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When Is Losing $112 Per Passenger Good News?

Ted Balaker
July 28, 2005, 2:49pm

When you're Amtrak, says Nick Gillespie. Read on, here. (Nick also digs into Amtrak's lousy food service and–with toilet doors spontaneously flying open–bathroom service doesn't seem much better.) His post spurred quite a lot of discussion about subsidies and whether Amtrak is more of a drain than say, highways, transit, or the airlines (who are always happy to receive government bailouts). Here I give the lowdown on federal subsidies, highways vs. transit. And here Bob Poole cites this Bureau of Transportation Statistics study and adds other modes to the mix: And here (no link) Bob cites the Federal Highway Administration's 2002 Highway Statistics report to go beyond federal subsidies: Even if all of our cars vanished we'd still need roads for, say, emergency services (better than having EMTs take heart attack victims to the hospital via Amtrak). Some say issues like that provide good justification for some general revenue dough going to roads. Plus the vast majority of stuff that we buy gets to stores by trucks that travel on roads. And a bit more on transit: Although some vanpool services are in the black, all U.S. transit systems operate in the red (see the "recovery ratio" column on the far right). And sadly, the fact that all transit agencies lose money is actually a rhetorical advantage for individual agencies. It gives the impression that transit is, by nature, a money loser. That's not exactly true, but you'll have to leave the states to find examples of in-the-black transit. And even in America there are ways to lose less money (e.g. competitive contracting.) BTW, Nick points to this article. Some nuggets: For more background on Amtrak, go here.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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