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Conservatives can support public transit on April 6th

February 15, 2010 Politics/Policy, Public Transit, St. Louis County, Taxes 11 Comments

ABOVE: Parsons Place East St. Louis
ABOVE: Residents of Parsons Place in East St. Louis can walk to MetroLink

Liberals do not hold a monopoly on supporting public transportation.   Thanks to a post on Sprawled Out I learned of an interview by Street Films with conservative author William S. Lind.  Some of his points include:

  • Auto dominance in the U.S. is not a free market outcome
  • Liberal transit advocates should not mention reduction of greenhouse gases when talking transit to conservatives
  • Libertarian anti-transit critics use wrong measurements
  • “When you tax one competitor and subsidize the other the subsidized competitor wins.”

Here is the video (3:21 minutes):


I often find myself agreeing with fiscal conservatives — and disagreeing with Libertarians.

“Conservatives And Public Transportation”Conservatives and Public Transportation” is a collection of studies originally published between 1997 and 2009 in booklet form by the American Public Transportation Association. The book includes a previously unpublished report on the activities of the National Surface Transportation Commission, appointed by Congress in 2005 to examine the infrastructure needs of this country. Weyrich served on the commission and wrote language that strongly supported public transportation for the commission’s final report. That language, which had been adopted on a 9-3 vote, was excised from the final report.The studies helped conservatives understand why transit should be an essential part of the conservative agenda: because it enhances national security, promotes economic development, helps maintain conservative values including a sense of community, and provides welfare recipients with access to jobs.”  (Reconnecting America)


“The Free Congress Foundation has established The Center for Public Transportation under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to offer a re-balanced vision of the national transportation system in which rail and highway travel complements each other. Some journeys will always be more convenient by car. But Americans should be able to travel from any point in the country to any other point without using a car, if they so choose. They had that option as recently as the 1950s. By re-creating it, we can ensure that America is not held hostage by crises in the Middle East or other oil-producing areas.”  (Free Congress Foundation)

Conservative or liberal, there are reasons to support good mass transit.

-Steve Patterson


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jennifer_Metro says:

    I think one of the least understood issues when discussing transportation is road subsidy/user fees. Leaving aside the issue of the “true” cost of private autos (accidents, traffic jams wasting productive time, environmental, health impacts, etc.) it bugs me that so many people just assume that highways are paid for completely by the gas tax and license fees, and therefore subsidizing transit is a waste or “pork” of some kind. When people find out just how non-free-market roads are, they are always amazed. Roads are just not inherently “conservative”; it's just that most people don't put a lot of thought into how we've arrived at our current transportation model.

    • JZ71 says:

      The vast majority of public transit routes (buses) rely on good roads to function well, so it's not like transit doesn't benefit from these investments. The real argument is whether or not it's good public policy to subsidize transit, while expecting most commuters to pay the full cost of their single-occupant vehicles, as well? It's not all that much different than that other conservative holy grail, school vouchers (should there be a way to redirect “my” tax dollars away from the public schools, into private or parochial schools that “better meet” my own needs and desires?!).

      Don't get me wrong, I support public transit – it provides a much-needed and effective alternative for many daily commuters and special-event attendees. But to assert that “most people don't put a lot of thought into how we've arrived at our current transportation model” is pretty presumptive. Our “current transportation model” is the evolution and culmination of multiple discreet choices, by both individuals and communities. For the vast majority of us, the private motor vehicle, and most likely, a single-occupant vehicle is the optimum balance of cost and convenience. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it offers the best balance of being able to travel from point A to point B as quickly as possible, with as little effort as possible, in the most comfortable environment available, for a cost that most of us can make work.

      Is public transit the more rational choice? Where available, probably yes – it costs less, it pollutes less and you you don't have to park anything when you arrive. But, it almost always takes longer, you gotta plan ahead and you better not be late. Don't plan on buying any more than you, yourself, can carry, and don't worry about sitting next to 3 or 33 people you wouldn't otherwise choose to sit anywhere near.

      Pat of it is that we have limited other options. Part of it is that we're lazy, And part of it is finances – if we can afford this level of relative luxury, then we'll fiure out a way to make it happen You can guilt us with all that's wrong about the SOV, but after considerable consideration, the numbers simply speak for themselves . . .

      • Cheryl says:

        I think everyone really glosses over the “pollutes less” argument, and moves on to cars being affordable and more convenient. We need to seriously think about what is going into our air with such a high consumption of gasoline. We often hear about asthma in children, but the problem is much bigger than that, and that, in itself, is a big problem. According to the World Health Organization, three million premature deaths per year are attributed to air pollution. Many of these deaths are in heavily polluted places like Beijing. But levels of air pollution here are affecting us. For example, animal studies now show higher blood pressure in rats exposed to levels of air pollution found in some parts of the United States.

        Even if you drive, other people taking transit are helping to protect your health. Health is a good reason to vote for transit.

        • I agree that public transit is good for the planet but I also think Lind is right — some talking points will 'drive' some to oppose public transit. Know your audience and speak to issues that matter to them. A business group doesn't care about climate change but they do care if their employees can't get to work.

        • I agree that public transit is good for the planet but I also think Lind is right — some talking points will ‘drive’ some to oppose public transit. Know your audience and speak to issues that matter to them. A business group doesn’t care about climate change but they do care if their employees can’t get to work.

      • Jennifer_Metro says:

        You know what, though? People don't realize that the “choices” aren't really choices. Free market isn't free when one option is subsidized by the government over another one. When the government picks one option and backs it, that option wins. Private vehicles are only in the “optimal” state they are in because of public policy.

        I drive sometimes and I take transit sometimes. I live in the suburbs. I am not, in other words, an anti-suburb city-lovin SUV hater. But I do get irritated when people assume that public transit is some kind of luxury or welfare but (for instance) “free” parking isn't. I just want people to have ALL the facts.

        Now, I do realize this is the system that we do have, and lots of people like it. But they don't really have a choice, do they?

  2. Mark Groth says:

    Conservatives can support public transit, but they are a surly bunch and in the mood to just say no as their means of showing their discomfort over the recession, bails outs, etc. I fear this won't pass, but you make a great case on why all in the suburbs should vote for Metro.

  3. Brad says:

    There are so many urban/city-centric issues that cross the liberal/conservative lines… do you think there is an emerging “party” or “perspective” that is unified by urban needs and solutions? Though I know there is still a great diversity within that category, I'm finding more and more perspectives that cannot be described by mere “liberal” or “conservative” (myself included).

    • Not sure about political party but I agree the urban perspective can often cross the traditional liberal/conservative line.

    • Jennifer_Metro says:

      Common sense isn't limited to any one political party (or really in evidence by either, a lot of the time!). Thoughtful solutions based on facts isn't a liberal thing or a conservative thing. So yes, I think there is a perspective that is unified. Whether it is in ascendancy or not is a different issue.

  4. CR says:

    I'm confused. How is being libertarian “anti-transit”? The video lays out the libertarian argument that the problem is that roads are subsidized.

    I'm even more confused that this guy has located the source of the problem (gov't subsidization of roads), but instead of suggesting that we end road subsidies, he concludes that we just need to subsidize rail even more.

    What America (and the world) needs is complete privatization of transportation whether it be air, train, automobile or whatever else may come.

    Read “Privatization of Roads and Highways” by Walter Block, Head of the Dept. of Economics at Loyola University http://www.amazon.com/Privatization-Roads-Highw

    and “Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads” by Gabriel Roth http://www.amazon.com/Street-Smart-Competition-


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