Transit’s Dependency on Cars

Ed Braddy’s latest column at New Geography points out some crucial interdependence. For starters,

Yet in pursuing this transit-friendly future political leaders rarely confront this inescapable reality: public transportation is fiscally unsustainable and utterly dependent on the very car-drivers transit boosters so often excoriate. For example, a major source of funding for transit comes from taxes paid by motorists, which include principally fuel taxes but also sales taxes, registration fees and transportation grants. The amount of tax diversion varies from place to place, but whether the metro region is small or large the subsidies are significant. In Gainesville, Florida — a college town of 120,000 — the regional transit system received 80 percent of the city’s local option gas tax in 2008. In New York City, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority diverts 68 percent of its toll revenues to subways and buses.

leading him to point out

The dirty little secret remains that public transportation would collapse without the automobile. It will remain unsustainable as long as it remains dependent on that which public policy is trying to discourage. Smart Growth rhetoric makes for great campaign literature but not for smart decision-making. Responsible officials should question the underlying assumptions about automobiles and begin reconsidering the fiscal calculus that underlies transit policy.