Monday, January 16, 2006

Peasants with Pitchforks and a Very Serious Attitude

The Jan. 16, 2006, edition of Bacon's Rebellion is now online. You can view it here.

As usual, we have a number of columns that should appeal to readers interested in transportation and land use issues:

Building Not the Only Solution
State-funded highway and rail projects are not the only ways to address traffic congestion in Virginia. It's time to tap the creativity of the private sector.
by Patrick McSweeney

Three Big Ideas
What's not to like? These three transportation solutions are inexpensive, could be implemented quickly and could make a big dent on traffic congestion.
by William Vincent

A Modest Plan
Here's what Virginia's transportation system needs: more money, a more rational pattern of land use, and a stronger commitment to mass transit.
by Gary Johnson


At 3:55 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

"If we shift the cost of growth as much as possible to those who benefit, we can encourage greater efficiency because the real costs will be considered by affected individuals as they make decisions about commuting, taking trips throughout the day, where to work and where to live."

From McSweeney's column.. There's a lot of appeal in this thinking. I would like to hear what the development sector thinks about this.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I just loved this idea for improving transportation from Steven Vincent>

"A number of improvements were planned .... including reducing the frequency of stops, ...... , and increasing the number of buses so that one is guaranteed to arrive at a station every few minutes.

Yah Think?

Maybe if we had enough buses everyone would only have one stop, and there would be one there whenever you wanted it. We could leave the keys in them so you could drive them yourself, to save on paying drivers. We could call them autobuses, or autos for short. If we made the bus stops really expensive and nice you could live in them, for better accessibility.

Of course it would be expensive for the government to operate a system like that.

Maybe we could privatize it.


I posted this in the other blog, then realized it could be improved on.

At 8:51 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Bob:I have made this argument before, but here goes again.

Winston and Shirley at the Brookings institution made a study of what would happen under free-market or optimal pricing strategies for transportation. What hey found was that under an optimal pricing strategy, including pollution and accidents, auto and car pool usage would go up, bus and train transit usage would go down, and cover a much smaller and more profitable area, and become much more expensive.

This is only a model, and it might be wrong, but at least they took the time and trouble to go examine a few tons of data.

Dozens of authors a have studied location decisions and transportation costs and come to the conclusion that, given the present susidised transportation system, they are already making rational decisions.

It would be interesting to combine Winston and Shirley's research with a similar study on location decision. So far as I know this HAS NEVER BEEN DONE.

Over all, Winston and Shirley's projection of optimal practice was not all that far off from current practice, except for the disrupting influence of well meaning but ignorant politicians.

What makes you think optimal location decisions would be any different?

Part of the problem is that we don't really know who benefits from development. Governments disingenuously argue that every time they allow a house to be built that they lose money. But the budgets are balanced and all the money they get comes from someone - who lives in a house.

No one knows where the real costs and benefits lie. Until we know, any policy we suggest is likely to represent a disruption to the market. The market isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But the market makes several billion more decisions every day than the best beaurocracy on the planet.

Practice makes perfect.

At 6:24 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

That's the point: these private road building landowners wouldn't build the roads, because the market wouldn't support it. That's the whole point - the lack of market demand would discourage that pattern of growth.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Bob Burke: But the private sector will not build the Metrorail extension in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties either. How much development can taxpayers afford?

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

TMT is right, Bob. If you want to make the full price argument, you can't pick and choose. the Brookings model argues that under a full price scheme, public transit would almost vanish, and people would gladly pay higher congestion and pollution fees to use their cars. Those fees could be used to build and maintain roads. By their argument, the market does exist and will support it.

The real question is, are we going to bet against the market and make some really stupid policy decisions the we have strong evidence won't work and will cost us Billions? Talk about a tax increase!

We don't know enough to say if you are correct in saying the market isn't there. There are plenty of developments that own and maintain their own internal roads. To the extent those roads contribute to the county tax base in other ways, should they get a discount?

If we do a traffic study and find out a development will cause a traffic jam forty miles away, then it would be hard to allocate all of that cost to the new development: all of the previous developments that use that funnel would owe something too.

Without new housing, the prices may go up enough to justify private roads (and mabe schools). Then what valid objection will you make? Won't you have given up government control to a new, privatized, government?

After we accept the idea of full market pricing, we still have the NIMBY problem. Those that don't want new neighbors (apparently everybody) will fight. But if the developers are paying full costs, what leverage will they have left?

Well, some morons will come up with another 40+ location related costs on some flimsy premise and go to court. We'll have to establish a court of full allocated costs to settle the issues.

McSweeney is so stuck on his idea of the tragedy of the commons that he can't see that it cuts both ways. Like the argument that says housing doesnt pay its own costs, its an argument that must be wrong: all the costs are paid by someone who lives in a house, even if it is not through real estate taxes. All that argumets means is that our tax system might be inequitable. If that is true, you really might not like what it looks like after we fix it.

McSweeney argument is both circular and ridiculous on its face. No matter how many people don't want new building, it is going to happen somewhere. The No-build solution is not an option, or won't be when we discover our grown children are still living at home.

Then he suggests the no-build option will allow for greater efficiency on our network. How is that?

But if no-build is not an option and we build only where there is sufficient capacity, well, guess where that is. Almost all our unused capacity is in rural roads. The efficiency argument would say we should build there to increase our return on investments we hav already made.

Hardly a solution to sprawl. But his argument starts of and is based on the premise that sprawl is bad. Hence both circular and unrealistic.

I'll say it again. Don't get me wrong. I'm on your side. But i firmly believe the "solutions" you are promoting are actually going to work against what we both want to achieve - preserving open space.

When we are willing to pay people as much for open space as the developers are, then we can stop worrying about it.

It's, you know, that old argument about paying full price for what you get.

If the public buys it so the public can use and enjoy it, it will come off the tax rolls. It is a continuing expense, not one that we can cover one time.

It will make a huge impact on the housing market. But when open space is as rare and valuable as Central Park, people will gladly pay for the view.

It is not really a question of whether we will pay more for open space, it is only a question of how rare it becomes before we wake up.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

It is also, of course a question of how much we really value open space, as opposed to how much we say we do.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Bob Burke said...

I'm having that weird blogging experience of having claims assigned to me that I haven't made. That's ok - it's interesting reading, but it comes off as kind of a Rorschach test.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I'm sorry, where did I go wrong? I thought this was about market demand, and real costs, and true price.

Do you mean the metrorail extension argument posted by TMT?

If so, you are right, and I jumped on that without considering that it wasn't part of your argument.

Even so, when you start on real costs for one, equity demands that you consider all the consequnces.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"Because of light rail's prohibitive capital costs, BRT enjoys and even greater advantage in overall cost per passenger mile. It is estimated that light rail operating and capital costs per passenger mile are $3.16, nearly three times that of BRT at $1.08 (Figure).

Then there is the matter of speed. A number of transit authorities have incorrectly labeled light rail as "rapid transit." But, because of its operation without grade separation from street traffic, light rail is often little faster than buses. GAO found the average LRT operating speed to be 16.8 miles per hour. BRT was nearly double that, at 32.2 miles per hour (Figure).

Given the spread out nature of American cities and the highly dispersed patterns of travel, there is good reason to question the extent to which transit might be a realistic alternative to the automobile for all but a small percentage of trips. That does not mean, however, that the money spent on transit should not be used to maximize its benefits."

$1.08 per passenger mile?
$3.16 per passenger mile?

And Johnson and Vincent think we need more of this?


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