O’Toole Testifies on Transit

Randal O’Toole, founder of the American Dream Coalition and now a fellow at the Cato Institute, testified on transit today before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development.

Randal does a classic yoeman’s job debunking transit myths, including pointing out that transit use is not inherently more enviornmentally friendly than automobiles.

Still, I found his argument about transit ridership and investment particularly compelling.

Transit subsidies have historically had only a trivial effect on ridership. Between 1987 and 2007, annual subsidies in real dollars grew by 68 percent. Yet annual ridership grew by only 18 percent. While capital subsidies are sketchy before 1987, operating subsidies increased by 1240 percent since 1970. Yet ridership grew by only 45 percent.

More importantly, despite total real subsidies of well over three-quarters of a trillion dollars since 1970, per-capita transit ridership and passenger miles actually declined. Figure one (on page 8) shows that per-capita transit travel declined more-orless steadily from 1970 through 1995. Although per-capita transit usage has grown a little since 1995, it remains below 1988, and far below 1970, levels

More telling, Portland, Oregon’s transit performance is not as stellar as advocates would like us to think. Nearly 10 percent of commuters took transit to work in 1980. Now, 6.5 percent take transit. And the number of commuters is falling (even though overall ridership is up).