The U.S. government’s transportation spending reflects considerable ignorance of how Americans actually get around. Since 1970, the U.S. government has allocated $1 trillion (in 2005 dollars) for mass transit systems, yet the percentage of commuters using mass transit has fallen from 8.5 percent in 1970 to 4.9 percent in 2007. Carpooling, on the other hand, is practiced by 10.4 percent of commuters, though carpooling gets very little in the way of federal subsidy. Today 20 percent of federal surface transportation spending is devoted to mass transit, and some want to make that allocation even bigger. If the response to high gas prices is any guide, we shouldn’t expect additional subsidies to increase the demand for transit very much. According to Demographia.com, consumers responded to higher gas prices by traveling almost 25 billion fewer miles per passenger on urban roadways in the second quarter of 2008. Despite that decline, transit usage increased by less than a billion passenger miles.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, SEE: “Transportation Policy: Getting the Facts Straight,” by Wendell Cox and Ronald D. Utt, The Heritage Foundation, December 3, 2008.