Proposed Expansion of Public Transportation in South Florida is Misguided.

Why should we not be surprised by the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC) and its backers’ latest siren song? In a time of higher gas prices and shrinking family discretional income, these groups who promote a “New Urbanism” want to quietly sock it to suburban middle class families again by proposing an expansion of the public transportation- funded by a litany of massive tax increases on all Floridians, not just Floridians residing in South Florida. Read the list of proposed taxes and the accompanying story here.

These expansions of public transportation in Florida, just like the misguided and subsequently repealed Florida Constitutional Amendment which mandated high-speed rail from one end of the state to the other- only serve to deprive Floridians of their hard-earned money via tax hikes, as well as restrict their freedom of mobility. For example, what if the stops for these proposed rails and buses don’t go where you want to go? Even more distressing about these proposals is the fact that publicly-funded transportation systems cannot sustain themselves by the fares they charge their users alone, hence the need for tolls to be increased on drivers who don’t have any use for public transportation- not to mention the additional across-the-board proposed taxes needed to make the hit on taxpayers “gradual”.

We need to put to bed the silly rationale that we are “saving” the environment by virtue of the State’s expansion of the public transportation system on within Floridia. It’s nothing more than a red-herring argument made by those who ultimately want to control our mobility and penalize automobile usage, absent any concrete evidence that these proposed additions to public transit will result in any tangible effects on our planetary climate or local environment, let alone our own personal health. If you view congestion as an intolerable feature of modern suburbia, perhaps it’s time for you to relocate to a less congested area within Florida. And let’s not forget that you always have the option to leave the state, as increased numbers have been doing of late. In other words, let people vote with their feet, and let individuals decide what the best mode of transportation is for their own personal needs. These types of public-transit expansions are inherently coercive of masses of taxpayers who want no part of them.

Taxpayers in Florida should be extremely cynical of these publicly-funded adventures that typically become inefficient over time and do not come even close to sustaining themselves on user fares alone. What would be optimal for these local governments to do would be to designate a private firm or consortium to manage and operate these city and county transit systems, or at least designate the expansion of them to any interested private entities. A privately-run transit system- or at least a publicly expanded one done with private partnership- would be a much more efficient mechanism to reduce operating deficits, increase employee productivity, and improve the quality of services rendered by an entity that would ultimately be far more responsive towards its travelers. Let’s hope that the forthcoming Transportation Summit will hear enough of that message from the proponents of both privatization and fiscal discipline.

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12 Responses to Proposed Expansion of Public Transportation in South Florida is Misguided.

  1. Alex says:

    these groups who promote a “New Urbanism” want to quietly sock it to suburban middle class families

    So instead, you want to sock it to poor and working class families that rely on a well-funded public transportation system in order to do inconsequential things, like, you know, get to their three jobs.

    Talking about privatization of mass transit in the middle of a national energy crisis is ignorant of the basic history surrounding transit in the US. The reason why mass transit has traditionally be so inefficient is because intermodal planning is nonexistent if not dominated by politics. Groups like the SEFTC were established to take the decision out of the hands of lawmakers who don’t care about integrated planning, just getting another stop in their district.
    Private firms are patently incapable of handling the massive infrastructure investment required to develop and sustain mass transit systems. The reason why the state and local governments became involved in transit planning was because the privately-held companies who originally maintained most roads were just so patently bad at it.

    Ultimately, the freedom of mobility that you so love is owed to the very government you think is incompetent. If it wasn’t for the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, and the government finally making a massive investment into the development of a national, integrated highway system, you’d still be driving automobiles on crappy 2-lane dirt roads. The government needs to be in the transportation business, because nobody else is willing or capable to take on such a massive effort.

  2. Vince Mariano says:

    Alex-

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. To sum up my rejoinder quickly-

    1. I am all for the state government building roads, and more of them when necessary.
    2. Both “poor” and middle class demographics who drive cars would be additionally taxed at the pump and registrations end up as losers.
    3. Do you really think that the SEFTC is somehow beyond politics and interest?
    4. Freedom of mobility is not owed to government, our government merely facilitated it- im glad that Eisenhower built our interestate system. Cars will be the dominant mode of transportation for the forseeable future, and drivers have no interest in expanding modes of transportation that they have no use for. The transit system as it exists now does not merit expansion since it cannot pay for its expansion by increasing user fees.
    5. The Government does not engage in any “business”, including transportation, anywhere near as efficient as a competiting entity in the private sector. And yes, the state government is incompetent in many, many ways.

