But At Least the Egyptians Kept the Operating Costs Down!

And, yet, another story about the virtues of mass transit, the horrors of the automobile. John Pomfret, a Washington Post journalist, wrote an article this weekend (“L.A. Long Ruled by Cars, Becoming a Transit Leader”). After the dismissive initial comment (less than 7 percent of all trips in L.A. are via transit), he finds wonderful things to say about the L.A. subway. That numerous studies have found that transit ridership in absolute and relative terms is declining, that subways are the least cost-effective means of providing mass transit, and that the impact is very swiftly to provide wealthy people a highly subsidized alternative to driving — no coverage on these points. Subways are cool and economists are just a gloomy lot.

Every society seems to experience periods of collective insanity where funds are poured into whatever mega project is currently popular. The Egyptians and their pyramids were perhaps the first; subways seem to be the current pork barrel favorite. But, one thing is clear — the Egyptians were a bit wiser — they may have wasted equivalent amounts on the capital cost side, but they certainly were better at holding down operating costs!