, is Obama the leading — or a leading — face of climate change advocacy, or was it one of his minor issue among hundreds of minor issues?) is far less detrimental than a consistent, party-wide, absolute and unequivocal LIE about where conservatives stand on broad and ill-defined notions like “freedom” and “liberty” and “local control” while fighting tooth-and-nail as corporate water-carriers to do EVERYTHING in their power to oppose localities making decisions about their communities on issues of resources, waste-management, energy, and rights-of-way.

            The calculus is brutal. The results are obvious. Glass houses all around.

  4. I do not understand why DRPT is subsidizing the Megabus I-81 route. According to the Megabus website, on a random weekend in October, the one-way fare from Blacksburg to D.C. is $50, which is pretty good. Would the loss of the $200,000 subsidy make the price go up or cause the company to stop the service? Is the Virginia Breeze a special program for just the Virginia route or is part of a longer route?

  5. Ya’ll should see the subsidies on VRE – Fredericksburg to Washington!!! If not mistaken $20 per trip ………each way…….

    But also need to ask where DRPT is getting their funding. If not mistaken, they are getting some or all of the money for transportation that is part of the general sales tax. VRE, by the way, gets a lot/most of it’s funding from a 2.1% tax on gasoline in the NoVa region that includes Stafford, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania.

    and yes, totally agree with thepolichick on the “partisan sniping”. It’s adolescent at best… shows some folks “thinking” on issues….

    • Bingo! Larry hits a home run. VRE serves Northern Virginia and is subsidized by taxes raised in Northern Virginia. Rural Virginia takes money raised elsewhere in the state and subsidizes everything (including bus routes) while complaining that nobody is paying for their high speed broadband internet.

      As for Obama – you crack me up. Trumps words create havoc but Obama’s actions are harmless. Talk about partisan Larry.

  6. Jim says: “As you can see, the analysis can get very complicated. Is the $10-a-head subsidy worth it to reduce traffic on I-81? You tell me.”

    Actually it is very simple. Connectivity is key to a region’s success. The Virginia Breeze connects one end of Virginia’s New Dominion Future, its southern end, to the northern end of the Commonwealth’s new Future. This links of arising new powerhouse I call the Inland Empire with the newly arising High Tech Empire of Northern Virginia as it is now newly co-joined to the Nation’s Capital. Here is the core of the New Old Dominion. And the Virginia Breeze is the harbinger of fantastic and new compounding wealth for Virginia. The rewards of this subsidy will be huge and exponential.

  7. I can see what you’re saying, James, and it makes sense of course, especially as you put it.

    As one of America’s most ardent environmentalists, and one who walks the hell out of my talk, I agree that when anyone sets a standard to live by, they themselves are more subject to criticism when they fail in that regard. Like labeling one’s self “family values,” and then cheating on your wife/taxes/business. Claiming to be Christian and then behaving in most unChristian ways. One almost does better to claim less to be given more wiggle room than to be be rigidly tied to principles one really isn’t committed to following.

    I wouldn’t say that climate change was Obama’s biggest issue, but perhaps others believe he was making that claim. Certainly it didn’t stop him flying while in office, even on holiday. I wonder if, in attaining the status of president, there’s a little more leeway on status in terms of large second homes? And what’s the equation of certain aspects of work versus certain aspects of private life — how serious is the “crime” of hypocrisy here? Losing all moral authority on it? Might be going a bit far. Hard to say. I mean, Prince Charles is big on addressing climate change, and he lives…like a king. But then again, compared to most of all other human history in the past, and most folks today, even the most average American kinda lives like a king when you get right down to it — indoor plumbing and lighting, food prepared 1000s of miles away for us so we can “heat and eat,” effective energy slaves with fossil fuels and wage slaves overproducing superfluous goods for us in Asia.

    Few “environmentalists” I know check the lion’s share of their behavior. Part of this may be hypocrisy. Part of it may be the entropy based in systemic elements that make it difficult for even the most determined person to undo or get around the way things are set up. It’s a sticky wicket…or a cat’s cradle to untangle.

    But if you see me at a picnic toting my glass wine glass, my metal silver ware, my porcelain plates, and my linen napkin, please don’t consider me uppity; it’s just my personal mess kit — all sourced second hand, of course — to do my itty bitty bit to combat a disposable world view.

  8. “I wouldn’t say that climate change was Obama’s biggest issue, …”

    What you think was Obama’s biggest issue?

    Where do you think he stood on subsidized bus travel?

