11.10.2006

Conservatives and Mass Transit

A nice report called "Conservatives and Mass Transit: Is it Time for a
New Look?" (http://www.apta.com/research/info/online/documents/conserve.pdf;
see also "How Transit Benefits People Who Do Not Ride It: A
Conservative Inquiry" at
http://www.apta.com/research/info/online/how_transit_benefits.cfm)
makes some nice points about why conservatives should support mass
transit and why transit agencies should listen more to conservatives'
perspectives. As a pro-transit conservative, the article caught my
eye and helped summarize some of why I'm a pro-transit conservative.

We conservatives can sometimes be down on mass transit because 1) it
seems like a huge government-subsidized thing that would never stand
on its own, 2) we don't use it and nor do our constituencies, and 3)
it doesn't serve anything on our agenda. But wait! Mass transit
might not exist in a totally free market, but then neither would cars,
seeing as how governments have ploughed much more money into roads and
bridges than in transit since the invention of the car.

Secondly, there are a lot of conservatives riding those rails and
buses, and even if there weren't, we're not so selfish that we
wouldn't care just because "our" people aren't users, would we? Which
leads to the third point that the article makes, that public
transportation actually does contribute to important conservative
goals, like getting people off welfare and on their way to jobs, and
fostering community, and stimulating economic growth.

On the flip side, the article urges transit agencies to consider the
old arguments being made by the conservatives. Poor allocation of
subsidies can lead to inefficiencies that help no one, and regulatory
reform and public-private partnerships can lead to efficiencies that
help everyone.

Alas, far too often we are locked in our narrow ways, unwilling to
have this kind of dialogue. And in this case, we and "the other side"
and transit riders and taxpayers and society and the environment are
worse off for it. As the report suggests, it's time for a new look.

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