The current craziness that has come out of Chris Christie's office recently, and the future craziness promised by New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, have shown that the American right is not a reliable source support for transit. It doesn't have to be this way, but it is.
I'm not a conservative, but I think there's a coherent ideological argument for transit on conservative and libertarian principles, and I appreciate this argument. It goes something like this:
In the past, private companies ran the trains, interurbans, trolleys and buses. They were usually able to make a profit providing freedom and personal mobility to people of all ages and income levels. Then the government interfered in the market, forcing operators to charge fares that were too low, and subsidizing roads, garages and oil so that private cars had an unfair advantage. The private operators went out of business, and since then a skeleton transit system has been operated by the government at great public expense.
Government subsidy of driving has also destroyed our traditional small towns and cities, leaving hard-working families with a difficult choice between long drives and a gentrified urban lifestyle surrounded by intellectuals and criminals.
A conservative solution would gradually phase out driving subsidies and allow entrepreneurs to start new bus and train services. As publicly-owned transit routes become more profitable, they could be sold off to the highest bidder.
Some routes will have great difficulty becoming profitable, but they could eventually be run by charity nonprofits, for those conservatives who are completely opposed to public transit. Some will suffer, but the usual libertarian-conservative arguments apply.
There are many libertarians and conservatives who think along those lines. They tend to have difficulty finding conservative politicians who share these leanings, though. Most conservatives tend to defend their big-government agendas with one of the following lies:
1. The Wendell Cox Closed System. Roads are all paid for by drivers, in the form of "user fees" like gas taxes and tolls. Not many people will actually discover the number of local and state roads that are paid for with general property, sales or income taxes.
2. The Joel Kotkin Real Americans. It's okay for government to spend money on things Real Americans want, and they want roads, cars and sprawl. This conveniently ignores the fact that "Real Americans" often change what they want depending on what they think will bring them the most happiness. It also ignores the frequent adjustment of the category of "Real Americans" to exclude those who decide they don't want roads, cars or sprawl. This is a special case of the more general Real Americans argument beloved by conservatives, notably Sarah Palin.
3. The Randal O'Toole Transit Socialism. Transit involves people getting close to each other, which is against American rugged individualism, and therefore it is an appropriate use of government funds to defend us against the commies. Somehow this is not a problem when people get close to each other on airplanes, in spectator sports arenas, or in shopping malls. Getting around on foot or by bicycle also somehow doesn't make you a rugged individualist, just a weirdo.
These patently false excuses for not supporting transit make it clear that these conservatives are more interested in defending their unsustainable transportation and living habits than in doing the best to ensure that their descendants will live in health and comfort.