Taxes Subsidize 6.9m Mass Transit Riders; Most Poor People Drive to Work

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by The Newspaper

Despite the billions in federal and state taxpayer dollars poured into mass transit programs, only 6,908,323 working Americans take advantage of the subsidized service, according to US Census Bureau data released yesterday. The agency’s American Community Survey, a questionnaire mailed to three million households, found that 121,248,284 workers over the age of 16 regularly commuted to work by personal automobile or carpool last year. Despite the comparatively small number served by buses, subways and rail, the Obama Administration has made expanding mass transit a top priority. “President Obama’s vision of robust, high-speed rail service offers Americans the kind of travel options that throughout our history have contributed to economic growth and enhanced quality of life,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in April. “We simply can’t build the economy of the future on the transportation networks of the past.”

The stimulus bill poured $8 billion into the president’s proposed expansion of rail. Another $8.4 billion in taxpayer funds have been directed to “stimulate” mass transit on top of the existing federal money set aside for such programs. The president’s 2010 budget sought $42 billion for highway spending compared to $10.3 billion for mass transit programs that serve just five percent of the working public. The president strongly defended his priorities.

“Investing in mass transit and high-speed rail, for example, doesn’t just make our downtowns more livable; it helps our regional economies grow,” Obama explained in a July speech at an urban policy roundtable. “So you take an example like… Kansas City. One idea there focuses on transforming a low-income community into a national model of sustainability by weatherizing homes and building a green local transit system.”

The combined federal spending on transit this year represents a $2300 subsidy for each passenger, not including local and state funds devoted to such programs. Taxes on motorists, including a direct 2.9 cent per gallon federal levy on gasoline, are the primary source of funds for subway, bus and rail systems.

The census survey also showed that greater numbers of the working poor used cars and carpools to get to work than transit. A total of 17 percent of transit users reported incomes over $75,000 per year in income while only 10.6 percent fell below the poverty line.

A copy of the census results can be found in a 1.5mb PDF file at the source link below.

Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics (US Census Bureau, 10/27/2009)

[courtesy of]

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  • Criminalenterprise Criminalenterprise on Oct 29, 2009

    geeber: When heading into Philly, I take the train, which takes slightly longer and is surely more expensive (for me) just to avoid the Sure-Kill. It's typically worse than L.A. traffic. Going to D.C. can be silly. The beltway routes are more jammed shut than downtown, and using the Interstates that take you within blocks of the White House is faster than fighting the daily suburban transhumance. I'm happy to pay for mass transit systems. It frees up the roads and gives me some options (some times). If we're worried about highway maintenance we need to have a different conversation, one about heavy multi-axle trucks, since they are responsible for nearly all surface wear.

  • Tenmiler Tenmiler on Oct 30, 2009

    @FreedMike, My only beef with your otherwise dead-on post is your city size estimates. Seattle isn't "twice the size" of Denver. ;) Good post. And for the guy who says Fed money isn't used for highways outside of the stimulus, you'd be wrong.

  • Ajla I've owned one 4.5L (Allante) and one N* (Seville). In Allante tune (200hp/270lb ft) the 4.5L feels decent, but I don't know how it would have held up to the competition. The N* is perfectly lovely until it breaks. GM adding a 5th gear to the 4T80 around 2004 would have been nice though.I'm a little surprised that adding a turbo or supercharger to the 4.5/4.9 wasn't considered when other GM divisions were utilizing forced induction in a largely successful fashion.As I'm sure most of us know, adding DOHC heads to an OHV design is something GM eventually did anyway with the 3.4L and although reasonably powerful it was a bigger maintenance and reliability nightmare even than the eventually N*. I'm also interested if the N* has any development overlap with the Quad4 or if it was totally separate.
  • Bd2 Excellent article as always Corey. Looking forward to this series and your style of verbiage.
  • YellowDuck Really surprised it's only 1/3. Lack of Android Auto would be a dealbreaker for me. At this point I might even say it needs to be wireless. I can't believe any manufacturer would still be trying to sell built in nav as like a $1500 option. Must sell it to people with flip phones.
  • Mike Beranek Great subject for a multi-part piece. There's a lovely DTS for sale near my work... does anyone have a year that the Northstar becomes buyable? I've heard both 2005 and 2007.
  • Parkave231 Looking forward to this deep dive, Corey. My '02 Deville was right on the cusp of when they "fixed" the head bolt issues, but I really don't know if mine was one of the improved ones. Still, it never gave me problems during ownership, aside from the stupid intake plenum duct issue, which was the one time I'll admit I bit off a little more than I could chew.Smooth engine, decent low-end torque for an OHC engine, and whisper quiet. I got great gas mileage out of it too. But how could GM ever screw up head issues on two V8s in a row?