Public transportation

Paper: Public Transportation Can Work — If We Punish Private Drivers

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Bus

Apparently, Americans' might be broken of their love affairs with nasty, take-you-where-you-want-to-go, when-you-want-to-go, automobiles and taught to love lovely, communal bus and train timetables, through some simple, if unpopular, policy changes. That's the conclusion of a study published by Transport Reviews Journal, which compares the post-World War 2 experiences of Germany and the United States in shifting back to civilian economies and the divergent policies that resulted in different travel habits among the populations. What the paper doesn't delve into, however, is why Americans, or anybody else, should consider doing anything of the sort.

In Demand for Public Transport in Germany and the USA: An Analysis of Rider Characteristics (PDF), by Virginia Tech's Ralph Buehler and Rutgers University's John Pucher, made available by theNewspaper, there's a lot of data about public transportation usage, taxes and regulatory differences between the two countries, but the money quote is the very last sentence:

Without the necessary policies to restrict car use and make it more expensive, American public transport is doomed to remain a marginal means of transport, used mainly by those who have no other choice.

In terms of usage, the paper points out that Americans have much lower usage of public transport than most other developed countries:

The largest increase in public transport mode share for work commuters was in Germany, rising from about 13% in 1993 to 16% in 2008. The censuses for Canada and Australia report slight increases in public transport mode share over the past two decades, while mode share declined in Ireland. There has been almost no change in the share of American workers commuting by public transport, remaining about 5%, a third as high as the share in Germany.

Car

There are a lot of policy choices the German goverment has used to drive passengers to its transport systems, in preference to private cars, but a combination of taxes, fees and outright restrictions have been key. By example, the average sales tax for a new car in the U.S. is 4.9 percent, while it's 19 percent all across Germany. Drivers licenses cost about $100 in the U.S. and $2,000 in Germany. About 15 percent of the price paid by Americans for gasoline is tax, compared to 61 percent in Germany. And German governments ban cars from many downtown areas and restrict the availability of parking spaces, which are subsequently more expensive.

So, by design, driving a car in Germany is a pricey proposition, and potentially prohibitive unless you have a lot of cash to burn. Of course Germans look for alternatives. But while Buehler and Pucher seem pretty clear on the policy path that led Germany to where it is today, transportation-wise, they never tell us why that emphasis on public transport should be preferred over one on private means or, even better, simply letting people make their own choices and shoulder their own costs.

Here's a thought: If people will choose what you want them to choose only if you artificially hike the price and restrict the availability of alternatives, you might want to do some soul-searching about your personal comfort level with twisting people's arms.

See also, Brian Doherty's take on light rail, and Calvin Thompson's look at public transit's ongoing troubles in the U.S.

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  1. Ha! Too bad Obama’s gonna double our cars’ fuel efficiency in his second term!

    1. That’s not all he’s going to double…

  2. Even discounting philosophy at first, what about math?

    Germany’s area is 137,847 sq mi, and there are 593 Germans per square mile.

    The US covers 3,794,101 sq mi, with 87.4 Americans per square mile.

    Before even discussing what we “should” do, does it not make sense to consider what we even could?

    1. That’s easy, step 1 is mandate everyone move within 25 miles of a city center.

      If you’re going to coerce people, why go half assed?

      1. Cities aren’t prepared to handle the influx. They would need some sort of temporary settlements, “camps” if you will, in which to bring large numbers of people together, that is to say, to “concentrate” them.

        1. Germans are good at that sort of thing, but we need an American solution to the problem.

          I hear Tule Lake is nice this time of year. Only gently used for a few years…

  3. Supporters of the automobile can’t assert that they’re free of the taint of coercion until all zoning requiring a certain number of parking spaces per property are lifted.

    1. That’s not the half of it.

    2. But, then the property owners would be the ones being coerced, in being required to build parking spaces.

      Basically, anytime you say something is going to be required, someone is being coerced, because there is always someone who won’t want to do it.

      1. He’s saying don’t force property owners to have any particular number of parking spaces.

  4. “Stand aside, peasants! Men of Vision are coming through.”

  5. 2K for a drivers license?

    Jesus pogo jumpin Christ. That makes me fucking mad on behalf of the Germans. Next time some shithead tells me how much better Europe is than the USA I’m throwin this shit in their face.