  3. Alex says:

    1. The problem with the state government building more roads, is that congestion and sprawl is such in South Florida, that it is nearly impossible for them to get much more capacity without spending an obscene amount of money. I’ll agree that the state government is incompetent in many ways, and one of them is expansion of highway capacity using tricks, like the recently opened hot lanes in South Florida. At this point, reducing congestion needs to be accomplished through a thoughtful and integrated implementation of mass transit. This doesn’t mean people should give up their cars, but building or supplementing the current commuter rail with more “park and ride” stations like golden glades would going a long way towards reducing congestion on critical highway corridors such as I-95 N of downtown Miami.

    2. The small gas tax currently mandated under law is nothing compared to the volatility of the energy market that we’ve been seeing over the past 12 months. Giving low-income families the opportunity to get to work for the 1-2 dollars a commute costs on a monthly pass versus the 4 dollars it’ll cost for a gallon of gas in their old 1990 Tercel makes a huge difference in their pocketbook, where transportation costs have ballooned to 5-10% of the income of a working class family. An 18.4 cent gas tax is tiny in comparison.

    3. I grew up in South Florida, I have no illusions about the SEFTC and their probably immersion in politics. However – compared to local municipal government in S. Florida and state legislators with Marc Rubio awarding no-bid highway contracts to his best buds – the SEFTC is made up of saints. In Florida politics, everything is relative, even corruption.

    4.

    Cars will be the dominant mode of transportation for the forseeable future

    I’m really not too sure about this. I know how attached people in S. Fl. are to their cars, but once gas prices get high enough, they start to effect a large enough portion of the population that the difference is not just noticeable, but significant. Tri-rail ridership is up for the first time in forever. Collectively Americans are driving less miles than last year – also a first in the US. While I imagine people in S. Fl. will cling to their cars as long as prices allow, I like to think this is merely out of habit. Most people from middle and upper income neighborhoods don’t even think of mass transit as an option, mainly because the majority of efficient transit in South Florida goes through poor neighborhoods. But the writing is on the wall, and as gas goes past 5 and 6 dollars and the economy is South Florida stays in its nosedive, people will begin to see mass transit less as a curiosity and more of a necessity. All we need now is a state government with a minimum of foresight.

    5. I won’t pretend like government is any good at engaging in business, however that does not make it unnecessary. If we had all the existing infrastructure for a company to come along and do the actual running of the transportation business, I’d be glad to see it out of the hands of government. Unfortunately, someone has to make the initial massive investment – in land, rails, traincars, buses, etc. It doesn’t make sense from a private business angle because the economy is in the toilet and the investment make a return for many, many years. The government has to build the infrastructure and then turn it over (if they so desire) to a private company, from whom they should retain a cut to eventually cover expenses.

  4. Vince Mariano says:

    1. Im not attempting to analyze the relative health and/or merits of the Mass Transit system in South Florida as it exists, my article focuses on the Proposed Expansion of the system, to which I am opposed.

    2. That “small gas tax” in Florida is 14.5 cents per gallon, 27.2 cents on diesel. These are huge revenue generators for the state, just another tax on a commodity which they should have nothing to do with. That said, our oil companies should be able to drill of the OCS and Florida to ease some of the volatility in the market. That volatility wouldnt nearly be so volatile if our oil came from friendly nation states rather than hostile rogue regimes.

    3. No-bid contracts are acceptable in certain circumstances- especially in instances where only one company exists that has the requisite expertise to do a given job within a short timeframe. But yes, many no-bid contracts are not in the best interests of the taxpayers.

    4. “I’m really not too sure about this. I know how attached people in S. Fl. are to their cars, but once gas prices get high enough, they start to effect a large enough portion of the population that the difference is not just noticeable, but significant.”

    This is what I am referring to- the proponents of these transit expansions want to force people out of cars and into public transportation by making automobile usage more onerous. Do you think that if given a hypothetical choice, most users of public transportation would prefer to use public transportation, or have their own car? I would bet on the latter, by a landslide.

    5. Large-scale private sector projects that have enormous capital investments are indeed feasible. Read about an example of one here- the proposed Long Island Sound tunnel conecting Long Island to Westchester – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/10tunnelwe.html

  5. Alex says:

    1.

    Im not attempting to analyze the relative health and/or merits of the Mass Transit system in South Florida as it exists, my article focuses on the Proposed Expansion of the system, to which I am opposed.

