If you consider some of the more profound motives, itâ€™s not at all surprising that our Departments of Transportation favor very expensive, confiscatory transportation policies like major mass transit infrastructure buildup â€“ itâ€™s one big, ego-validating turf grab. As William Parker points out in his book The Agency Game, government agencies do not use revenues as a measure of success; instead, they replace that measure with agency expansion â€“ the inevitable direction of government. We all want to feel like the thing we spend 40 hours a week on is “changing the world” for the better, so why be content as a dullard agency that merely paves and repaves the roads people drive on? Why not validate your sense of professional and existential importance by demanding a larger role in everyoneâ€™s lives? And what better way to do that than by advocating policies which are, conservatively, three to four times more expensive than conventional ones? Randal Oâ€™Toole looked into this cost comparison of modes in his book, The Best-Laid Plans:
If you accept, as most urban planners do, that cities should try to get people out of their cars and onto transit, then rail transit is an extraordinarily expensive way to do this. The Federal Transit Administration developed a formula for calculating the cost per new rider, which is roughly the cost of getting someone out of his or her car and onto transit (though in fact some new riders may not have previously been driving). This formula is, basically, the capital cost amortized over the expected life of the project plus the annual operating cost divided by the annual number of new riders attracted by the transit improvements. Using this formula, improvements in bus service typically attract new riders at a cost of $1 to $6 per trip, but construction of rail lines typically cost $10 to $100 per new trip (252).
Itâ€™s hard to imagine another marketable mode of travel which could convert mode share at a cost of up to $100 per trip, so it is easy to see why turf-grabbers would find this to be the â€˜happyâ€™ medium on their imperial quest. Numbers aside, thereâ€™s also an obvious philosophical reason for the growing demand, essentially, for the nationalization of travel. That is, paving and maintaining roads offers little for legacy-seeking transit bureaucrats: all youâ€™re doing is accommodating the publicâ€™s trips in their own vehicles. By pursuing policies which force people out of their cars and onto your pollyanna transit projects, you have suddenly put all of those people on your time, because your agency develops the schedules; youâ€™ve put them in your place, because you located and built the transit center; youâ€™ve put them in your vehicles, because you screwed with the transit network such that driving is no longer practical; and youâ€™ve put them on your routes, because your agency develops them. The one concession transit agencies are willing to make? Theyâ€™ll let people pay for their fantastic transportation visions. In the process, youâ€™ve taken their money, their power, and their rights. Consider the massive power grab involved, and itâ€™s not so hard to see why the growing army of transit bureaucrats desires this future.