Mass Transit


Use road taxes for our roads

Denver Post 03/22/2013

By Brian T. Schwartz, PhD. and Dennis Polhill, P.E. denverpost.com

http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_22843415/use-road-taxes-our-roads

Drivers can get more mileage from fuel taxes they already pay. But some states are considering increasing their fuel tax. It’s a bad idea.

Much of Colorado’s existing 22 cents-per-gallon fuel tax does not maintain roads. Fuel taxes penalize less-wealthy drivers and encourage traffic congestion. There are better ways to finance roads.

Instead of increasing taxes, the Colorado legislature should stop spending current fuel-tax revenue on rail transit and other boondoggles. For every dollar from state and local fuel and vehicle taxes, more than 19 cents supports “mass transit purposes,” according to 2010 federal highway statistics. Just as non-drivers should not subsidize roads, drivers’ taxes should not subsidize other services.

Some argue that mass-transit benefits drivers by reducing traffic, so drivers should fund it. Nonsense. By such reasoning, government should force drivers to subsidize brakes for tractor-trailers because drivers benefit when huge trucks have functioning brakes.

The federal fuel tax is worse. “Only about 60 percent of the gas tax money … goes into highway and bridge construction,” former Transportation secretary Mary Peters told PBS.

A Heritage Foundation analysis of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) concurs: “[M]otorists will receive only about 62 percent of what they have paid into the fund for general purpose roads and safety programs.”

The HTF is worse for Colorado drivers, who send the fund much more than Colorado gets back. Colorado would be better off keeping those dollars in state. According to the Government Accountability Office, if Colorado could opt out of the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal fuel tax, it “could achieve the same funding level” it receives from the HTF with a replacement tax of just 13.8 cents-per-gallon. That’s a 25 percent savings.

The Colorado legislature and congressional delegation should work with other shortchanged states to opt out of the HTF. No longer would Coloradans send fuel and other taxes to Washington, only to get a fraction back with strings attached.

Regardless of how governments spend fuel tax revenue, imposing fuel taxes to finance roads is unfair to less-wealthy drivers, who tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient cars.

Fuel taxes also promote traffic congestion, which wastes time and wealth. Rush hour occurs because the price for road use — fuel taxes — does not increase during peak-demand hours.

How bad is congestion? Around Denver and Aurora, the annual travel time delay per commuter was 45 hours, consuming 20 gallons of fuel, reports the Texas Transportation Institute. Congestion leads to dirtier air, too. Excess fuel burned annually around Denver and Aurora exceeded 34.5 million gallons, releasing over 300,000 tons of CO2.

Instead of increasing taxes, Colorado’s legislature should explore better alternatives to road financing. The Independence Institute’s Citizens’ Budget project advocates expanding high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to all lanes on controlled-access expressways. These roads can become self-financing, and fuel tax revenues can be reallocated to lower-capacity roads.

Electronic tolling can reduce traffic congestion by decreasing tolls during off-peak hours. By charging for road use instead of fuel purchased, tolls don’t punish those with less fuel-efficient cars. Colorado should extend its fuel tax refund, so toll payers can recoup fuel taxes paid for miles they drove on toll roads.

Fuel taxes are unfair and wasteful. There are better alternatives. Instead of increasing the fuel tax, Colorado’s elected officials should ensure that its current revenue actually funds in-state roads, as required by the Colorado Constitution, rather than continuing to divert it to other purposes, and to other states.

Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill are senior fellows at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank.

Is More Mobility at Less Expense Possible?

By Will Toor and Dennis Polhill

 

In most arenas, we are used to the notion that you pay for what you get. Intuitively, we all understand that if you offer something for free that really has a cost, demand is going to exceed supply. Now, society has decided that some things should be collectively paid for with tax dollars. The two authors of this article have widely differing views on the appropriate levels of public expenditures in areas like education and health care.

 

One area where we do agree is that there would be great benefits – for our economy and our environment – in bringing more market forces to play in transportation. Currently, our roads are paid for by a complicated and irrational mix of funding sources including gas tax, sales tax, property tax, registration and other fees. Most parking spaces are paid through sales and property tax, or the cost is hidden in higher prices for goods and services. Gas tax revenues will continue to struggle to keep pace with construction cost inflation making maintenance of existing roads increasingly difficult.

 

Switching more of the costs of roads and parking to user fees, similar to how the gas tax once worked, would be fairer –those who use more should pay more and those who use less pay less.   User-fee systems can also help roads perform better by reducing congestion, reducing the need for infrastructure investments, increasing transit ridership and reducing emissions. Better transportation at less expense to taxpayers and an improved quality of life is truly a vision that all should unite behind.

 

Consider a congested freeway. When the lanes are free flowing, some can carry up to 2,000 vehicles an hour. When a lane gets overloaded, it switches to stop and go traffic, and the capacity drops dramatically, often moving close to a thousand vehicles an hour. When drivers are charged a toll that increases when traffic gets heavy, people make different decisions. Some switch trips to less congested times or take different routes. Others carpool or use transit. The highway keeps flowing freely, uncongested. SR 91 in Orange County, California provides an instructive example. This is a 12 lane highway, with 4 free lanes and 2 tolled express lanes in each direction. During rush hour, the free lanes crawl along at stop and go speeds, while the 2 express lanes carry nearly as many vehicles as the 4 free lanes.

 

Colorado has begun to move toward roadway pricing. In 2006, the I-25 HOV lane was converted to a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane, selling unused capacity to toll paying drivers. Right now, one HOT lane in each direction is under construction along US 36 between Denver and Boulder. US 36 will combine a toll lane with Bus Rapid Transit service, allowing transit riders faster and more flexible service than they could get from a train, at much lower cost to build. If we had just added a free lane in each direction, the free lane would eventually fill up, giving no long-term benefits to drivers and there would be no platform for faster transit service.

 

The biggest benefits will come when we are ready to start pricing existing lanes. Since each tolled lane will generally carry more vehicles freely during rush hour, while providing a platform for bus rapid transit service, tolling existing lanes can provide benefits without having to pay to expand the highway! This would free up tax revenues and let toll revenue fund other improvements within the corridor instead of just paying for construction. The political climate and societal awareness of the benefits of market principles is evolving to embrace this kind of innovation – now is the time to start exploring future possibilities.

 

For example, as a next step, could we convert some existing lanes on large highways to managed lanes, while leaving some lanes free, as a cost effective and sustainable alternative to expanding the highway?   After nearly two billion dollars to widen I-25 T-Rex, in just one decade it is already approaching pre-expansion levels of congestion. Could we consider taking 2 lanes in each direction for HOT lanes that would provide an alternative to congestion and generate money to cover operating costs, accelerate debt repayment and help pay for travel options? It may be hard to picture this being approved today – but as T-Rex commuters sitting in traffic watch travelers on US 36 and other corridors get an alternative to congestion, public attitudes will change.

 

Instead of requiring ever increasing amounts of revenue to build underutilized infrastructure, market principles, connecting the costs and benefits of services, can help gain more use from infrastructure and benefit us all.

 

Bio: The two authors of this commentary – one the director of Transportation Policy at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and a liberal Democrat who spent 15 years in public office, the other a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free market think tank, have widely differing opinions on many questions.

Better Motorcoach Trip Times

By Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill

Road-users can get more mileage from fuel taxes they already pay. But some federal officials and states are considering increasing fuel or other taxes. Bad ideas.

Much of the current fuel tax does not maintain roads. Fuel taxes penalize less-wealthy drivers and encourage traffic congestion. There are better ways to finance roads.

Instead of increasing taxes, political leaders should stop spending current fuel-tax revenue on rail transit and other boondoggles. For every dollar from federal fuel taxes, more than 17 cents supports “mass transit purposes,” according to 2011 federal highway statistics. Just as non-drivers should not subsidize roads, drivers’ taxes should not subsidize other services.

Some argue that mass-transit benefits drivers by reducing traffic, so drivers should fund it. Nonsense. By such reasoning, government should force drivers to subsidize brakes for tractor-trailers because drivers benefit when huge trucks have functioning brakes.

“Only about 60 percent of the gas tax money … goes into highway and bridge construction,” former Transportation secretary Mary Peters told PBS.

A Heritage Foundation analysis of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) concurs: “[M]otorists will receive only about 62 percent of what they have paid into the fund for general purpose roads and safety programs.”

The HTF is even worse for most states. The majority of states send the fund more gas tax money than they get back. States would be better off keeping their own dollars. According to the Government Accountability Office, 27 states receive less than they contribute to HTF. Of the states that receive redistributions at the expense of the 27 states, those benefits are diminished in 13 of the 23 states because they contribute more federal gas tax funds to subsidize public transit in other states than they receive.

Those 40 shortchanged states should work together to opt out of the failing Federal and too-politicized HTF system. Worthy of consideration is Utah Senator, Mike Lee’s Transportation Empowerment Act that decreases over 5 years the Federal gas tax from 18.4 cents to 3.7 cents.

Regardless of how governments spend fuel tax revenue, imposing fuel taxes to finance roads is unfair to less-wealthy drivers, who tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient cars.

Fuel taxes also promote traffic congestion, which wastes time and wealth. Rush hour occurs because the price for road use — fuel taxes — does not increase during peak-demand hours.

How bad is congestion? Perhaps the only thing worse to the motor coach industry than a slow trip is an unreliable trip. Annually the Texas Transportation Institute updates the Urban Mobility Report. The 2012 TTI UMR put the annual cost of traffic congestion nationally at $121 billion. With annual costs approaching the cost to eliminate traffic congestion and no resolution in sight via government leadership, toll roads have begun to mushroom. Since 2003 toll road revenues nationwide have grown in excess of 30% per year.

Eradication of traffic congestion will yield benefits beyond greatly improving the value of the motor coach industry. Less congestion means less wasted fuel and fewer emissions. TTI estimates 2.9 billion gallons of fuel wasted nationwide in 2011 due to traffic congestion.

Instead of increasing taxes, better ways to finance road should be explored. Congress can lead by allowing 50 states to become laboratories for innovation. The fuel tax should be retained only until appropriate market financing systems can be implemented. As the express roads become self-financing, fuel tax revenues can be reallocated to maintain lower-capacity roads.

Lower tolls during off-peak hours using demand-managed electronic tolls reduce traffic congestion by encouraging off-peak driving. By charging for road use instead of fuel purchased, tolls don’t punish those with less fuel-efficient vehicles. To be fair to toll-payers fuel taxes should be refunded when tolls are paid.

When roads become self-financed through tolls, decisions will become less politicized. Repairs will happen faster and will be better targeted. Capital improvements will be quicker and less obtrusive to routine functioning of the surrounding world. Politicians and special interest groups will have to go elsewhere to finds funds for their personal whims. Diversion of funds to subsidize direct competition to motor coach operators will be more difficult and less common.

Fuel taxes are unfair and wasteful. There are better alternatives. Instead of increasing the fuel tax, elected officials should ensure that revenue actually funds roads, rather than continuing to divert it to other purposes.

