Monday, September 24, 2007

Bad Policy 101

Ah, Heritage Foundation, what would we do without thee? You're always so, er, "involved" with the country.

A few days ago they presented this thoughtful meme, "Congress Should Link Amtrak's Generous Subsidy to Improved Performance," which of course is another chapter in a long and misguided novel being written by detractors of rail transit. Translated: "Congress should use a rather unoriginal idea to try to destroy an important government program."

I couldn't help writing about it because, in these times, it is so maddening to see a call for "performance metrics" to protect taxpayers. Current government subsidies of the petroleum industry through tax breaks and related global security are doled out with almost criminal negligence, helping keep cars cheap and railroads in financial straights.

These folks at Heritage live and work around DC. Surely they must understand that forcing people off trains would result in more fossil fuel use and impassible traffic. Just last week the metro area was ranked second worst in the nation (behind LA) for traffic congestion. For regional transportation leaders, the report was particularly scary because, as the Washington Post noted:

Perhaps most discouragingly for the area, many of the solutions suggested in the report -- using mass transit and HOV lanes, telecommuting, building new roads and relieving choke points -- are already being done.

In other words, road traffic is so bad there's naught to be done. In its report Heritage of course suggests people in the name of energy efficiency be moved from trains to car/van pools, HOV lanes and Toyota Priuses.

At the same time, it was announced today that the MARC commuter rail in and out of Baltimore will dramatically increase capacity over the next few decades:

The MARC service has been growing steadily in popularity in recent years as long-distance commuters have sought alternatives to congested highways and relief from high gasoline prices. Daily boardings, which were fewer than 20,000 in the mid-1990s, now exceed 30,000.

That growth is good news for the MTA and the environment, but not for riders' comfort. The system has only 27,000 seats, and many trains run with passengers standing.

"There are certain trains that are so crowded the conductors can't get through the trains anymore," said Christopher Field, a regular rider of the Penn Line. "Extra seats are more than welcome, and weekend service would be an absolute thrill."

Wiedefeld said the number of riders has been increasing at a rate of 6 percent a year, which he attributed largely to highway congestion.

"We expect this demand to grow," he said.

If the Heritage Foundation had its way, we would eliminate rail transit all together and put more people on the roads. What a great idea. To bad it has no practical application in the real world. In the heavily congested northeast corridor, considering population growth and the rising cost of fossil fuel, rail transit has a very bright future.


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