    The proposed expansion to the transit system is directly informed by the relative health and/or merits of the current mass transit system. The main reason for expansion is the poor health of the current system. Your article does not address the current health of the system, which should be the major consideration in going forward with any plans for public or private expansion, even if you chose not to address it.

    2. These revenue generators are mostly spent on highways already. Lets look at the proposed resource allocation for Florida DOT’s budget for the next four years (approx $22 billion): where state funds are used. THe entire public transportation program recieves a whopping 15%, with most of the rest being used for various aspects of highway maintainance and construction. The budget numbers for use of federal funds are even more staggering, with public transportation coming in at just over 5%. I’m not going to get into a foreign policy argument, because that would be getting off the point, but your supposed volatility due to rogue states is a charming point. However, our imports are still mostly from not so volatile states. Canada and Mexico aren’t exactly being overrun by volatile non-state elements and Saudi Arabia is one of our only friends in the Middle East. As government studies have shown, the long-term impact of OCS drilling on oil prices is marginal at best. The current price of oil isn’t some aberrant spike, but a sustained increase that will continue as long as China is growing and increasing demand on oil. In citing supply and demand for the current price of oil, many harp on the need for more supply, but neglect the huge role that demand is playing.

    3. Putting these contracts in the hands of lawmakers, in any case, will cause higher prices and do little to actually improve transportation infrastructure.

    4. In an ideal world where gas cost less than one dollar a gallon, this may be a valid point – but we don’t live in that world. And again, whether or not there is a tax on gas, prices are soaring, your 15 cent tax will bring prices in FL from $4.05 down to $3.90, not exactly what I would call relief for those consumers who are making the real-life decision about whether they can afford to drive themselves to work. That decision to drive a car isn’t made in a vacuum, and so the state needs to do something to help out those FL residents who are in need of major relief, not a quarter a day.

    5. While I applaud the apt citation, I think this sort of project is more the exception than the rule, which would be evidenced by a convenient statistic about what portion of transportation in the US is funded by public v. private sources. I think you can take my word on this one. But I suppose that this is your very point, that we need more private funding of projects, which is a natural desire. I am all for a concurent investment of private resources into transportation. I think there could be a great public-private partnership that ensures that funding is available. However, any transportation project needs to be shielded from the volatility of the market, and the potential for interruptions to service or construction. People depend on these systems to conduct their lives, and when companies take up this sort of challenge, they are not in a position to provide the sorts of guarentees that governments will make about service. Take this tidbit from your article linked above:

    But Mr. Polimeni seems confident: He said he had spent $250,000 so far and had lined up Bear Stearns to help raise $10 billion for land-acquisition and construction costs.

    That may have been a great idea 5 months ago, but I don’t know where it will be going now that Bear Stearns is not but a memory. When a company is entrusted to maintain a critical piece of public infrastructure, they can’t tie their fortunes to the volatility of the market. The services provided by government are the most needed in a financial crisis, and the more the government hands these services to the market, the less taxpayers get when they are in need.

  6. Vince Mariano says:

    1. “The main reason for expansion is the poor health of the current system.”

    Why would you want to expand- not merely fix- through massive tax hikes that affect all demographics- a system which you aptly describe as being in “poor health”? Why is it poor health in the first place? – Perhaps you need to re-analyze your own assumptions.

    2. Our top 4 oil suppliers – Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela. How about replacing numbers 2 & 4 with domestic supplies? The House of Saud directly fund radical madrassas and terror groups. Venezuelas’ support of Hezebollah and the FARC are equally as distrubing. We should be phasing out oil imports from these countries.

    3. What about the contracts that lawmakers will hand out to private companies to expand the transit system, which you support? Why do you treat these contracts as sacrosanct, but contracts that involve roads are suspect?

    4. In spite of the demise of Bear Stearns, the tunnel project is still viable. Not only that, there are many more interested investment groups around the world who are interested in funding these large types of capital projects. Across the country, private entities – both domestic and foreign- can and do maintain critical pieces of transportation infrastructure- see just a small number of examples here- http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-07-15-u.s.-highways_x.htm

    “When a company is entrusted to maintain a critical piece of public infrastructure, they can’t tie their fortunes to the volatility of the market.”

    These companies dont tie their fortunes to the market, if by “market” you mean the stock market- they tie them to their forward-looking projections based on how many people will use their road or bridge over time, and how much revenue will be generated- which comes directly from the users of that piece of infrastructure. We should welcome such expansions that relieve states from raising taxes across the board, and will not act as efficiently as a private company will in running and maintaining it.