Brian T. Schwartz and Dennis Polhill are Senior Fellows at the Independence Institute, the Colorado free-market think tank. This article appeared in the December 15, 2013 issue of Bus and Motorcoach News.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

RTD’s FasTracks boondoggle is about much more than wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and the implementation of destructive policies. It is about increasing government control over people and redistribution of wealth. The damage caused by similar authoritarian policies has resulted in death and impoverishment for millions.

Philosopher Thomas Sowell notes, “…(leftists)… love to say things like, ‘We’re just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But government is not about asking. It is about telling. The difference is fundamental. It is the difference between making love and being raped, between working for a living and being a slave.” Joseph Sobran adds, “Today, wanting someone else’s money is called ‘need,’ wanting to keep your own money is called ‘greed,’ and ‘compassion’ is when politicians arrange the transfer.” Using words to mean other-than-their-meaning is demagoguery and serves to muddle the search for truth. Demagogues resort to spin when facts fail to support their biases. Coercive charity is not charity; it is Taliban-style tyranny. Morality has no merit when force replaces “free will.”

Socialism in all its forms is a failed philosophy. After Marx authored the Communist Manifesto in 1848, civilization was drawn hypnotically to Socialisms’ seductive false promises of plenty: “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” Abraham Lincoln countered with yet-to-be-proven wisdom, “the poor cannot be made rich by making the rich poor.” But Lincoln’s assertion was hypothetical and lacked empirical evidence that would eventually follow. All of the world’s nations gravitated to Socialism over the subsequent century. Because the United States drifted more slowly, it became an island of wealth and prosperity; an aberration to the abject poverty that humans had suffered in perpetuity.

Had Lenin lived, the twentieth century might have ended differently. Only 5 years after the Russian Revolution he recognized Socialism’s failings and advocated a return to “limited capitalism.” Later that year a stroke denied Lenin the opportunity to act on his revelation.

Lenin’s successor lacked the courage and strength to avert peril. Socialism requires conformity. Stalin dealt with the nonconformists. In “Poisonous Power,” psychologist June Stephenson estimates that Stalin was responsible for 50 million deaths.

Another version of Socialism surfaced with Adolf Hitler’s, National Socialism. He said, “Let them own land and factories as much as they please. The decisive factor is that the State is supreme over them regardless of whether they are owners or workers. All that is unessential; our socialism goes far deeper. It establishes a relationship of the individual to the State, the national community. Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.”

Hitler’s preaching motivated fellow-Austrian and economics professor, Friedrich Hayek to confronted Socialist dogma in “Road to Serfdom.” Hayek pointed out that all forms of Socialism lead to authoritarian tyranny. Hayek elaborated, “Whoever talks about potential plenty (under socialism) is either dishonest or does not know what he is talking about. Yet it is this false hope as much as anything, which drives us along the road to planning.”

The second half of the twentieth century ratified the views of Lincoln, Lenin and Hayek. Korea and Germany serve as indisputable proof. In each case a pre-existing nation was divided with each part pursuing the opposite ideological path. With identical history, geography, culture, climate, customs, language, and ethnicity, Socialism resulted in every form of injury and imposition upon the respective populations; conversely Capitalism resulted in wealth, abundance, freedom and opportunity. Other examples provide corroboration: Eastern versus Western Europe; Red China versus the Asian Tigers; and the Post-Soviet-Union performance of its various pieces. Not a single feature of Socialism can be offered as superior. Therefore, discussions about a middle ground, or trade-offs, or optimizing, are rather futile.

The experience of the twentieth century proves that no version of Socialism works. Ongoing experimentation serves no constructive purpose. Because a mixture that is half-poison and half non-poison is still poison, there is no yet-to-be-discovered third way. A hybrid system that is part Socialism and part Capitalism cannot save this failed ideology. Alternative labels, such as “progressive” or “liberal” merely distract bystanders from gaining understanding.

The significant wealth in American society works to hide the injury done by Socialist institutions, such as RTD. Competition can and will improve regulatory-protected, tax-subsidized, State-controlled monopolies in education, transportation, and Social Security. When these institutions are de-socialized, decentralized and de-bureaucratized, Americans will be freer, wealthier and better served.

The future is clearly in the direction away from Socialism and toward more individual freedom and more individual empowerment.

(c)2004
The Independence Institute
13952 Denver West Parkway, Suite 400
Golden, CO 80401
303-279-6536
www.independenceinstitute.org

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is the President of the Independence Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute
or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

As the possibility of a strike grew nearer, stronger threats against the Regional Transportation District union were made: contracts with private companies might weaken discipline, or break the unruly union. RTD union members missed an opportunity to declare independence. The RTD Board lost an opportunity to increase service and lower cost.

As demand for transit declined after WW II, privately owned trolleys became privately owned buses, and later turned into publicly owned buses. Enjoying the coercive power of government taxation and regulation, publicly owned bus systems passed laws prohibiting competition. Hundreds of sole proprietor suppliers, many racial minority entrepreneurs, were forced out of business to benefit government monopoly. This happened in Denver along with every other major city in the United States during the 1960s.

In spite of the controls, demand for transit continued to decline, requiring that the initially small tax subsidies regularly increase to the point that the average bus-user now pays less than one fourth of the cost of a trip. The nature of the service is that some smart guys in big offices decide where and when the buses will run and where and when they will stop for passengers. Users merely need to shape their lives to fit the schedule. To sustain non-competition, when a route is canceled, customers on these routes are prohibited from having service from any other provider. This Soviet-style command-and-control approach elevates costs and minimizes service.

In 1989, the Florida State legislature inadvertently decriminalized transit competition. Within months independent providers proliferated. To end the evil trend, corrective legislation was quickly passed and the criminals (again mostly racial minorities) were restrained and their vehicles impounded.

These service providers are called “jitneys.” Jitney is the same name used for providers prior to government monopoly. Jitney vehicles can be any size, but generally they are vans that run on semi-fixed routes and semi-fixed schedules. Consumers simply wave an arm to get a lift or to get off.

A 1992 Federal Transit Administration study captured some interesting facts. In Miami an estimated 400 jitney vehicles carried an average of 46,000 passenger-trips per day, approximately 25% of Metrobus ridership. Jitney fares were comparable to Metrobus fares at one dollar, but obviously enjoyed no tax subsidy. Thus, the one-dollar jitney fare covered all jitney costs.

About half of jitney-riders were former bus riders, amounting to about 12% loss in fare box revenue to Metrobus. But the other half were not former bus riders, meaning that close to 20,000 fewer automobiles were on the roads, decreasing traffic congestion and trip times, increasing mobility and decreasing auto-related air pollution.

Jitneys interfere less with normal traffic flow and do not cause excessive damage to pavement structures, as opposed to lumbering oversized, mostly-empty buses. For customers, route and schedule flexibility result in faster service, shorter waits, faster trips and delivery closer to destinations. Centrally controlled fixed-route, fixed-schedule transit can never match jitney service.

During the 1982 strike, carpooling caused traffic counts to go down slightly. Mobility is best measured by speeds. Fewer total vehicles and no buses interfering with traffic flow yielded a noticeable improvement in mobility.

A decentralized problem cannot be solved with a strategy of centralization. Both traffic congestion and mobility are decentralized problems.

A strike would have empowered both RTD and its union to depart from the norm. The union could have demanded a contract with more freedom for its drivers to suggest routes and/or stops, as well as the opportunity for small groups to separate from RTD to service specified routes as independent operators.

Odds are good that 2000 drivers have more knowledge of consumer needs than the smart guys in big offices. If so, then the consumer-friendliness of jitney services would be further enhanced.

By using jitneys temporarily during a strike, RTD would have had the opportunity to elevate service without increasing costs, simply by temporarily lifting the regulatory prohibition. As has happened in the past, leadership might also have come from the General Assembly as a directive to experiment with jitneys.

Lacking the opportunities offered by a strike, perhaps RTD and its union can cooperate to test the workability of a Miami-style system. In a willing community, RTD drivers should be free to provide independent service to that community. Obviously, RTD would waive regulatory prohibitions in that community. If jitneys work well in one area, other areas can be tried. With jitneys RTDs biggest problem might be figuring out how to consume $500 million every year.

###
Copyright 2003
Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow at the Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at: www.i2i.org

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The cost of traffic congestion exceeds the cost to eliminate it.

An ongoing project of the Texas Transportation Institute estimates traffic congestion annually. TTI calculated the cost to the U.S. economy at $68 billion in 2000. Because the cost is growing faster than the population, congestion is making Americans worse off. This is more than enough money to add an additional lane to every interstate highway in the United States in each direction. Less extreme proposals could instantly eliminate all traffic congestion. The reason traffic congestion exists is political.

Americans are patient and tolerant. We trust elected officials to be honest, conscientious and diligent; generally, they are. The time grows closer when tolerance for traffic congestion will cease. Perhaps the many failed tax measures in the November 2002 election are a sign of how thin patience is growing. To fix traffic congestion, systemic and political problems must be attacked at their roots.

First, transportation finance is collectivized. Taxes are put into a big pot so smart guys can do the right project in the right place at the right time. The theory sounds good, but the Soviet model has failed miserably in every trial. Expecting a different result is a triumph of hope over experience. Wise public policy recognizes this failing and seeks to decentralize by employing market-driven incentives.

Second, because the bosses of the smart guys are politicians, transportation inevitably becomes politicized. Colorado politicians have determined that nearly 60% of Denver-metro transportation funding over the next 20 years will go to transit. This outlay is expected to increase transit’s market share from 1.53% to 2.23% of total trips. This policy means that traffic congestion and mobility will become much worse. The politicization of transportation leads to the misapplication of limited resources.

Third, the Transportation Industrial Complex, the contractors, consultants, suppliers and bureaucrats, whose unchallenged survival hinges on sustaining the status quo, resists change. Combined with the demagoguery of special interest groups and government agencies, not bound by service or truth, this Complex Plus makes up a formidable political force.

Fourth, some interests intend harm. Injury to consumers, taxation, mobility, environment and economy are “collateral damage” to their mission. Ray Barnhart, former head of the Federal Highway Administration, reflected recently on his 1991 recommendation to President Bush to veto Federal transportation legislation, “if ISTEA becomes law politics, not engineering principles will determine. Congress has given official standing (to groups) not interested in transportation per se, but rather in gaining control of transportation programs in order to require a social agenda.”

There is hope! Reform comes as a byproduct of catastrophe. “A transportation crisis is brewing. Commerce will snarl, costing billions,” said the November 27, 2002 Kiplinger Letter. By 2009 there will be a “12% slower average road speed and about a 10% increase in the average delay.”

Tax subsidies to institutions yield bigger, more bureaucratic, less accountable, and less efficient institutions. Conversely, subsidies to individuals, when appropriate, empower consumers, and create accountability, choice, market growth, competition, lower prices, and innovation. Proof is in the success of the food stamp and G.I. Bill programs.

When groups such as the Progressive Policy Institute, an arm of the Democratic Leadership Council of the Democratic Party, begin to suggest that, “Our nation’s surface transportation system is broken” and fixes must “harness market forces,” then a convergence of thought has begun. If the contemplative elements of both the left and right concur, but the politicians continue to refuse to lead, then is this because solution might diminish their importance?

