Let them eat public transportation

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its latest attack on Automobility with proposed CA standards on combustion engine vehicles.

The war on automobility, the freedom to have and drive an automobile, is a war fought on many fronts. Chief among these are the battles over the ability and right for Americans to purchase an affordable, reliable automobile that is fit for their needs. Whether through taxes or crushing regulation, the Biden administration has made clear its intention to diminish Americans’ access to internal combustion engine vehicles.

Currently electric vehicles are too expensive for the average American, so, like Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake,” it has been suggested that Americans need to increase their use of public transportation instead.

Public transportation can work, but it depends on the location and viability. Places such as New York City, where demand is high and old-fashioned street layouts make driving difficult, are well-suited to transit.

A public transportation system should be economically viable without tax payer subsidization to be worth it, yet in many urban areas it is not. Honolulu’s “Skyline” is a good example of a local government’ over-zealousness for building public transportation infrastructure. The tickets cost passengers $3 dollars, but come with a meager $51 dollar taxpayer subsidy per ticket,  making it the most expensive light-rail system in the US. The taxpayer is artificially keeping nearly empty trains travelling for miles every day.

The local government built where there was not enough demand, seemingly on the basis of “If you build it, they will come.” However, reality does not match movie fantasy.

To be economically viable, a system of public transportation needs demand, but there isn’t much at the moment. In the year 2021, New York City, a city with a famous public transportation network, only carried 6.2 percent of the motorized transportation. Most other urban areas do not reach over 1 percent, with a few exceptions. Politicians, such as the elected officials in Baltimore, still wish to expand public transportation despite of the already low ridership. Simply building infrastructure will not induce demand here.

Honolulu is not the only example of public transport failure. The construction of long-distance public transportation has generally proven to be inordinately expensive. High speed passenger trains in California have cost billions of dollars and over a decade of work so far; the project is still ongoing. The original cost estimate to build high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco was $9 Billion. The California High-Speed Rail Authority now estimates it will cost between $88 Billion and $128 Billion dollars – orders of magnitude greater – primarily paid by the State of California and therefore the taxpayer.

In all of these cases if the infrastructure projects were not funded and artificially supported by the government then they would have closed up shop or never been started at all. The demand in many places simply does not exist in the way transit enthusiasts think it does.

Moreover, in many urban areas, transit levels have only reached 70% or so of already low pre-COVID levels. It is clear that most Americans have voted with their feet, literally. They do not want to use public transportation to get around. People continue to need and want cars. More restrictions on their ability to buy and use them will only hurt Americans and their families.