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.
Bill Lind: [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]
Bill: [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]
Bill: [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.
[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.
Bill: [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.
[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.
Bill: [3:18] Our economy depends upon adequate infrastructure, including rail.