Certainly, when projects like converting the I-25 High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes (mandated in 1999 by Andrews’ Senate Bill 88) would do no injury, while relieving some traffic congestion and raising revenue, are stalled for years by governments, their true agenda is revealed. Is the stalling-benefit that RTD and the Federal Transit Administration perceive, that a cheap and functional method of solving traffic congestion without tax increases might jeopardize their goal of more taxes and bigger bureaucracies?

Government monopoly of transportation is failing. The sooner this failure is recognized, the sooner leaders can implement innovative systems to increase mobility, job growth, and commercial viability. Those who seek to diminish mobility, strive for the impossible and the undesirable.

The “transportation choice” movement has started. As the term “transportation choice” becomes part of the lexicon, intelligent debate over how to implement and balance the wide variety of alternative possibilities will commence. Let the debate over “transportation choice” begin.

###
Copyright 2003
The Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at: http://www.i2i.org

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Issue Backgrounder

By Dennis Polhill, Matthew Edgar

The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) recently updated its Metro Vision 2020 Regional Transportation Plan. Although their transportation agenda is not directly stated, hints are revealed in their rhetoric. One stated mission is to offer a ‘variety of travel opportunities.’ As with all rhetoric this is a nice and non-agitating statement that no one would readily disagree with. But what does it really mean? A close look at their report reveals facts seen by few and understood by fewer.

Travel Demand

(Person Trips)

DRCOG predicts a 48% increase in travel demand by 2020 in the Denver Metro area:
increase in travel demand by 2020 in the Denver Metro area
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 107

Transportation Investment

(Billions of Dollars)

DRCOG inventoried all sources and applications of transportation funding through 2020 and discovered that $9.63 billion of $16.93 billion (58.9%) will go to mass transit (buses and light rail). The rest of DRCOG’s money will go to all other forms of transportation, including, among other things, roads, bike paths, and sidewalks.
sources and applications of transportation funding through 2020
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 107

Market Share

(Percent)

DRCOG predicts that mass transit’s share of all trips will grow from 1.53% to 2.23% in 2020, meaning that transit will accommodate just 4.04% of the new trips. Thus, if DRCOG’s numbers are accurate the benefit of applying 59% of transportation funding to mass transit will be a 0.7% increase in mass transit’s market share.
0.7% increase in mass transit’s market share
Source: DRCOG Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan, page 101.

Summary and Conclusion

DRCOG’s ‘transit plan’ will nearly double severe freeway congestion by 2020. How can such a plan be acceptable? Is it because DRCOG dictates a single view, as NO information is provided in their plan about costs, benefits, or critical analysis of potential competing alternatives that might offer more mobility at less expense? DRCOG’s approach is like saying, ‘I like blue.’ The statement reveals nothing about green, yellow, or red.

DRCOG’s failure to offer analysis of other alternatives, which can compete with each other on the basis of costs and benefits, raises serious doubts about DRCOG’s objectivity, allowing pro-transit ideologues and pro-transit lobbyists to use the power of government to force their preconceived (and ill-conceived) agenda upon others and upon the political process.[1]

Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

MATTHEW EDGAR is a Research Associate with the Independence Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at:

http://independenceinstitute.org/Centers/Transportation/index.htm

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

[1] Additional detail is available in Independence Institute Opinion Editorial, ‘Colorado’s Anti-Transportation Policy’, by Dennis Polhill, September 20, 2000

Copies of DRCOG’s MetroVision 2020 report are available from DRCOG, 2480 W. 26th Ave., Suite 200B, Denver, CO 80211.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Scott Barton

Traffic congestion is getting worse and transit is not helping.

Analysis of 2000 Census data by Randall OToole of the Thoreau Institute (www.ti.org) reveals that Americans are turning away from transit and increasingly using automobiles to satisfy their mobility needs.  Between 1990 and 2000, passenger-miles traveled by car increased 30% nationwide, while transit increased only 16.1%.  This means that the $70 billion spent on new transit systems did nothing to help traffic congestion.

In Denver, highway use increased 39 times more than transit use.  If the current plan to divert nearly 60% of transportation funding to transit over the next 20 years is not reconsidered, mobility in Colorado will suffer greatly.

Nationwide, transit continues to carry a small portion of all trips.  On average, transit carries 2% of all urban travel.  In Denver, transit commands 1.4% of the market, and only 4.3% of all commuters.

Transits greatest benefits are for commuters, but auto use by commuters has outpaced transit.  Nationally, the number of commuters riding transit to work declined.  However, the number of American jobs has grown by 13 million, an increase of 11%.  These new commuters are not using transit to get to work, which means transit isnt relieving rush-hour congestion.  Flextime and telecommuting that cost taxpayers nothing yield more traffic congestion relief than the massive expenditures for transit.

Despite low performance, transit is well funded.  In the last nine years, transit agencies nationwide have spent $70 billion dollars on capital projects and $186 billion for operating expenses, but collected only $72 billion in fares.  Thus, transit seems doomed to never ending dependence on heavy taxpayer subsidies.

Transit advocates point to the amount of non-user based fees spent for auto travel, as logic that others should pay their travel.  In 2000, roads and transit received subsidies of $22.4 billion and $23.5 billion respectively.  But passenger-miles traveled on transit are about one percent as much as by auto.  Therefore, subsidies per passenger-mile are one hundred times greater for transit than for auto users!

Moreover, transit worker productivity has declined as much as 19% since 1990.  This decrease in output is primarily the result of diminishing transit use.  As transit agencies gain more funding, taxpayers and users get less for their dollars.

Despite the apparent failure of transit in general, one type shines through as a clear loser: light rail.  In 2000, light rail used 10.9% of capital funding, but carried only 2.8 % of transit riders.  Thats 2.8% of transits 2.5%, or 0.07% of all trips.

Over the last decade, the trend is even more apparent.  Since 1992, transit agencies have spent twice as much on rail as buses, yet buses continue to carry the vast majority of transit trips.  Even though transit agencies throw money at light rail, it remains an inconsequential part of transit service.

Rail also under-performs at the fare box.  The average bus fare is 77 cents, but the average light rail fare is 57 cents.  Does this mean that light rail fares must be lower to attract users or that agencies have exaggerated ridership?  In either case, light rail’s low fares and high expenses result in the need for greater subsidies.  Light rail requires 2.5 times as much subsidy as buses per user and 250 times as much as autos.

Light rail fails because it cannot be targeted to a particular type of urban area.  In high-density cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, heavy-rail and commuter-rail systems work more efficiently than light rail, and buses work better everywhere else.

With the release of Census data, there isnt much for transit advocates to celebrate.  Transit continues to occupy an extremely small role and even where transit has grown, its numbers are dwarfed by the growth in highway use.  Transit is grossly over funded and hugely subsidized, even as worker productivity declines.

Over the last 2 decades virtually every aspect of American society has been pressed to provide more service at less cost.  The 2000 Census reveals that transit is isolated from this trend.  Transit agencies spend disproportionate and shocking amounts of money on obsolete technologies like light rail, without realizing that the current central-control approach is incapable of significantly helping to solve transportation problems.

The sooner policy makers come to grips with the difficult and unfortunate reality of failing transit, the sooner policies that improve mobility and reduce costs can be embraced.

###

Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow at the Institute.

SCOTT BARTON is a summer intern at the Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at:  www.i2i.org/centers/transportation

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Ozone is a known cancer-causing agent. It also causes lung irritation and difficulty in breathing, especially among the very young, elderly, and those with respiratory ailments. Ozone is an unstable form or oxygen. Light rail trains generate ozone. Is there a problem?

In the atmosphere oxygen usually travels in pares of two oxygen atoms together. Chemists refer to oxygen in this form as 02. We need this type of oxygen to breathe and survive.

But sometimes nature gets confused and oxygen appears with three oxygen atoms together. This is ozone: 03; and it can kill people.

Ozone is best known for its environmentally beneficial characteristics. In the upper atmosphere it absorbs cosmic radiation, protecting humans on earth from the effects of the sun. Without the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere skin cancer rates would increase.

In the lower atmosphere ozone is a problem. Denver became a US EPA “non-attainment area” in 1978 when the ozone limit of 0.12 was exceeded. The Denver area has not exceeded the limit since 1988, and was re-designated as “attainment” on October 11, 2001. Colorado would again come under the punitive “non-attainment” rules if weather patters join with man-generated ozone to exceed the air quality limit.

Experts are generally unaware of the sources and behavior of lower atmosphere ozone. They just know that they dont want it around. Large amounts of ozone are generated by electrical storms, but it seems to dissipate quickly. Ozone is also one of the byproducts of automobile operation. Nitrous oxides combine with hydrocarbons, both auto emissions, in the presence of sunlight to yield ozone. Automobiles produce ozone indirectly when conditions are conducive. LRT produces ozone directly and constantly.

Ozone is produced in electric motors when arcing occurs. Arcing is a continuous process within these motors. Higher voltages and higher power demands yield more arcing and in turn, more ozone. Because LRT is powered by electric motors, some environmental assessment of potential affects is warranted. This question was raised in 1994 in Independence Institute issue paper: “Stop That Train” – by Mueller and Polhill.

Lets see how much has been learned in 8 years. Certainly a government concerned with the public well-being, as RTD is, can provide a factual reply. When contacted about this, RTDs Environmental Manager was unable to offer any information whatsoever or name anyone else at RTD or at any other agency with the knowledge to defuse the question.

No expert or other knowledgeable individuals or reports on outdoor ozone could be found at either the US EPA or the Federal Transit Administration. However, there was a study in Southern California of ozone generation by LRT in 1992. It was conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and concluded that one 350 person light rail train produced as much ozone as 8,000 passenger cars and added 0.04 parts per million per train per hour to the ambient air along the light rail corridor. Clearly these numbers understate the problem on the basis of people moved and demonstrate a non-trivial environmental cost of LRT. None of RTDs Environmental Impact Statements has made mention of ozone as a potential problem. The fact that nearly everyone, including those who should know the most, seems oblivious should raise a red flag.

Normalizing the numbers reveals that ozone generated by light rail is at least 50 to 100 times higher than ozone generation by automobiles per person moved.

Denvers “non-attainment” limit for ozone concentrations is 0.12 ppm. Exceeding this limit at any single location carries the threat of loss of Federal funding. EPA sets environmental limits by risk assessment. In theory the 0.12 ppm limit is the level at which one person per million will die. However, not all people are affected the same. One person might contract lung cancer at the .04 ppm level and another might not contract it at all, even when exposed to a much higher level.

Higher concentrations also have more dire health implications. The human body can tolerate a low level of ozone. But once the threshold is exceeded, then the deleterious effects are compounded and magnified. That is, the problems are not arithmetically proportional. If one person per million will die at 0.12 ppm, then at 0.24 ppm more than 2 people will die. It might be 10 or 100 people or more.

Thus, two or three trains per hour in one direction could cause an ozone violation or impose substantial long-term health problems upon some individuals exposed.

RTD apologists have adopted the ostrich philosophy: “Burying your head makes all problems disappear.” Until the ozone questions are answered and to protect the health and safety of innocent citizens, all development near LRT should be prohibited and existing property owners should be warned. Though there may not yet be enough information to warrant evacuation, it is logically inconsistent to conclude that no evaluation is needed.