    1. “‘Driver’s license’, Occifer? Who would sell *me* a driver’s license?”

    2. That bailout for the Greeks isn’t paying for itself, you know…

  6. “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

    -Some Retard

    1. I’ve been around the world – the sign of a developed country is that people using mass transit aren’t carrying livestock with them.

  7. Paternalism against automobiles is no better than the planners’ policies that skewed the market in favor of automobiles.

    If all transportation, land use, and energy was privatized and deregulated, alternatives to driving might become more preferable without coercion.

    1. Eliminate property taxation too. Besides being terrible for property rights, it also terribly affects land development, such as decentralizing it even more.

      1. Why is that bad?

        1. I would prefer land settlement patterns to occur due to free market influences.

          Decentralization is bad when it happens because of shit the government is doing, and relies on inefficiently provided government services.

          I also do not appreciate the development suitableness of property being discouraged by taxation.

    2. …or not.

      The car has done a lot to open up all sorts of opportunities for middle-class Americans to live much fuller lives. People didn’t start buying cars because someone put a gun to their heads. Why would anyone give up personal, individual, high-speed transportation, in return for something worse?

      Now if the market offers something BETTER, then that’s different. But long-abandoned 19th-century solutions are not better. If they were better, nobody would have bought cars, and nearly everyone did, and still does.

      1. If roads were privatized and no longer government subsidized, and people either had to pay the upfront costs of using them or they just crumbled to dirt, people might alter their behavior so they drive less. I would be fine with this.

    3. Paternalism against automobiles is no better than the planners’ policies that skewed the market in favor of automobiles.

      This.

      I know it’s true that airplanes and cars benefit from government regulation and such but I fail to see how that justifies using more laws to combat it. Didn’t Bastiat speak of this?

      Suggesting that libertarians are hypocrites for complaining about high speed is ridiculous considering government subsidies helped build the 19th century railroads.

  8. Some of those ideas are clearly bad, like charging $2000 for a drivers license or taxing cars more than other goods.

    But using taxes to price gasoline at it’s full cost, including the pollution it produces, is an economically sound idea. Cars are cheaper in the US because we don’t force drivers to pay the costs of cleaning the pollution they create.

    Lastly, public transportation makes more sense in Germany because its population density is so much greater.

    1. That’s about the SIZE of it.

    2. But using taxes to price gasoline at it’s full cost, including the pollution it produces, is an economically sound idea. Cars are cheaper in the US because we don’t force drivers to pay the costs of cleaning the pollution they create.

      And public transportation in this country, per rider is way…WAY cheaper than it should be because we don’t force the riders to pay for the pollution it creates.

  9. Cars are cheaper in the US because we don’t force drivers to pay the costs of cleaning the pollution they create.

    Tailpipe emissions are practically nonexistent compared to what they were in 1967 (when “clean air” regs began). The cost of the technology which does that is firmly embedded in the sticker price of a new car.

    Try again, dumbass.

    1. joe is offended because he’s at nose level with most tailpipes.

  10. I’d rather not double my commute time, stand and shiver in the rain, and deal with crazy hobos and aggressive assholes, thanks. But I do agree that people should have to bear their share of the costs associated with driving. I also agree with scrapping zoning laws, period.

    1. “I also agree with scrapping zoning laws, period.”

      That means I can build my dynamite factory right next door to your house.

      1. Sure can. Or a motorsports country club. You could even build a boring ass regular country club.

  11. Cars are cheaper in the US because we don’t force drivers to pay the costs of cleaning the pollution they create.

    Tailpipe emissions are practically nonexistent compared to what they were in 1967

    I believe he is using liberalspeak where co2 is considered “pollution”, rather than substances that would actually harm you if you inhaled them.

  12. JD, the point of the piece by Pucher had more to do with ensuring that car owners don’t have their transit costs subsidized any more than a transit rider. Our current transit model is not the result of a free market, which would see greater investment in public transit.

    This isn’t about punishing car owners so much as it is about making sure that they foot the total bill of their choice.

    “they never tell us why that emphasis on public transport should be preferred over one on private means or, even better, simply letting people make their own choices and shoulder their own costs.” Land use and energy. Our current system of sprawl is unsustainable and insanely expensive.

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