Monday, May 9, 2011

Such small portions

I guess I'm in something of a Woody Allen mood tonight. Here's the opening quote from Annie Hall:
There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." That's essentially how I feel about life.
And that's essentially how Yonah Freemark, and Tanya Snyder, among others, seem to feel about Federal transportation funding. Federal funding formulas are terrible - they overwhelmingly favor subsidies to personal auto use - and Congress hasn't increased overall transportation funding!

To be fair, the gas tax does act as something of a deterrent, but it may not be enough to outweigh the draw of increased infrastructure. And it's actually hard to tell what Snyder is feeling beneath all the Beltway horse-trading coverage, but she generally seems encouraged by more overall transportation spending, and discouraged by spending cuts.

Yonah, and Snyder, are right to call for a move away from formulas, or at least towards formulas that tilt more towards transit. But as long as the formulas favor driving, it's better to decrease overall funding than to increase it. That's simple math.

1 comment:

Alon Levy said...

Depending on how much impact the transit funding would have, it could sometimes be good to increase formula funding. The reason is that even at present road investment levels, there's too much underpriced road capacity in the US, more than enough to put a couple million floodplain dwellers underwater. The only long-term way to fix that is to both restrain car traffic and increase vehicle fuel economy; in both cases but especially the former, transit acts as a way to make traffic restraint politically easier.

Now, obviously, this can also go the other way. But it's not obvious which way it goes without looking at the details of which transit is built and which roads are built.