###
Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow the Independence Institute

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at: www.i2i.org

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The failed monorail proposal contained interesting aspects, one of them being the absurdity of its discussion as a viable proposal.  Voters wisely recognized the dubious and speculative nature of the exaggerated technological and economic claims.  Even if the monorail could have worked at any price, then how would this massive capital outlay ever do anything to address traffic congestion?  To succeed, the monorail would have to absorb all future as well as some of the pre-existing trip demand.  When expectations transcend the unlikely and range to the impossible, advocates engage in delusional fantasy.

The November 2001 election was friendly to most ballot measures across the nation.  Odd-year elections typically do not address many issues.  Nationwide there were four statewide initiatives and 29 referred measures in five states.  Thirty-one of the 33 passed.  The only other item to fail was a referred measure that would have allowed Washington state funds to be invested in the stock market.  It received eight percent more yes votes than did the monorail.  The Colorado monorail might arguably have been the 2001 elections stupidest idea in America.

Die-hard supporters hold firm in their view of monorails viability.  If its viable, they should not be deprived of the opportunity to profit by offering this service in the free market.  The fact that advocates opted for the awkward, slow, inefficient and maddening politics of a government-sponsored project suggests that they do not truly believe its viability.

Non-viable projects require the coercive force of government to extract support from unwilling taxpayers.  Therefore, all capital-intensive proposals brought for a vote should be suspect.  The current orgy of collectivist coercion threatens the very foundation of self-government, free markets and freedom.  Well intended, but unenlightened, zealots seek to impose their view of a better life upon all.  Provided privately, the monorail would empower every individual to choose whether its benefits were worth the outlay.  This is how good decisions are made: at the grocery store; when going to dinner, plays or movies; in buying cars, houses or vacations.  Choice is the American way.

Yet there is no shortage of ideas unabashedly requiring coercive imposition: sports stadiums, convention centers, light rail, T-REX, and monorail.  The reasoning is always the same.  The huge cost is small if imposed on large numbers of people.  The first bite of the monorail apple would cost each person in Colorado only $19.  Its assumed that people will not perceive the next bite, which is to be 80 times bigger.  Instead of doing its critical tasks well, government is intruding into all forms of activities, subverting rather than augmenting markets.

James Buchanan earned the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics for the development of Public Choice Theory.  The theory asserts that the behavior of political actors is predictable on economic grounds.  That is, special interests succeed most when benefits are concentrated and costs are distributed widely. After being defunded by statewide vote of the people in 1993, the Colorado Tourism Board was refunded in 1999 by the state legislature.  Legislators are effectively powerless when confronted with enormous pro-spend testimony and minimal anti-spend testimony.  It is not economically rational for citizens to incur the time, expense and hassle to testify against special-interest legislation when their individual cost is small.

An Independence Institute Issue Paper by Dr. Barry Fagin, “Who Testifies and Why <http://independenceinstitute.org/Publications/IP/PoliticsandGovernment/WhoTestifiesAndWhy.htm> discovered that before the Colorado Senate Finance Committee chances are 96% that a witness is a beneficiary.  Another study finds that before the U.S. Congress, witnesses favor more spending 145 to 1 and senior legislators are more inclined to support special interests.

Because parasitic interest groups prefer a more favorable audience, the ballot is their instrument of last resort.  Indeed, monorail advocates were rejected by the legislature prior to their decision to go to the ballot.

Spending money frivolously is a right each individual enjoys.  There are as many ways to do it as there are personalities.  People work hard and save in order to maximize this right.  Its exercise relieves stress and enriches.  Intellect and individualism become more pronounced.  Outlays offer new business opportunities and elevate the wealth of other individuals.

But extended to the collective, frivolous expenditure is not a right.  It is collectivist tyranny.  To the minority being imposed upon, the fact that the frivolous spending decision was made by either 51 or 99 percent is cold comfort.  To preserve freedom and choice, Americans must learn that many government transportation proposals are boondoggles that consume more resources than they create.

Under the collectivist abuse model, each free person is impoverished ever so slightly each time a non-viable activity is funded.  It is the torturous death by one thousand cuts.  All Americans owe it to themselves and to their grandchildren to give deep and serious consideration to the implications of offering support to collectivist endeavors.

###

Copyright 2001, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at:

http://independenceinstitute.org/

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Matthew Edgar

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) will not allow Coloradans to have real transit solutions such as jitney service. A jitney is a privately owned minibus that carries passengers from point to point on a flexible schedule.

In 1989, the Florida legislature accidentally created a legal loophole that permitted competitive, unregulated services like jitneys. Within months, over 20 jitney firms had emerged to serve the accidentally created market. Before this loophole, certain regulated jitneys were allowed to operate in conjunction with the Miami version of RTD, Metrobus.

The new jitney services provided faster trip times, shorter wait times, flexibility in boarding locations and drop-off points, and availability of service in late evening. The largest advantage jitney service had over Metrobus in Miami was trip speed and ease of boarding.  In order to board the jitney, the passenger would simply flag down the jitney from any place along the jitneys route not just bus stops fixed in inconvenient locations. In this sense, it acted much like a taxi service. In addition, the jitneys would run on time in order to satisfy their customers.  The irony in Colorados ban on jitneys is that the largest complaints made by RTD passengers are: trip times are too long; the buses are routinely off schedule; the bus stops are not conveniently located; and, that RTD does not provide late night service.

Because of the benefits of faster trips, shorter wait times, better travel times, and flexibility in stopping locations, the Miami jitney services were able to establish a market of their own. In the first year, the jitney services attracted 43,000 to 49,000 passengers per weekday. That breaks down to about 110-115 passengers per vehicle per weekday.  Most of these passengers said that if not for the jitneys, they would take their own car: a new market was created solely for jitneys in Miami.

In addition to all the other benefits, the jitney service was much cheaper. With no government subsidy, the jitney service was able to charge $1 per passenger, whereas Metrobus charged $1.75. RTD charges $1.75 for peak hour travel, and 75 cents for non-peak travel (to which is added a state and federal subsidy worth four times that amount).  To repeat: that $1.00 was the average jitney charge in Miami, without subsidies from the government.

Despite the benefits of faster trips, shorter wait times, flexibility in boarding, and late evening service, Miami ended legal jitney service in 1991. The various jitney services operating without regulations were charged with operating without a license. The fine for the crime of for-hire transportation of people was a charge of $100 to $500 and/or up to 10 days in jail.  The reason for ending jitney service was political. The government simply did not feel comfortable allowing the private sector to compete against a public sector monopoly bus system.

This was evinced before the loophole was started.  In March 1983, the Board of County Commissioners in Miami questioned the conflicting policy of support for private sector and public sector transportation services. The commission chose to support protecting the monopoly by restricting jitneys from large Metrobus areas. A large Metrobus area was defined as any area in which jitney service would have a serious negative impact on existing service.  According to the commissioners, that was ample reason to close the loophole.

Is the argument that jitneys hurt a government-controlled monopoly a worthwhile defense for ending a beneficial service? No. Moreover, is it any reason not to allow jitneys in Colorado? Again, the answer is no. Some make the argument that there is no jitney market in Colorado. No one can answer this question until we actually conduct an experiment in free market jitneys.

In Colorado, most people who do not ride RTD do not ride because it is slow and often off-schedule, bus stops are inconvenient, and routes do not travel to the desired destinations of passengers. All these problems with RTD provide market room for jitneys to provide service. In other words, the jitneys market would be those who are not satisfied with RTD. A potential market 10 to 20 times larger than that served by RTD may be available for jitneys.  If a demonstration found only a fraction of that to be true, the positive impact on traffic congestion at no cost to taxpayers would be immediately noticeable.

Some will still ask, But what about the hurt government monopoly? If RTD loses passengers then they have an incentive to improve and help passengers. Thus, there is really no need to negate a good service like jitneys for the sake of protecting an inefficient government monopoly.  That is what happened in Miami when the government, after only a few months of jitney service, closed the jitney loophole.

By not allowing jitneys, we are forced to choose between riding a slow and inefficient service and driving on congested roads. Jitneys are one solution to decreasing congestion and challenging the government monopoly to improve service.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, and Matthew Edgar is a summer intern at the Independence Institute and a junior at the University of Denver. They wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to: Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Parkway, Suite 185, Golden, CO 80401. Phone (303) 279-6536 or FAX to (303) 279-4176; e-mail is webmngr@i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2001

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Usually a terrorist is an extremist hijacking an airliner and holding innocent passengers hostage.  Currently the FTA (Federal Transit Agency) is holding mobility hostage to extort Colorado citizens.

In 1991, an intergovernmental agreement was developed between the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation District, the City of Denver and the FTA to add lanes on I-25 north of central Denver. Assuming that more people could be moved, new multiple-occupant vehicle lanes designed for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) were added at a cost of $222 million. The FTA contributed $71 million (32%).  Construction was $16 million per lane-mile.  By contrast, today’s proposal to double-deck I-70 to DIA is $10 million per lane-mile and a comparable California highway project recently came in at $3 million per lane-mile.  Did I-25 need to be so expensive?

Currently, though, utility is more important than money already expended.  The pertinent questions are: Can a minor donor like FTA dictate that service potential be wasted?  Isn’t CDOT responsible for efficient operation and for maximizing service to users?  The older general-purpose lanes remain congested. The HOV lanes never move more than 30% of their possible vehicle capacity. During hours open, use averages 16%; over 24 hours, use is less than 9%.  If taxpayer dollars were “real money,” there might be a problem with 84% of $222 million going to waste.

In 1991, the Oklahoma Turnpike became the first state agency in the U.S. to use electronic toll collection. Collection costs declined 91% and tollbooth accidents ceased. Technology and applications improved. This technology permits variable pricing, recognizing the reality that units of highway space and time are neither free nor equal in value. This reality reveals fatal flaws in the gasoline tax as a user fee.

One creative application of electronic toll collection is HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes.  Not only can HOT lanes self-finance new capacity and move more users over the same infrastructure, wasted HOV lane capacity can be captured at NO injury to HOVs. Surplus HOV lane capacity is sold to willing buyers. Price varies to ensure no adverse affect on free flow of traffic.

Recognizing the potential, Senator John Andrews successfully sponsored SB-1999-88.  It mandated that CDOT convert one HOV lane to HOT as a demonstration.  CDOT wisely requested a due date extension to July 1, 2001. Delaying provided the opportunity to evaluate alternatives, quantify conversion costs, estimate revenues, and help others understand the concept.  A $400,000 consultant study concluded that

I-25 would be Colorado’s best demonstration; conversion costs would be $3 million and users would reimburse conversion costs in six years.  Because some traffic will be removed from the free lanes, all I-25 users would benefit.

The FTA opposes this experiment.  A March 8, 2001 letter dictated that the demonstration project could not advance without full reimbursement of the FTA’s original contribution of $71 million.  The FTA stipulated that “general traffic [on HOV lanes] during peak traffic hours shall constitute a breach” of the original 1991 agreement. The FTA correctly asserts that general-purpose traffic might jeopardize the HOV character of the new multiple-occupancy lane. But general-purpose traffic is NOT the proposal.  HOT traffic is controlled via pricing to ensure free flow. Although FTA did not claim that CDOT might mismanage the HOT lanes by under-pricing tolls and attracting too many vehicles, such mismanagement would be counter to CDOT’s interests.  By claiming the project is other than it is, FTA has proven itself to be either ignorant or deceptive.

