The Transit Equity Network has just published a study called More Transit - More Jobs in which it suggests switching 50% of highway funding to transit in 20 metropolitan areas to create an additional 180,000 jobs over the next five years. Their basic thesis is that each kajillion in spending can produce more jobs in transit than in highways. We don't comment on that, because, frankly, the purpose of transportation spending is neither to create transit jobs nor highway jobs.
We spend on transit and highways because of benefits that extend beyond any direct employment. And, the extent of those benefits cannot be compared between the two modes. At current rates of spending each billion dollars spent on highways supports about 25 times as much personal mobility as one spent on transit. Beyond that, highway spending supports the movement of more than 1.25 billion ton miles of truck freight, which keeps product prices low and supports our affluent life style. Transit carries 0.0 ton miles of freight. Researchers such as Prud'homme & Chang-Wong and Hartgen & Fields have shown that the type of ubiquitous mobility provided by road systems produce greater economic growth. Moving money out of roads would increase traffic congestion, destroy jobs and increase product prices by slowing down trucks.
Why, on earth, then would anyone make such a dubious proposal? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the ideology, stupid." As we wrote within the past week, much of transportation spending over the last 25 years has been solidly based in an anti-mobility ideology that has produced virtually nothing in return. Already, transit, which accounts for one percent of national travel and no freight movement, accounts for more than 20% of spending on highways and transit combined. Things would be better if that were raised to 60%?
If the Transit Equity Network were right (which it is not), then why stop at 50% for transit? Why not take all of the transit and highway money and just employ people to dig holes with shovels and then fill them up again. The only costs would be wages, benefits, shovels and administration. We could save money by not buying concrete, rails, fancy trains or palatial administrative buildings. Another advantage is that the holes would require no longer term operating subsidies.
So, we need to do more than dump the ideology. We need also to dump the stupidity. Government does not exist for the purpose of government services and transportation programs do not exist for the good of transportation employees or vendors. Each dollar of infrastructure expenditures should be used to facilitate the greatest economic benefit throughout society as a whole, not just among people employed in transit (or highways for that matter).