  7. Alex says:

    1.

    Why would you want to expand- not merely fix- through massive tax hikes that affect all demographics- a system which you aptly describe as being in “poor health”?

    The reason why the system is in poor health is because it is not nearly extensive enough to be useful and effective. The amount of use of a transportation system does not increase as a linear function of the amount of money spent on it. There is a steep initial slope wherein infrastructure is being developed in the urban core. However, for a continuously sprawling agglomeration such as S. Fl – high rates of ridership do not begin to occur until efficient routes are extended into the suburbs. The so-called “People’s Transportation Plan” in Miami-Dade for example sought to accomplish such a feat however when put in the hand of county lawmakers (see #3), it was poorly planned and fumbled from the very beginning.

    2. Well, I won’t presume to explain economics to you, so I’ll have an undergraduate do it for me. It doesn’t matter who we get our oil from, the price is determined on the world market, getting our oil from somewhere else doesn’t change the fact that a lot of oil is still being provided to the market by volatile countries. China will be just that much happier that they can snatch up all that Middle Eastern crude.

    3. I’m suspect of all contracts handed out by lawmakers, public transit included. I think handing power for this sort of decision over to a group such as the SEFTC is a good step in taking some of the politics out of transportation policy.

    4. There are two valid points here – one is that the majority of investment in transportation infrastructure is foreign. That is, for all your talk about being in bed with volatile countries, you don’t seem to mind when they buy up our roads, bridges, ports and railroads. An excellent example is the Dubai Ports Deal.

    Furthermore, deals like this are seldom in the best interest of efficient transportation. I quote from your article:

    Orange County, Calif., got burned by a toll-road lease for a different reason.

    The road, part of state Route 91, was built and run for $130 million by California Private Transportation Company, partly owned by France-based Compagnie Financiere et Industrielle des Autoroutes. The toll road opened in 1995.

    Seven years later, Orange County was looking at gridlock. But it could not build more roads because of a provision in the lease. So it bought back the lease — for $207.5 million.

    Making public transportation a part of the state’s committment to the people is not served when the transportation is in the hands of private companies. Companies do not act in the interest of people’s transportation needs, because it isn’t a money-making proposition, but people need infrastructure to serve them – its the government’s responsibility.

  8. Vince Mariano says:

    “Making public transportation a part of the state’s committment to the people is not served when the transportation is in the hands of private companies. Companies do not act in the interest of people’s transportation needs, because it isn’t a money-making proposition, but people need infrastructure to serve them – its the government’s responsibility.”

    There are two fatal flaws with your argument in this paragraph. First, how else would companies make money if they first did not “act in the people’s interest”? The only way for them to make money is to do want customers want of them.

    Second, you conflate the need for “infrastructure” (which is essential) with the need for “expanded public transit system”- it is that very expansion that is not essential. The only way I would support the former would be if it could be proven that its expansion would be supported exlusively by user fees, not massive across the board tax hikes on taxpayers and drivers. The same rationale that justifies road tolls- the users of roads pay for the maintenance and upkeep of new roads through tolls that are only imposed on those same users.

  9. Vince Mariano says:

    “There are two valid points here – one is that the majority of investment in transportation infrastructure is foreign. That is, for all your talk about being in bed with volatile countries, you don’t seem to mind when they buy up our roads, bridges, ports and railroads. An excellent example is the Dubai Ports Deal.”

    Again, your analogy is totally off-base. There is a world of difference buying oil from the Saudis who then use it for terror financing and madrassas- and having overseas investment groups from the private sector finance and operate transportation infrastructure on U.S. soil. Those foreign entities are investing in U.S. assests specifically because they are bullish on our future, and they see an economic opportunity while providing a necessary service. Can you not see the difference? Or are you simply against any kind of foreign investment in the United States? And by the way, if we detected any kind of treasonous activity on the part of these foreign-based entities, their assets could be seized from them in an instant.

  10. Vince Mariano says:

    Lastly, I will see your undergraduate “expert” on economics and raise you with a Harvard Professor:

    “As Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein wrote in The Wall Street Journal on July 1, “Increasing the expected future supply of oil would also reduce today’s price. That fall in the current price would induce an immediate rise in oil consumption that would be matched by an increase in supply from the OPEC producers and others with some current excess capacity or available inventories.”

  11. Cindy Sewell says:

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  12. Vince Mariano says:

    Thank You, Cindy, we applaud all private sector ventures that faciliate travel to places where public transportation won’t venture!

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