For those honestly interested in improving mobility and traffic flow, the I-25 HOT lane demonstration project offers small risks and potentially large benefits. FTA’s blocking attempt seems negatively motivated. A failed demonstration would revert to the former condition.  Therefore, they must fear success.  If the latter is true, then the FTA is a demagogue with a pre-defined political agenda, rather than a government agency committed to efficient service for its constituents.

The issue of Federalism (the division of responsibilities between federal and state governments) has become unclear regarding transportation; the U.S. Constitution was never amended to allow a federal role. Several presidents vetoed Congressional attempts to intrude into the state domain of transportation.  The federal share of the gasoline tax was a temporary tax for construction of interstate highways and was created under the guise of national defense to circumvent the Constitutional prohibition.  The same Constitutional limitation is the reason there are no federally-owned highways.  Federal involvement in mass transit as a protection against foreign invasion is preposterous and federal dictation of operations is a dangerous precedent to concede.

“Full use” of taxpayer-funded facilities is reasonable.  CDOT has an obligation to move forward. No objective observer would agree with the FTA’s indefensible stand.  With no injury to the original purpose, FTA’s suggestion of a payoff is extortion. Do Colorado leaders have the courage to stand up to the cowardly and criminal FTA?

Senior Fellow Dennis Polhill wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden; http://www.i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Issue Backgrounder

By Dennis Polhill

updated version of 2000-M

Synopsis:

RTD is one of Colorado’s biggest and most obscure governments. Elections have not received sufficient public scrutiny, making control of the RTD Board a target for special interests.

What the Bill Does: S.B. 39 changes RTD Board elections to partisan elections and increases the compensation of elected Board members to $12,000 per year.

Discussion:

History of RTD — RTD came into existence as the product of two uncomfortable trends: the OPEC oil embargo and the rapid decline in mass transit use. At the same time that it was unclear whether automobile transportation would continue to be viable, it was equally unclear whether mass transit transportation could survive.

All over the country privately owned trolley companies were replaced by privately owned bus companies. With the continuing decline in market size, private bus companies closed and were replaced by government owned bus companies. The government owned bus companies received both tax subsidies and regulatory protections from competition so that market share might not erode further. The City of Denver found itself in the bus business in 1965.

To broaden the scope of services and to relieve Denver of the tax burden of the bus company, RTD was created legislatively. The RTD Board was legislatively appointed. Initial subsidies were comparatively small and were satisfied by a mishmash of fees and property taxes. In 1973 RTD went to voters with an aggressive plan. A new sales tax of 1/2 of one percent would be assessed for 10 years over the six-county metropolitan area and the revenue would be assigned 20% to expanded bus service and 80% to the construction of a 98-mile PRT (personal rapid transit) system.

Election irregularities and broken promises put a cloud over RTD, which seems to persist today. The special election was scheduled for the Friday after the Labor Day holiday, September 7, 1973. Proof of residency was needed to vote, not voter registration. Voter turnout was only 116,480, close to 10% of the population of that time. Polling places with the highest “no” votes ran out of ballots.

Because of Colorado’s lack of a petition process at the district level, citizen activists petitioned onto the November 1980 state ballot to change the RTD Board to a 15-member elected board. Responsible, unaffected rural voters abstained at shocking levels from voting on this issue. Therefore, it is unlikely that down state voting distorted the will of RTD constituents in the decision to go to an elected board.

History of RTD Board Elections — RTD’s first board election was November 1982. To phase into four-year overlapping terms, eight of the 15 seats were elected for two-year terms and seven were elected for four-year terms. In the afterglow of the 1980 election, where RTD was on the ballot for an elected board and for another tax increase to construct light rail, which was defeated, 1982 is indisputably RTD’s most competitive election ever. Fifty-nine candidates came out for the 15 seats, an average of 3.9 candidates per district. Only one district had an uncontested race with a single candidate. Nothing close to this level of competition has occurred since.

The official election records for 1984 have been lost. The Secretary of State did not start keeping RTD election data until 1990 and RTD seems to have misplaced their copy. The 1984 data is derived from post-election newspaper coverage. Eleven candidates ran for 8 seats. Four seats were uncontested.

In 1986 seven seats were up, and 13 candidates came out: three of seven seats were uncontested.

In 1988 11 candidates came out for eight races, yielding seven of eight seats as uncontested.

In 1990 10 candidates came out for seven seats. Five of seven were uncontested. But worse, one of the uncontested seats had no names on the ballot, because no candidate had taken the trouble to qualify. That seat was won with a write-in campaign that netted 61 votes.

In 1992 things got a little more competitive. Three of the eight seats up were contested. Four races had a single name on the ballot, but two of them received write-in opposition. The Littleton District had no names on the ballot but six candidates received write-ins.

1994 was the year of incumbent screw-ups. Seven seats were up by their regular cycle, but an eighth seat was up for a two-year term because of an appointment to fill a vacancy. The appointed incumbent did not know of her need to file petitions and did not file. Four other incumbents failed to acquire enough signatures to appear on the ballot. This left 12 candidates for 8 seats. Five of the 8 were uncontested. Had the incumbents been on the ballot, 1994 would have been the most competitive election since 1982.

In 1996 eight seats were up by the regular cycle and one two-year election was on the ballot due to an appointment to fill a vacancy. There were 20 candidates for the nine seats and three of the nine were uncontested.

In 1998 seven seats were up by the regular cycle and one two-year election was on the ballot due to an appointment to fill a vacancy. There were 21 candidates for eight seats and only one of the eight races was uncontested.

In 2000 eight seats were up by regular cycle with a ninth seat to fill a two-year vacancy. Two of the nine elections had two candidates and seven had a single, uncontested candidate.

Summary of Board Elections — In all of RTD’s election history 42 of 87 races (or 48.3%) have been uncontested. During RTD’s decade of least public visibility (1986 through 1994 inclusive), 25 of 38 races were uncontested for an uncontested rate of 65.8%. The 78% rate of uncontested elections in 2000 was exceeded only in 1988.

YEAR RACES CANDIDATES UNCONTESTEDRACES UNCONTESTED%
1982 15 59 1 7
1984 8 11 4 50
1986 7 13 3 43
1988 8 11 7 88
1990 7 10 5 71
1992 8 13 5 63
1994 8 12 5 63
1996 9 20 3 33
1998 8 21 1 13
2000 9 11 7 78

Note: Write-in candidates are not considered to be competitive and are not counted.

RTD’s Scale — RTD currently has 900 buses, 2,400 employees and a budget of $470 million. With the 1999 de-Brucing and light rail approval, RTD will soon be second only to the state government in size. For comparative purposes, a recent CDOT report revealed that it had 2,000 employees and $1,200 million in both state and federal gasoline taxes flowing through the HUTF (Highway Users Trust Fund) which is used both for CDOT and for all of Colorado’s cities and counties.

Analysis — RTD has spent millions of dollars on things that citizens do not want and which have not been approved. Though RTD Board elections were getting somewhat more competitive until 2000, RTD election competition, oversight, scrutiny, or accountability is far from sufficient as balanced against the magnitude of resources consumed. With partisan elections it is likely that there will be at least two solid, credible candidates for each RTD seat. Though this would make election more difficult for third party and independent candidates, partisan elections would clearly make RTD elections more competitive. S.B. 39 also requires that RTD plans conform with those of CDOT. CDOT involvement will do no harm and may, in fact, expedite cooperation between the agencies.

Prepared by Dennis Polhill, Senior Fellow, Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, CO.

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

A century ago, with the exception of railroads, transportation in the United States was by dirt road. Similar to growing demand for mobility in today’s third world economies, the push to get America out of the mud in the early twentieth century was led by bicycle enthusiasts. Automobile ownership was a novelty. But when rising personal wealth met declining automobile costs–thanks to Henry Fords assembly line for the Model T–more and more people began to enjoy automobile ownership. The trend is irreversible.

Visionaries foresaw superhighways. The first plan was finalized in the 1930s. Planning for highway construction was accelerated during World War II–partly to ensure that ex-soldiers would have jobs when the war ended. Planners also saw the mobility advantage that the Autobahns gave to the German army, as forces could be moved rapidly from one part of the country to the other.

Financing was a problem because automobile ownership was still relatively small, war debt was high, and highway use and requisite support systems were still in their infancy.

The U.S. Constitution was also a problem. Nowhere did the Constitution give Congress authority over transportation. Three of the greatest presidents — Madison, Monroe, and Jackson — had vetoed as unconstitutional efforts by Congress to intrude into transportation, such as by creating national roads.

In 1956, Congress found a way to circumvent the Constitution. Federal road-building would fly under the banner of the “National Defense Highway Act.” Congress did have authority over national defense, and highways did help national defense. All Interstate highways would be owned and operated by the states. The user-fee debate was decided in favor of the gasoline tax over tolls. A critical consideration was that tolls would discourage increased car use and greater car use was needed to aid financing. The “temporary” 4 cents per gallon Federal gasoline tax would cease when the 40,000 mile network was competed.

Every dollar spent on construction yielded five dollars in direct economic benefits. Travel time between cities such Pittsburgh and Philadelphia plunged. It became easier and cheaper to transport goods between producers and markets. One cause of the prosperity of the 1960s was the increased wealth and efficiency generated by the new interstate highway system–the Internet of its time.

The years went by. Construction was completed before 1985. The Federal gasoline tax grew to 18.4 cents. The Constitutional issue was forgotten. Use grew, further augmenting revenues. Special interests began tapping into the Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax has been perverted into a general funding source for airports, waterways, buses, Amtrak, the Coast Guard, light rail, and the national debt. Two-thirds of the states put more money into the Highway Fund than they get back. Money recovered is subject to innumerable conditions and delays.

Colorados transportation philosophy has been a victim of the schizophrenic attitude toward population growth. Over the long term, Colorado has experienced growth at about 2% per year. When growth is less, there is concern; when growth is more, exclusionists call for less. The anti-growth assumption is that if transportation were less efficient, fewer people would move here.

Special interests have succeeded at politicizing transportation. DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) recently updated its Metro Vision 2020, Regional Transportation Plan. Variety of travel opportunities is weighted more heavily than meeting the needs of taxpayers. Perhaps DRCOG, as a vestige of the outmoded Central Planning era, has outlived its usefulness.

Of the $16.34 billion available in the Denver Region to address transportation, nearly 60%, or $9.63 billion, are for government transit. This funding will increase light and commuter rail by 1400% and highway capacity by 24.5%–even though travel demand is projected to rise 48%. The 23.5% highway deficiency (48% minus 24.5%) is a measure of how much worse Colorado highways are going to get.  Government transit gets the lion’s share of funding, but  picks up only 4.04% of the additional demand. DRCOG predicts, accurately, that “severe congestion will increase significantly.”