    As you are “one of America’s most ardent environmentalists, and one who walks the hell out of my talk, I agree that when anyone sets a standard to live by, they themselves are more subject to criticism when they fail in that regard,” are you now, in light of this comment, going to stop yourself and/or others, including your kids, from using any subsidized bus up and down Virginia’s freeways for all of the grandiose concerns, reasons, and worries you’ve expressed on this bog in last few hours?

    • Tried post earlier. Fail to see relevance of private Obama property purchase in New England and subsidizing bus route in Va

      • Both, Peter, are highly relevant. In the real world, actions do and should speak louder than words. In Obama’s world, the reverse ruled his imperial reign. Now we are paying a very dear price, so our holding him accountable for his actions today and yesterday (in contrast to his prior words) is a very important task, call it a lesson that all should learn if we are to have a future worth living.

        And, of course, that rule, and its abuse, applies to all of us every day. That is why politicians are so often so cheap and dishonest.

      • thepolichick tied the subsidy to the age of global warming, putting that issue into play. Except for the MSM most people see credibility as a factor in a discussion of public policy issues. As you may recall, President Obama was big on climate change issues. It seems reasonable to challenge his and other climate change leaders on their credibility.

    • Be kind, Reed, thepolichick is new to the blog. We’re happy to have her participate. We don’t want to chase her off.

    • Thanks Reed for the question.

      I guess when I think of Obama I think his big issues were health care and the economy. I get that there were energy/environmental issues in the overall toolbox, but I guess I never really considered him to be that out front on it in, say, like a moonshot sense. Neither climate nor energy, in spite of their myriad beneficial economic opportunities/possibilities, seemed to me like something he was spending much of his political capital on. Sure, I saw issues like the Paris Accord, and shuttering some coal plants/cleaning them up (not clean coal, ha ha), and the obligatory climate plan, but for me — not saying this is objective, just for me — I never really felt that was the big, out front, forward issue of his presidency by a long shot. In the mix, sure. Huge? Passionate? Live and die for, like, say, an Al Gore or a Bill McKibben or an AOC or something, no way. He still led with the “all of the above” energy policy which, while necessary to a certain extent, of course, for practical reasons, is still not the way to frame that from a transition point of view. “All of the above” flatly called “all of the above” reads as weak when pushing for an overdue corrective to our energy/environmental/economic paradigms.

      Where would he stand on subsidized bus travel? I have seen few if any presidents oppose subsidies in some form or another for almost everything/anything one can think of. They may have their pet areas to comport with, or the pork they each feel they need to pitch in order to shore up approval here or there, but this seems to me more like an equal opportunity approach to our degraded politics than one that one or another of them is heavily more guilty of subsidies than another.

      So…as far as my enviro-cred goes, I feel pretty confident in it and I don’t think that it, in and of itself, stands in contrast to some things that have subsidies, especially as I, too, pay taxes, ergo it stands to reason that I am paying in to fund busses, roadways, or anything else in Virginia that is subsidized. I don’t actually see the logic of being an ardent environmentalist having an inherent philosophical incompatibility with any given subsidy.

      As to my cred, I haven’t flown in 31 years. I live in walkable downtown Staunton, two blocks from the Farmer’s Market and a local food grocery, and work from home, necessitating my driving our one Prius (only car for me and my hubby to share), not too much, but it is a car, and I do drive some. He also works from home and has another few jobs — at a solar company, on City Council, and teaching at Mary Baldwin, all within walking distance. I don’t use a microwave, clothes dryer, or dishwasher, but do have a high efficiency washing machine. We R-12’d our house as soon as we moved in and strictly monitor our temperature to keep heating and cooling to a minimum. We’re getting a super high efficiency furnace this week and I’d get solar if I could but derned historic district. I spent a year not buying any new clothes and wrote about it on my blog but since then I have, in fact, purchased some new clothes here and there. If I can get something fabulous second hand, I will, but I also will prioritize quality over quantity to limit how much and have it last longer. I also sew a good many things, including by hand. I buy/use limited foods from the pre-made industrial economy but I can’t say I NEVER buy any of that, just limit it as best I can. My house is furnished in all antiques and vintage to go with things that already have embodied energy. I never use straws or ice at a restaurant and I carry a mess kit, as described, with me wherever I go where food might be served on single-use containers. I have a side hustle selling antiques for their reuse value. I could go on, but it is likely enough. I understand that individual behavior is little compared to policy, and a willing societal paradigm (interestingly, just 100 years out or less we were all living this way, pretty much just fine), but I still feel compelled, especially as a Christian, to do my part for creation care. But again, I don’t see where any of this feeds into a natural opposition to coming in contact with anything that might be subsidized? They seem to me to be different philosophies altogether.

