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William Lind: A Conservative Voice For Public Transportation

At the 2009 Rail-Volution conference in Boston, Streetfilms was able to grab a few moments with the political conservative, transit advocate, William Lind.  Lind aims to provide "liberal transit advocates" the language to build bipartisan support for public transportation (okay, just rail) in terms that conservatives can relate to. Some of Lind's arguments don't reflect our views here at Streetfilms, especially his disdain for buses (which we don't cover in this video), but he makes a thought-provoking case for transit investment.

Lind argues that transit enhances national security, promotes economic development, helps maintain conservatives values, builds community, and gets people to jobs. Streetsblog readers won't want to miss his critique of highway spending as a massive government intervention.

<blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Bill Lind:</cite> [0:17] Our new book, "Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation, " enables liberal transit advocates to talk to conservatives about why we need, particularly, rail transit, in terms conservatives can relate to. [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Bill:</cite> [0:50] You can't go to conservatives and say, well, we should have better transit because it will reduce greenhouse gases and global warming and so forth. Whenever you do that, you're telling them, "Oh, obviously this is something I should oppose." There are very good, conservative arguments for improved rail transportation, including the fact that many conservatives ride such transportation. [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Bill:</cite> [1:09] The most effective way to decrease rush-hour traffic congestion is to give people another way to get to work that they will actually choose to use. Public transit does work, if you measure how it works correctly. [1:25] Libertarian transit critics say, "Well, public transit only carries one percent of total trips." But the number is misleading because the measurement is wrong. Half of Americans have no public transportation, so obviously they can't use it. Of those who have it, only half say it's even satisfactory.</p><p>[1:45] If we use another measurement, which is transit-competitive trips, trips that transit can actually compete for, we get a very different answer. If we look at the corridors that are served, we find, in many cases, they're carrying, say, 40 percent, not one percent, of total trips in the area served.</p><p>[music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Bill:</cite> [2:11] If we'd go back 80 years, we would find an extensive network of rail transportation in this country, both intercity and within cities, all privately owned and privately operated and paying taxes. What happened is we forced that private industry to compete against a government-subsidized competitor, namely highways. As early as 1920, government was pouring a billion dollars a year into highways. Well, every conservative knows what happens when you tax one competitor and subsidize the other: [2:34] the subsidized competitor wins. That's why we have the current automobile dominance. It is not a free-market outcome. It is the outcome of massive and prolonged government intervention.</p><p>[3:10] The second subsidy argument is that transit requires subsidies, as opposed to highways, which don't. Well, highways do. If we look at the Federal Highway Administration's numbers, we find that user fees, including the gas tax and tolls, only cover about 58 percent of the cost of highways, which is to say 42 percent is subsidized. Now, many rail-transit systems cover more than 50 percent of their operating expenses out of the fare box. So, in fact, it's a wash.</p><p>[music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Bill:</cite> [3:18] Our economy depends upon adequate infrastructure, including rail. </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/shmooth Peter Smith

    i would love to see more on his anti-bus stance. i feel like most transit advocates have never heard an argument against buses -- at least, it seems that way, judging from the way they freak out when they hear me rail against buses.

    i also find it interesting that 'conservatism' is now about 'community'. uh-huh.

  • http://www.bikebythesea.com Christa


    Conservatives should also note the community benefits (or increased social capital) associated with public transportation, walking, and cycling.

  • http://www.bikebythesea.com Christa

    Peter Smith,

    "hear me rail against buses"

    nice pun

  • http://flickr.com/antiphonfotos Hart

    Mr. Lind makes good arguments, but his admission that conservatives don't care about greenhouse gases just proves how irrational and utterly childish the right is.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Elizabeth Press

    I would be interested in hearing a sound (non-racist or classist) anti-bus stance. If you want Lind's opinion, I suggest you get his book.

  • Christopher

    Hart -

    By dismissing all conservatives as "irrational and utterly childish", you show that you completely missed the point of this film. Here is a conservative trying to explain that it is smarter to work together to achieve the same goal (better public transportation), even if we see the reasons for doing so differently. And your reaction? Name calling. And you wonder why so many conservatives aren't more interested in the left's goal of improving public transportation?

  • http://zachsbicyclecommuting.blogspot.com/ Zach’s Bicycle Commuting


    Criticizing "the right" by calling them childish is a perfect way to prevent infrastructure for bicycles and walkers.

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    I will say this: where Lind makes most sense is staying away from the global warming argument (even though the argument is correct) when appealing to the right when talking about transit. Look, if we can get more people doing the right thing by using different persuasive arguements, I am all for it.

  • Rob

    The issue is one of market-distorting subsidies to highways and auto/highway-oriented transportation. Want to see a signficant change? Put a high-quality transit alternative (which exlcudes BRT/HOV) into a heavily congested urban corridor and then increase the cost of driving by about 25 to 30% (tolling all lanes, fuel tax, insurance costs, etc.) and see a shift toward transit of about 40% . . .

  • Octavian

    I'm a conservative and a passionate advocate for environmentalism and alternative transportation. My stance is that everyone should be biking or riding the bus/train, and car use should be the exception. I would love to live in a car-free city. I'm a member of the SF Bike Coalition and I always have to ignore all the leftist commentary.

    But Hart's comments are just a reflection of what I've found in everyday life, that liberals are the most intolerant people I've encountered. The only racism I've ever face in my life (I'm not white) is from liberals. Aside from that, conservatives like most people don't appreciate being called names.

    This reminds me of the story of the Pink Pistols, the gay gun rights group. They said that they always felt welcome among conservative gun rights folks, but faced severe hostility from liberals about their guns rights stance.

    We have a common cause here and we should be working together. Do you really care what I think about the Middle East situation, the fact that I believe in God, or whether I believe in man-made global warming to be able to work with me for a car-free society?

    At least Clarence was welcoming and I thank him for that.

  • Transity Cyclist

    About 35 seconds into the video, he says something like: "You can't tell conservatives that we should invest in public transit because it will reduce greenhouse gases. That tells them that it's something that they should oppose".

    I don't understand what he said there. Is it "Public transit investment is something that they should oppose" or "Greenhouse gases is something that we should oppose"?

  • Andre Levy

    He's saying that if the argument for investing in public transport is to reduce greenhouse gases, then conservatives will find reason to oppose it.

  • Andre Levy

    What's wrong with greenhouse gases?? As the name implies, they help make the planet greener!

  • Andre Levy

    Always was, even before socialism came along. It was conservatives, before socialists, who opposed capitalism. Socialism—or communism—in fact, at first revived the value conservatism placed on community that liberalism had left behind (with a post-Enlightenment perspective, that's for sure).