If Colorado’s anti-transportation policy is not soon reversed, the consequences will be dire.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2000

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Elementary school students learn the opposite of politics. The Scientific Method, both used in school and required in Science Fair projects, mandates that a proposition, idea, question or assertion be proven. The notion is that facts are verifiable and repeatable. That June 21 has more daylight than any other day of the year can be proven by observing, measuring, and verifying with other research. It is an indisputable scientific fact.

The search for fact-based knowledge is not easy. T.C. Chamberlin seems in regular cycle to be forgotten and rediscovered. Chamberlin was a geologist and President of the University of Wisconsin in 1890 when he wrote his most important work. He observed that even objectively motivated and well-disciplined scientists fell victim to the phenomenon of “premature conclusion.” He wrote, “The central psychological fault is intellectual affection The vitality of study quickly disappears when the object sought is a mere collocation of dead, unmeaning facts A working hypothesis may with the utmost ease degenerate into a ruling theory.” The scientific method breaks down and is corrupted when scientists become biased toward a particular conclusion. Eagerness to reach conclusion, interferes with the ability to challenge veracity. Ultimately, bad science will fail the test of time.

If it is this difficult to for those honestly seeking truth to hold focus, then how successful can the political process be when interests work complex strategies with the sole intent of achieving a preconceived outcome? Truth is less important than victory. Failure has no consequence, because taxpayers are forever burdened to make the best of the situation.

The federally required Environmental Impact Statement process was originally designed to identify and quantify truths. However, the EIS has become a tool of interests to advance political agendas.

National experts have observed the Colorado Southeast Corridor EIS as particularly flawed. This is the study that is supposed to justify Light Rail along I-25. Blatantly false statements in the Major Investment Study should have caused an objective Colorado Department of Transportation to disqualify the offending consultant from consideration to perform the EIS. That company’s business goal of building its light rail resume might also have been sufficient cause to select another.

The Independence Institute produced a 30 page footnoted comprehensive research paper with 38 pages of involved spreadsheets showing that improvements other than light rail would provide more mobility, less congestion and less environmental impact, while assigning most costs to those who directly benefit. Submitted for the public record, the research was summarily dismissed in a 5 page discussion by individuals apparently unable to comprehend the analysis.

Just as Socrates was condemned to death in 399 B.C. for revealing truths that a tyrannical state wished undisclosed, the EIS process has become an enemy of truth. Statements such as, “No light rail system has reduced traffic congestion,” are verifiable.

For the first time, Colorado voters approved use of tax dollars to construct light rail. Whether the Regional Transportation District’s prior outlay of over $300 million was an illegal use of public funds is a subject for another time. Referred Measure 4A was approved with a 65% “yes” vote. But 4A was “joined at the hip” with Referred Measure A, TRANS, which authorized the state to accelerate construction of 28 highways projects by incurring $1.7 billion in debt. TRANS received 62% yes. The “joined at the hip” message was that both projects had to be approved for voters to get either one. In other words, anti-automobile people were obliged to vote for highways in order to get light rail and pro-automobile folks were compelled to vote “yes” on light rail to get highways.

Since November 1999 politicians have rushed to declare the election result a mandate to construct rail. RTD is spending millions for MIS studies in every direction, a monorail to Vail was suggested and light rail in Colorado Springs, Greeley, Fort Collins and paralleling I-25 to Wyoming have been proposed, as if a single centralized technology could solve a decentralized transportation problem.

Voters have defeated every light rail tax increase until appended to desperately needed and long withheld highway improvements. As Chamberlin said, “If our vision is narrowed by a preconceived theory as to what will happen, we are almost certain to misinterpret the facts and to misjudge the issue.”

Not only is there no mandate to build rail, there is no factual basis to conclude that Denver will record the first ever light rail success. The Transportation Industrial Complex uses misperceptions, including the phony EIS process, to sustain and grow itself.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org
Copyright 2000 I2I

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Like here in Denver, the Orange County Transportation Authority in California has expressed an interest in constructing light rail. The conflict of interest is obvious. If OCTA finds in favor of LRT, it gets a bigger budget, more staff, more prestige, and more power.

Suspecting that the OCTA might be overstating the benefits, a Grand Jury was convened to investigate the claims being made by the local transit agency and to study the process by which this decision will be made.

The Grand Jury Report was released in May 1999. The Grand Jury was not kind in its comments about OCTA activities. Jurors looked at 12 LRT systems built in various parts of the country over the last two decades and found that none can be called a success. The report stated that the national experience with urban LRT systems ability to solve traffic congestion, air pollution, and related urban problems has been poor.

Criticizing the OCTA for doing more promoting than studying, the Jurys analysis suggests that Orange County would experience, negligible impact on traffic congestion, less effectiveness than predicted, more expense than predicted, an inflexible system, and no improvement in commuter travel times, energy conservation, or safety.

The Jury went on to instruct OCTA to amend outreach programs to include data on the national experience, to establish and publish measurable goals, and that disinterested experts should provide historical perspectives. The Jury suggested that the public deserves full disclosure of all perceived benefits, drawbacks, costs and impacts that this project would have before it is approved or disapproved.

In short, the Orange County Grand Jury ordered its government transit agency to stop lying.

Perhaps a Grand Jury is needed to look into the Regional Transportation District. RTDs recent cancellation of its public forum on LRT is merely the most recent example in a long history of questionable actions.

The decision to have the Great Debate was approved early in 1999 by the new RTD Board. With a budget of $30,000, six nationally recognized experts were invited to debate both sides of the issue on September 13.The Urban Land Institute, a pro-LRT group, was allowed to become a co-sponsor by contributing an additional $10,000.

Because the question about LRT effectiveness is nationwide, interest was national. C-SPAN and CNN considered coverage. Advocates on both sides looked forward to offering their best arguments.

The debate controversy started when RTD decided to charge a higher admission fee to the general public than to elected officials and bureaucrats. With some free admissions, the anticipated 200 attendees would have produced about $5,000.RTDs decision to cancel the debate will cost RTD more money than to have waived the registration fee altogether. Is it possible that another agenda is at play? Is it possible that RTD feared that the debate would put too much information in front of the public immediately prior to its November tax election?

RTD deceit has a long history. The 1973 special election that gave RTD its current sales tax base experienced several election irregularities. Voters have yet to be offered the opportunity to re-authorize the 10 year plan approved in 1973.That election authorized 20% to increased bus service. The remainder was for rapid transit construction (not LRT). Having spent the money on bus service, RTD asked for another tax increase in 1980 for LRT.

Undeterred by the 1980 defeat, RTD continued to spend millions without authorization on planning and right-of-way. Finally in 1990 RTD spent $116,000,000 to construct the LRT demonstration line. But before demonstration line performance data was available, RTD proceeded to extend LRT south on Santa Fe Drive. The extension was to cost taxpayers $177,000,000.At RTD the $20,000,000 spent on Santa Fe right-of-way is not a cost because it is hidden. In total, RTD has subversively spent over $300,000,000 on LRT without authorization.

Much of what RTD tells the public is less than true. RTD frequently claims increasing ridership without mentioning that they count boardings, not people. Even those increases are smaller than population growth or RTDs increasing tax take. This means, of course, that unit costs are increasing and market share is decreasing.

The LRT ridership numbers estimated for the I-25 Corridor are 30,000 versus 300,000 for the highway. But the counting methods differ. Similar counting yields that LRTs 3% market share would serve about 10% to 15% as many people as a single highway lane.

RTD has spent millions to propagate the false perception that LRT will relieve traffic congestion and air pollution. It is time that the truth be told. Because RTD cannot be trusted, Colorado should convene a Grand Jury to expose the truth.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Copyright 2000 Independence Institute

An analysis of the Colorado state government’s flawed plan for I-25

Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller, P. E. and Dennis Polhill, P. E.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.

This report presents a detailed analysis and critique of the Southeast Corridor plan for Interstate 25 through Denver. The authors spent nearly six months gathering the baseline data and developing the methodology and new analysis tools contained in the report.

It is a timely report for two reasons:

1) The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was still open at the time the full report was published. The report was submitted into the official record to show that there is a better way to analyze a project’s impacts on the public than was presented in the DEIS.

2) The November 1999 ballot contains two measures directly relating to the information contained in this report. Referendum “A”; a statewide ballot issue, is seeking voter approval to bond future federal highway revenues. In the Denver metropolitan area, voters are being asked to allow the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to bond their tax revenues.

Findings of Importance Contained in the Report:
“The goal must be to create a transportation system that offers congestion free driving, better environmental outcomes, and lower taxpayer costs.”

1) LIGHT RAIL PROVIDES NO BENEFIT FOR TRAFFIC CONGESTION

The “official” documents relating to the proposed “improvements” on Interstate 25 show light rail will have no impact on traffic congestion. The conclusion isn’t clearly stated, but is hidden in the numbers and tables contained in the documents.

Proponents of 4A, the more light rail boondoggle proposal, shout that the plan will “take 17,000 cars off the road.” Not only is the statement preposterous, it is NOT a measurement of the traffic congestion that will exist on the freeway. All of the official documents show numerous areas throughout the project and on surrounding facilities where the projected level of service will be rated “F” -which means a completely congested, gridlock condition. Forget the rest of the rhetoric, light rail will NOT solve the problem. It is in the official documents, and finding is further supported in the analysis provided in this report.

Special Interests, particularly in the Southeast Corridor and downtown Denver, have made large contributions to the campaign to build light rail to the Denver Technological Center (DTC) under the mistaken impression that traffic will flow more smoothly if enough people ride the new trolley. There will only be a maximum of eight trolleys per hour running to the DTC, and the 1997 Major Investment Study (MIS) supporting a “light rail only” solution projected that ridership would increase from 1.8% of DTC employees to 3.2%. Even if RTD was able to increase their market share by this amount, it is simply not enough people to have any impact on the highway. Normal traffic growth and latent demand will prevail, and the highway will gridlock.

2) CDOT’S HIGHWAY WIDENING PLAN IS INADEQUATE.

This report shows that the DEIS recommended “preferred alternative,” which does not involve user pricing, would result in zero improvement in traffic congestion over the 1996 condition the on the very day it opens. Again, there are lots of “Level of Service F” ratings contained in the DEIS. The ever-increasing traffic growth, combined with latent demand (as explained in the complete report), indicate that the CDOT’s new road will be gridlocked on the day it opens.

Under the plan presented by CDOT and RTD, motorists are stuck in gridlocked traffic today, they will be stuck in gridlocked traffic during construction, but what is worse is that they will be doomed to gridlocked traffic on the day this new project opens and forever into the future. Motorists who have survived the construction process will not be pleased.

3) HOT LANES ARE A SUPERIOR SOLUTION.

This report clearly shows that in order to achieve congestion free driving on I-25, a pricing mechanism must be implemented. This report recommends that the existing three free lanes on I-25 be supplemented with new High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes. High occupancy vehicles, such as buses, vanpools, company carpools, and taxicabs would be guaranteed access into the new lanes. The remaining capacity is then sold to people in single occupant automobiles who are willing to pay a toll to use the facility. The price of the toll is variable, depending on the amount of traffic in the HOT lanes. HOT lanes are currently being successfully used in California and Texas, so the technology and benefits of this system has already been proven. People would still be able to choose the free lanes – and the traffic flow in the free lanes will be improved as a result of people who are willing to pay a toll to drive even faster.