      Finally, I don’t think anything I said about the subsidies was particularly grandiose. It seems perfectly fair, when talking about subsidies, to mention that it’s not just road-building versus bus riding that should be at issue as if the two were equal — in fact a great many other economic matters go into the subsidies of any fossil fuel based (or purposed) infrastructure and the industry itself, not needing subsidies to get started, but ensured subsidies in order to remain wildly profitable even after being fully successful, feeds into its iron grip on business as usual…and business as usual stands in contrast to other pressing societal needs, like planning for energy decline and addressing climate issues. Further, that because increased fossil fuel infrastructure means increased costs outsourced to taxpayers/society at large, in mostly negative ways, the equation as Bacon presented it was far from complete as is — to me an untenable intellectual omission from a systems thinking perspective. These were my main initial points and they are far from grandiose. They are, in fact, rather plain and straightforward.

      • I probably should have added something political — I favor carbon fee and dividend for the best bi-partisan approach to climate, support a “culture of encouragement” to get people to change behavior, believe in an aggressive phasing in of a clean energy economy (notably for the local jobs and economic growth they promise) and have written dozens or more articles on using less in one’s personal life (as well as topics like energy literacy) to try to circulate my thoughts in the marketplace of ideas. Here’s how that’s gone — obscurity! Oh, and of course I favor mature discussion by serious thinkers because I think that’s an awesome part of being Americans together and I REALLY love this country! 😉

        • Welcome to the blog! I look forward to hearing more from you. I am not sure if this blog will be any less obscure than your earlier efforts, but Jim is trying to raise its profile and having new people like you, with firm ideas and able to express them well, will certainly help. And we have fun.

  9. Here we go again. Rural Virginia can’t afford its schools, roads, police, jails, broadband networking and now … bus service. If the town of Blacksburg or the county of Montgomery wants to subsidize bus service I could care less. However, something tells me that the DRPT is getting its money from the usual suspects – those of us in Northern Virginia (to a disproportionate extent).

    The “save money on Rt 81” argument is not just a red herring it is a bright red hot, Chernobyl, glow in the dark red herring. If Rt 81 ran through Northern Virginia Jimbo wouldn’t need much time to figure out how to pay for it … a “public / private partnership” with sky high tolls. There would be no talk of subsidized bus rides.

  10. You’re conflating two separate questions, Don: (1) Is the Blacksburg-to-D.C. bus service an economic investment; and (2) who should pay for it. I provided two opposing arguments. I did not stake out a position. I was soliciting readers’ views.

    Let me ask you this — why do you call the bus route a rural subsidy? Those are Northern Virginia students traveling back and forth to Blacksburg (and Harrisonburg). The bus is taking traffic off Northern Virginia roads, too. Why isn’t it a Northern Virginia subsidy? hahahaha!

  11. In terms of Obama and enviros and climate change. You cannot change everything overnight. As usual, you’re making good and perfect enemies.

    If Obama buys a big house and configures it to meet LEED Platinum energy standards – it would not matter to the critics… because that’s not really what they are doing in the first place. It’s all about partisan crappola where their goal is to impugn those who do care about the environment and climate… In other words, unless you live in a cave, you’re a environmental hypocrite. Yep.. that’s who some of us are now.

    on the “rural” subsidy. If everyone in Virginia pays sales tax including rural – and DRPT gets some of it’s funding from the sales tax – how does that get to be a “subsidy” of rural only?

    How is it even a subsidy if we all pay for it as part of our taxes any more or less than our taxes also pay for State Troopers or Fire/Rescue?

    Jim’s “economic sense” – if you put that on state troopers or fire and rescue – would it pass the “not a subsidy test”?

    • ” … on the “rural” subsidy. If everyone in Virginia pays sales tax including rural – and DRPT gets some of it’s funding from the sales tax – how does that get to be a “subsidy” of rural only?”

      You can’t be serious.

      If urban and suburban Virginians pay $1b in sales taxes and rural Virginians pay $100m, how much of the sales tax revenue can be spent in rural Virginia without creating a subsidy? Uhhh …. $100m.

      Don’t state troopers operate out of barracks in specific places with defined areas of patrol for the barracks? Or do troopers drive aimlessly around the state looking for trouble? If you call fire & rescue in Fredricksburg I hope they don’t send a fire truck from McLean to put out the blaze. All of this is local / regional spending. Almost all government spending in Virginia is local / regional. You could argue about the governor’s salary I guess but there isn’t a very long list of truly state wide spending items. You also know where the taxes are raised. You know where people live so you know the property and income tax locations. You know where stores are located so you know the sales tax receipt locations. Taxes raised (per region) – state spending (per region) = subsidy or deficit.

