Saturday, December 23, 2006

Capital Investment and Results: Transit vs. Highways

A recent report from the Transportation Research Board entitled "Comparative Review and Analysis of State Transit Funding Programs" contains a wealth of information about state and federal support of public transit. As discussed in yesterday's post, it appears that the State of Illinois has provided substantial and growing support for public transit over the past decade.

The report also sheds light on the efficacy of increased investment in public transit. It shows (pages 52-54 of 103) that in the 1992-2004 period the level of state and federal capital investment and operating subsidies increased significantly in inflation adjusted terms. State and federal capital investment increased in real terms from almost $4 billion in 1992 to almost $11 billion in 2004. The increase in state and federal operating subsidies was less dramatic, but still substantial, rising from almost $4 billion in 1992 to a bit over $6 billion in 2004.

The federal government has increased its commitment to public transit relative to highways during the 1992-2004 period. During that period FTA funding increased from $3.5 billion to $6.2 billion, a 77% increase. All of this increase came on the capital funding side. Federal Highway Administration funding during the same period rose from $17.7 billion to $22.1 billion, a 25% increase. The compound annual growth rates during the 1992-2003 period were approximately 7.6% for FTA spending and 4.9% for FHWA spending.

Despite this increased investment in public transit in both absolute terms and relative to the investment in highways public transit continued to lose market share. The report shows that vehicle miles traveled on the highways grew at approximately 2.2% annually while public transit ridership rose at an annual rate of approximately 1.6%.

This data--increased investment in public transit fails to stem public transit's loss of market share--should make the Illinois General Assembly pause before it accepts the argument of the RTA, CTA, Metra, Pace and their Moving Beyond Congestion allies that major increases in operating subsidies and capital investment will allow public transit to play a bigger role in the region's transportation system.

The disappointing performance of public transit relative to the private auto since 1992 despite the increased financial support of public transit suggests that the congestion relief and environmental benefits that public transit delivers might be achieved more dramatically and more cheaply by methods such as: (i) higher fuel economy requirements; (ii) congestion pricing on roadways; (iii) incentives to prompt people to switch to low emissions vehicles; and (iv) incentives to encourage people to telecommute to their jobs.

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