HOT lanes offer a future of congestion free driving, and those who receive this benefit will be the ones who pay the costs of the highway improvements. HOT lanes offer far more choices to people than fixed-guideway mass transit systems, and they are environmentally superior and more tax-payer friendly than either light rail or new free lanes.

4) “WE HAVE TO BUILD LIGHT RAIL IF WE WANT T0 WIDEN THE ROAD”

Many people are being misled about the Environmental Impact Statement process: Public policy is being driven awry by the threat of lawsuit. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has NO AUTHORITY to dictate a specific transportation technology. It is simply not true that if the voters turn down light rail, as it has been in the past, that the highway can’t be widened.

What is true, however, is that any new plan will have to demonstrate “conformity” with the EPA approved air quality plans. The HOT lane proposal contained in this document should easily meet the EPA criteria. This report indicates that HOT lanes offer the ability to achieve a 29% larger reduction in mobile emissions than the plan presented in the DEIS. This plan, therefore, is more environmentally friendly than the DEIS. The official models, however, would still have to be run, which could delay construction for another year. The question voters should ask themselves is “Am I willing to wait a year for a new plan to be developed if I can save myself THREE BILLION DOLLARS?” – Any new plan will include additional highway lanes on I-25. We the People demand it!

5) CORRIDOR TRAVEL TIMES

Light Rail is hardly rapid transit. The current LRT system speed in Denver is between 15′ and 20 miles per hour. Because the proposed SE corridor light rail would have to merge into this system, it can’t operate at an average speed that is much faster. The travel time from Park Meadows to Downtown Denver will approach a full hour on the new trolley. HOT lanes, offering congestion free driving for most of the distance at 55 miles per hour, will get people downtown in a fraction of the time.

6) THE DEIS CONTAINS MANY OMISSIONS, AND THE PROCESS WAS UNDULY INFLUENCED BY SPECIAL INTERESTS.

The planning process has been manipulated by special interests, even to the point that blatant mistruths were included in early versions of “official” documents. The MIS and DEIS are hardly more than propaganda pieces intended to rationalize the view favoring light rail transit (LRT). A number of flaws in the DEIS for the I-25 southeast corridor are presented in the report:

A) Failure to adequately scope and analyze the available alternatives.
B) Predetermined LRT placement precludes adequate analysis in the DEIS.
C} Predetermined LRT placement will result in tremendous unaccounted-for future costs to upgrade I-25 in order to resolve future traffic congestion problems.
D) Failure of the DEIS to adequately address the costs and benefits of the various configurations for potential use of the ROW.
E) Traffic growth projections in the DEIS are limited and weakly analyzed.
F} Latent Demand has not been adequately addressed in the document.
G) Impulse driving impacts on congestion were not considered due to limitations in the scoping process.
H) The counting methodology for automobiles versus LRT boardings is inherently flawed.
I) There was inadequate discussion of the potential costs of obtaining additional ROW or providing an alternative engineering solution in several bottleneck areas north of I-225.
J) HOT lanes, given no mention in the DEIS, have been shown to be a substantially superior solution in this report.

IMPACTS OF THIS REPORT ON REFERENDUM “A”

Governor Owens and the Colorado Transportation Commission have declared that the majority of the bonds would be used to finance the project analyzed in this report. The measure itself, however, does not specify the actual projects that would be advanced or added if the referendum passes.

In order to construct the HOT lanes, however, it will be necessary to issue bonds. The toll revenues, rather than general tax dollars, will be used to pay off the bonds. This would allow the bond money authorized by Referendum A to be used on other projects throughout Colorado, as designated by the Transportation Commission.

IMPACTS OF THIS REPORT ON ISSUE “4A”

It is clear from this report that the plans to place LRT in the SE Corridor must be stopped. The ROW is needed in order to achieve the socially optimal usage for this transportation facility. RTD should instead plan to invest in additional buses that can use the congestion free HOT lanes, and operate at higher speeds than can be achieved by- LRT. LRT will doom the Denver metro area to subsidies and future tax increases, and a decreasing proportion of people riding mass transit. The increases in the local costs already presented the LRT’s ever changing cost estimates should outrage voters. The greatest cost, however, will be the future need to double-deck I-25 — wasting literally billions of tax dollars that can be saved by using the ROW now. LRT is not financially, environmentally, or functionally justifiable for the I-25 Southeast Corridor. HOT lanes fulfill all the criteria, and those who receive the benefits will pay the costs.

Entire Paper: Let Those Who Receive The Benefits Pay the Costs (PDF)

Copyright (C) 1999 – Independence Institute

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

There is no truth to the belief that light rail improves traffic congestion. A look at the failure of light rail in Portland, Oregon and elsewhere shows how wise Denver-area voters were to reject light rail in a landslide.

Locals in Portland report “light rail actually put more cars on the road.” Portland’s Environmental Coalition opposes building more rail because light rail forces more people into cars. Portland’s experience is not unique.

Of the 10 metropolitan areas that have built light rail in the last decade, only San Diego reports a higher system ridership. In other words, in nine out of ten cities, after light rail is built, total mass transit ridership declines. The decline occurs because consumers are rational. Rail forces more transfers, which increases travel times and decreases convenience. San Diego’s ridership is up only because light rail takes tourists to Mexico.

All infrastructure, including roads, is constructed with fixed capacity. If the government owns the infrastructure, and treats the infrastructure as collective property, then there are no incentives against overuse of the infrastructure.

Overcrowding does not occur when infrastructure is privately owned, as with hotel rooms, restaurants, airlines, shopping malls, athletic clubs, telephones, and electricity. Pricing and other value-added incentives abound. Competition for customers encourages innovation.

Fortunately for commuters, automobile technology improvements that can be implemented in just a few years will allow even the most congested roads to carry many more vehicles.

Moreover, innovative programs to shift highway demand away from peak times (rush hour) towards times when highways are not congested are being considered all over the United States. Gridlock may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to market forces.

No wonder that collectivists were in such a hurry to push a massive tax increase for state-controlled transit. In a few years, the problem will be solved, without their help.

But, mass transit advocates insist, mass transit is not just about getting people from one place to another. Mass transit is complicated by its “entitlement” component. A 1989 management study of the State of Colorado went so far as to suggest that transit be removed from the Transportation Department and reassigned to the Social Services Department.

But as a social welfare institution, mass transit is a very poor use of resources. About 40% of metro area transportation funding goes to mass transit, even though mass transit carries under 2% of commuters. Subsidies pay 80% of the cost of every mass transit boarding. Such huge subsidies to such a small group might be justifiable if the subsidies were for people in need. But over half of all mass transit are affluent.

In any case, travel in the metro area is increasingly from suburb to suburba type of travel which is unserviceable by a large centrally controlled bureaucracy.

The national trends are just as bad for mass transit as are the Denver trends. Mass transit ridership has declined since World War II in every census in every city. The reality is that fewer people live in tenements and work in factories.

Transit fans play on nostalgia and point to old systems as “working.” Yet Chicago ridership today is 1/500th of its peak. The numbers worsen when expressed as market share after population growth adjustment.

Even in New York City, where population density is 10 times Denver’s, where congestion is so bad that many people cannot own a car, and rail travel volume is nearly 5 times that of second place Chicago, rail accounts for less than 10% of all travel.

Subsidies in 1995 dollars for mass transit total $350 billion, roughly the same cost as constructing the entire interstate highway system. Yet ridership has never been lower. Even the U.S. Federal Transit Agency, which gives out transit subsidies, admits that mass transit has problems.

To move from dysfunctional bus service to even less functional rail is clearly no solution and serves only to protect a bureaucracy from the possibility of downsizing. If a successful bureaucratic-style approach to mass transit were known, it would have been tried somewhere and copied.

It may be that the massive centrally controlled protected government monopoly approach to mass transit is no longer workable. If so, it may be time to take a look at the opposite approach: privatize, devolve, and legalize competition.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank located in Golden, Colorado. http://i2i.org

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org
Copyright 2000 Independence Institute

Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller and Dennis Polhill
Senior Fellows, The Independence Institute

In Brief:

Congress is considering giving Denver hundreds of millions of dollars to construct an eight mile extension of the existing five mile light rail system. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is pushing for a vote on a tax increase to fund even more light rail. With new EPA air quality standards looming over the city, the battle over the light rail system is about to begin. The facts show that light rail in Denver is a waste of money:

  • Light rail requires subsidies forever. Every light rail project in the nation, once funded by the federal government, has requested additional federal funding to provide operating assistance. Refusing to fund new light rail projects will help Congress avoid future additional construction and operating subsidies.
  • The costs are too high. Light rail transit is one of the most expensive forms of transportation. Even RTD – the Colorado entity pushing light rail – estimates that light rail in Denver will cost more than twenty million dollars a mile to construct. Other forms of mass transportation systems can carry the same number of riders at a much lower cost.
  • The benefits are too low. Light rail will not reduce traffic congestion, nor will it improve air quality. In addition, there will be no economic benefit. In fact, there will be a huge net loss to the economy.
  • There are better solutions to Denver’s transportation needs. The amount of travel done by rail is a fraction of that done by highway vehicles. This situation is not going to change with the construction of light rail. People have increasingly decided to use their personal automobiles over public transportation services. Additional highway improvements, carpool lanes, and buses would be far more beneficial to Denver than light rail.
  • The people of Denver have already voted against light rail, rejecting it by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

Entire Paper: Light Rail in Denver – Taking the Taxpayers for a Ride (PDF)

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill, Stephen R. Mueller

The citizens and taxpayers of the Denver metropolitan region have shown their willingness to fund numerous imaginative public works and civic improvement projects over the past decade. Denver International Airport, at a cost of nearly five billion dollars, leads the list. But don’t forget the Colorado Convention Center, Coors Field, and Elitch’s. Then there’s the proposed new Ocean Journey aquarium and a new Broncos stadium. All of these imaginative projects were (and are being) sold to the public using questionable economic assumptions. Citizens were promised that by investing our tax dollars many economic benefits would accrue to the entire region.

For some of the projects, the promises may have come true. But for others, the promises were clearly lies from the very beginning. While the people making the promises may have been genuine in their beliefs that the projects would bring public benefit, they failed to recognize and publicly state the true and complete costs of the projects they were promoting.

Mass transit advocates are taking a different but no less imaginative route. For the past fifteen years the citizens of Denver have been told over and over again that mass transit will clean the air and alleviate traffic congestion. They know that when you continuously read, see, and hear the same information for a prolonged period of time that eventually you will start to believe it – even if it’s not true.

The Regional Transportation District has an annual advertising budget of nearly a million dollars per year. RTD buys newspaper ads, radio ads, and television ads. They sponsor community events. Do you know of any other governmental monopoly that spends that kind of money to promote itself? RTD is clearly trying to do more than simply inform the public about its services, it is trying to influence public opinion. Why? RTD wants light rail.

Do they want light rail because it will clean the air? No! RTD’s own numbers show that there will be less than 1/10th of 1% reduction in air pollution if we build a light rail system.