  12. You have no idea who is traveling on those buses and neither do I. If it’s Northern Virginia VT students why is there a stop in Staunton? The route map shows six stops in rural Virginia, two in Northern Virginia and one in Washington, DC. One of the two stops in NoVa is Dulles Airport and the other is Union Station (DC Amtrak). How many Northern Virginia students want to get off at Dulles or Union Station? My guess is that most people on those buses are residents of rural Virginia trying to catch a plane or train.

    You are also starting to sound like a Democrat. A subsidy is not an economic investment. It is an expenditure of taxes raised by the taking of property from individuals under penalty of imprisonment.

    As far as taking traffic off Northern Virginia roads you need to take another peek at that route map. What percentage of the route appears to be in NoVa?

    As far as making a difference to Rt 81 … Rt 81 at the Rt81 / I66 exchange in Frederick County has an average daily traffic volume of 8,400 vehicles. That’s just over 3m per year. 19,300 people ride the Subsidy Breeze per year. At 2 people per car that would alleviate 9,650 cars (3 tenths of 1% of the traffic). So, $200,000 per year provides 0.3% relief. If that same subsidy were applied to all traffic on Rt81 it would come to $67m per year. How many years at that rate would it take to fix the damn road rather than implementing hare brained subsidies?

    You were soliciting readers’ views and you got mine – minimize cross region subsidies in Virginia. If you don’t like the economic conditions in the region where you live – move. If you want to fix Rt 81 … put up toll gantries, charge lots of money to drive on the road and use the proceeds to expand the road and make it safer.

  13. Since we’re talking traffic …

    I see an average daily traffic volume on 295 in Henrico County at 53,000 (one way). I see an average daily traffic volume on 495 in Fairfax County at 99,000 (one way).

    Why are they the same sized roads?

  14. Some context needed here for the “why subsidy” question. Intercity bus is a federally mandated program. Under 49 USC 5311 (f) states must set aside 15% of their federal rural transit funds for intercity bus or otherwise certify that enough private service exists to connect rural communities.

  15. Something worthy of discussion that the MSM won’t report.

  16. Having read through this comment thread, I think Jim hit the nail on the head:

    “As you can see, the analysis can get very complicated.”

    I want to make a very different argument– not for a particular value of the subsidy, but against presuming that we can, in fact, calculate that value. These arguments seem to me to be piling unknown on unknown. We as a society may or may not be gathering the information that would allow us to compute the exact nature of the subsidy being provided here, but we sure haven’t organized it or made it publicly available in any way that would let that happen, and we aren’t going to.

    This is the nature of an economy in which goods, people, and capital (including taxes) are normally transported hundreds or thousands of miles to do ordinary business (like put fruit on Virginian tables in December). We cannot tell what anything really costs, because unknowns accumulate over those huge scales. We don’t know how much it really costs to put Californian fruit on our tables, or to move people from Blacksburg to NoVa, or the real cost of almost any product in our society that moves over a hundred miles in its lifetime. “15% of their federal rural transit funds” sounds fine to me, but let’s not pretend that that number was the result of some strong and well-supported economic argument.

    This is not going to change until we stop moving things so much, which is going to take a lot of time (and a lot of complaining). So it really doesn’t matter what we calculate together. The subsidy will continue if it does because it is politically motivated (not a criticism!) not economically motivated. The question to ask is not “Does this make sense economically?” (that’s not a terrible or crazy question, it’s just one for which we have no real chance at any real answer) but “Who (among political actors) is demanding this and do they have the power to make their demand get met by the various governments involved?”

  17. “The simple act of repeating a lie can make it seem like truth, as the Temple University psychologist Lynn Hasher and colleagues showed in a pioneering study published in 1977. The researchers asked 40 people to rate the truthfulness of a variety of statements, some true and some false. A number of statements were repeated in multiple rounds of the exercise over time. Test subjects became more likely to believe things as they were repeated, regardless of whether they were true or false. The third time they heard a false statement, they were just as likely to believe it as a true statement that they heard once.

    We are even more easily snookered when pictures are included … so when pictures were attached, people were more likely to believe the statements, including the fake ones. If, for instance, you show people a picture of a giraffe with a statement saying it is the only mammal that can’t jump, they are more likely to forget about the other animals that can’t jump, such as elephants and hippos.

    Related research shows that even adding unimportant details to a statement can have a similar effect. If you add vivid language, lies can spread even more quickly. A 2017 study … found that the presence of moral and emotional words like “hate,” “destroy” or “blame” acted like an accelerant, increasing the chance that a message would spread by about 20% for each additional emotional word.”

    For more of this very fine essay by Gary Marcus and Annie Duke dated Aug. 31, 2019 in Wall Street Journal, go to:

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