Sunday, January 17, 2010
Streetcars Prove Economically Unjustifiable, So Feds Revise Rules
To receive federal funding for a rail project, cities previously had to prove that it was the lowest cost way to reduce pollution or commute times. The Obama administration wants to funnel more money to streetcars, which do neither, and are most often the highest cost alternative, so they've changed the rules to reward "livability" instead. (Who on earth would want to live in a trolley?)
The new policy announced Wednesday, is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to use transportation and housing programs to keep people from driving and living where they want to, and to invent government make-work jobs related to transit. It might breathe new life into makers of light-rail and other transit equipment who could never survive in the free market.
Among more than 80 cities that could now qualify for funding are Seattle; Cincinnati; Boise, Idaho; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.), who led the push for a federal program designed to promote transit projects whether they make sense or not.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the administration would immediately rescind the "budget restrictions" enacted by the Bush administration and focus on evaluating projects based on the environmental, community and economic-development benefits, as well as on congestion relief. The decision will now also be based on whether or not they're "pretty".
It is arbitrary and capricious to use a nebulous standard like "livability" when awarding public money, especially when there is evidence to show it doesn't matter. Today The Urbanophile critiqued the allegedly legendary livability of Portland, OR, and found their statistics weren't appreciably different from those of Indianapolis, IN, which has no rail transit at all, and barely has a bus system.
Public money should only be invested in public projects that create a measureable public benefit.