Do they want light rail because it will solve traffic congestion? No! RTD’s own numbers show that there will only be 1,600 new mass transit riders if they build the Southwest Corridor Light Rail. Considering that Denver’s two million people driver nearly forty million miles a day, removing 1,600 people from the roads won’t be noticed.

So why does RTD want to build light rail? The primary reason given in the recent Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is that building light rail will ensure reliable transit times. Excuse us for asking, RTD, but are you really telling us that you want to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for that? Have you forgotten about cost-benefit comparisons? If we’re going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, let’s at least do it for sensible reasons.

Could we offer another reason that RTD is supporting light rail? If light rail expanded to these other corridors, this agency’s budget will grow from $300 million dollars per year to almost a billion. Excuse us for being skeptical, but there are no other governmental agencies of that size in Colorado, except for the State itself.

The Independence Institute has gathered the numbers for the Southwest Corridor Light Rail line, and the numbers clearly show that it is a boondoggle of monumental proportions. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, the mass transit advocates are very imaginative. They are in the midst of “major investment studies” on three other corridors – and the word that we get is that these studies are being slanted to show the need for even more light rail.

A recent Forbes article told how the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Los Angeles has spent three billion dollars on rail, but had twenty percent decline in ridership since 1985. How much more money do Americans have to spend on light rail before they realize that the promises are false.

The proper role of government is to provide the things that citizens can’t provide themselves. The fact of the matter is that nearly all of us prefer the comfort, safety, and convenience of our own private automobiles – and we are willing to pay the costs associated with the automobile. While we agree that it is proper to fund public transportation services for those who are unable to access private modes, our generosity stops considerably short of the billion dollar per year level.

Instead of building light rail, why don’t we use this money to buy something that we can all use and enjoy – like open space and well-maintained highways.

——————————————————————————–

Stephen R. Mueller, P.E. and Dennis Polhill, P.E. are Senior Fellows with the Independence Institute, a think-tank in Golden, Colorado.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Watch out Colorado.  The Regional Transportation District (RTD) has an insatiable appetite for tax dollars and they are eyeing the state coffers.  They have a plan to divert $40 to $50 million of state highway funds to extend light rail to Littleton.

RTD got its first taste of state revenues when they received a windfall from outside the district that allowed them to build the Light Rail Demonstration Project in downtown Denver.  Now they want a massive tax rate increase of 67% plus $50-60 million from the highway fund.  This kind of irresponsible behavior is a signal to policy leaders that it is time to engage in serious analysis of Colorados transportation problems and the role of structures like RTD.

Our reliance on government run mass transit started in the mid 1950s as trolleys went out of business and private bus systems attempted to fill the void.  However, as automobile ownership grew, buses eventually became subsidized operations.  To protect their revenue stream, regulations were adopted that prohibited competition.  As usual, this did not solve the problem and municipal bus systems are today even more unprofitable.  The U.S. Census Bureau data from 1980 and 1990 show a nationwide decline in mass transit ridership from 7.0% to 5.4%; and a Denver decline from 6.2% to 4.2%.  Because ridership has declined so severely the need for tax subsidies has increased and costs have skyrocketed.

The federal government has realized after pumping over $100 billion into mass transit that free money cannot reverse trends and will never yield a return on investment.

Colorado taxpayers have also been extremely generous.  Within the regional transportation district, taxpayers spend almost as much money on mass transit subsidies (.6% sales tax = $300 per family per year = $150 million) as they do to operate and maintain the entire 10,000 mile metro area road network!  We have been coughing up huge sums in the hope that somehow big, bureaucratized government agencies can reduce traffic congestion and move millions of us around without polluting the environment.

This line of reasoning does not take into consideration the massive changes that have occurred in our society over the last decade.  We have become more diverse, flexible and free.  Government planners have, for the most part, not come to grips with this phenomenon.  Transportation experts who propose the expenditure of billions of dollars to build systems on the industrial model of fixed routes, fixed schedules and serving concentrations of population have not yet made the intellectual transition into the technological age.

More and more people, inside and outside of government, have come to the realization that there is something very wrong with the way we are attempting to address our transportation problems in Colorado.  Some have suggested that perhaps the problems are structural in nature and propose to change the elected board of RTD back to an appointed board or merge it into another giant bureaucracy the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).  Then, it is posited, this massive, dysfunctional bureaucracy would suddenly become compassionate and efficient.  Another version of the bigger-is-better idea is a merger of RTD, the urban drainage district, the cultural district, the baseball district and others with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG).

The concept of removing local control of such functions to a massive central control bureaucracy is also an industrial age idea and one thoroughly discredited.  That is why we should not turn away from an elected board of mere citizens.  Although there is no guarantee they will not become pawns of the bureaucracy, an elected board gives us a fighting chance to reshape the old system.

We believe the answers lie in the opposite approach.  For instance, a Boulder consulting firm has released a study that proves that smaller, more frequent buses decrease costs and increase ridership substantially (about 200%).  We also have the positive results of privatization.  When forced by the Colorado legislature to contract for 20% of its bus routes, RTD recognized initial savings of 45% even though routes, stops, schedules, fares and equipment were fixed by the bid specifications.  If RTD were a rational organization, it would have immediately privatized all of its bus routes or cut its budget in half.

Of course, exposing the benefits of privatization to a government agency is like forcing a vampire to stare at the sun.  It is, however, time to open the curtains.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado.

By Stephen Mueller & Dennis Polhill

Executive Summary

In March 1993, the Independence Institute published an Issue Paper titled Stop that Train, which contented that the plans ofthe Regional Transportation District (RTD) to bulid a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system throughout the metro area were flawed. The Issue Paper suggested that expanded use of special traffic lanes for buses and carpools (HOV lanes) would be a more cost-effective method of improving mass transit.

RTD published a 28-point reply to the Stop that Train paper, arguing that the issue paper made numerous factual errors. The RTD response is a commendable effort to engage in factual debate, and plays a constructive part in the process of public education on the light rail issue. But although RTD makes some constructive points, many of RTD’s defenses of metro-wide light rail are unpersuasive. This new Independence Paper, Stop that Train: Part II, analyzes and responds to each of the 28 points made by RTD.

In short:

  • Ignoring all facts to the contrary, RTD claims the cost per rider will be $2.50, lower than any LRT system built anywhere.
  • Though RTD publications and RTD board members stated that the MAC light rail line was to be used as a demonstration, RTD now claims that the notion of a demonstration line was not “official policy.”
  • RTD assumes that the federal government will provide 80% of the construction funding. However, Washington has provided only 44.5% of costs for other similar programs around the nation; and the pressure to balance the federal budget suggests that federal transit subsidies will not increase, and may decline.
  • When all the facts are analyzed, special lanes for buses and carpools are more cost-effective than light rail. When Houston abandoned light rail for bus and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, Houston Mayor Bill Lanier explained, “HOV lanes cost us less per mile than rail by a good bit, and they move more people…. not only transit passengers but also those people able to double up or triple up in cars to form car pools.”

Entire Paper: Stop That Train Part II- A Reply to RTD (PDF)

By Stephen R. Mueller P. E. and Dennis Polhill P. E.

In Brief:

  • RTD is pushing a major public relations campaign to build an expensive light rail transit (LRT) system in southwest Denver, and eventually the whole metro area.
  • In nine US cities that constructed LRT projects, actual costs exceeded projections and ridership fell short of projections. Actual cost per rider exceeded projections by an average of 5.4 times.
  • Contrary to RTD ‘s claim that LRT is the least expensive of several alternatives, LRT is about 1o times as expensive as building dedicated highway lanes for buses and carpools.
  • The MAC demonstration project carried a promise to the people that LRT could be observed in operation for two years before a proposal for an enlarged system would be advanced. RTD has an obligation to honor this promise.

Entire Paper: Stop that Train: RTD’s Light Rail Boondoggle is on a Fast Track for Disaster (PDF)

The Colorado Leader October 10, 1992 … also published in the Haxtun Herald, Haxtun, CO on Oct. 14, 1992

MAC: What’s the bottom line?

By Dennis Polhill

An upcoming vote by the Denver Regional Council of Governments will determine whether the Denver Metro area, spends hundreds of millions of dollars on a failed idea, or if a policy of fiscal responsibility will guide our transportation dollar.

The Metro Area Connection, or MAC, is a light rail system that the Regional Transportation District desires more than anything else. The initial cost for the Five Points to Auraria MAC demonstration line is $100,000,000, and will be paid for by a use tax windfall. RTD’s idea that light rail is the key to Denver future is at best naively optimistic.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal stated, “Anyone who still thinks that fixed rails…to be navigated by public-employee crews paid premium wages is the most effective means of circulation in a modern city gets an “F” in urban planning.”

Typically, there would be dozens of questions that would have to be answered before such a project gets started. Amazingly enough, the opinions from transportation professionals have barely registered a blip on the debate radar screen.

Before we jump head first into what could very well be a bottomless pit of government spending, perhaps we should have a few items analyzed.

First, if the purpose of developing a mass transit system is to decrease traffic jams, isn’t it foolish to consider a project that the RTD admits will not relieve traffic congestion during peak commuting periods”?

Second, the proposed MAC vehicles may be able to achieve speeds of 65 mph, however, the distance between stations will only allow an average operating speed of 18 mph. Not exactly a convenience when you calculate all of the time you spend getting to the fixed-rail, and the distance you have to cover once you get dropped off.

Third, the proposal claims air quality gains, but other cities have found essentially no environmental benefits with their fixed rail systems. Any possible air quality improvements can be achieved through different and much less expensive means.

Fourth, experiences in other cities which have developed rail systems since 1970 demonstrate an alarming trend of high cost overruns which require additional tax dollars to keep the system operating. And with an estimated operating cost of $8.75 per ride, our local government will have to do a lot of subsidizing!

Fifth, the MAC demonstration won’t accurately demonstrate demand for the system because there will be no direct charge to the rider. Commuter choices are based on comparisons of cost and convenience, not on abstract values. How then will the RTD be able to determine the how, when, where, and why questions about expansion?

Finally, the $100,000,000, as mentioned before, comes from a use tax that as levied on products purchased outside the RTD boundaries, but used primarily within the district. Is light rail the best use of this money? These dollars could provide better bus services, they could fund the development of other critical transportation needs (E-470 or the northwest parkway), they could finance more carpool lanes, better highways, and other projects metro wide. Instead,’ RTD has decided to pour all of it into a fixed rail system that accesses a little used corridor. They have failed to realize that increased highway use is an indication of the need for them, not a sign of their failure.

If we’ve learned one thing during this year’s election cycle, it’s that the voters in this state, as well as the nation, demand the most bang for their buck. The $100,000,000 in taxes collected by the RTD is money that has been taken out of the local economy for a project that can best be described as a white elephant. Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has even speculated that downtown companies would suffer due to the extensive construction. If, in fact, this money is burning a hole in the pocket of RTD bureaucrats and light rail is merely a way to get rid of it, I strongly encourage them to consider the other transportation needs in the metro area, or give a rebate of $5 to every man, woman and child in the district. My guess is that the citizens will spend it wiser than the RTD.

Mr. Polhill is Chairman of the infrastructure Task Force at the Independence Institute, a Golden based think tank.