By on January 15, 2010

The fix is in?

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced on Wednesday that he would re-write funding guidelines to dispense with rigid cost-benefit analysis when deciding which transit programs should receive funds. Under the previous system, because motorists provided the majority of the funding through the gas tax, money was allocated to cost-effective transit programs that promised the greatest overall reduction in traffic congestion. In remarks at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting, LaHood explained that the objective criteria will be replaced by a set of goals.

“Measuring only cost and how fast a project can move the most people the greatest distance simply misses the boat and… has slowed down transit expansion,” LaHood reflected yesterday. “In 2010, a policy that has that effect is ridiculous.”

One of the major hurdles in spending US motorist dollars on projects such as streetcars has been their extremely high cost and low usage rates. Fort Worth, Texas, for example, wants to spend $250 million on a streetcar project that is likely to serve between one and two percent of the population. With new flexibility to spend large sums to benefit a small constituency, LaHood will now be able to exert influence on electoral battleground states over the next few years.

“I’ll make sure those investments in manufacturing help our most distressed communities in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere,” LaHood said.

The administration’s move was heralded by Capitol Hill’s most prominent advocate of streetcars and bicycles, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Washington).

“In line with President Obama’s commitment to promoting livable communities, USDOT will drop a Bush-era practice that emphasized out-dated analyses focused primarily on travel-time savings for suburban commuters,” a Blumenauer statement explained.

The Federal Transit Administration now take steps to codify new regulations to reflect the updated priorities. In his Wednesday speech, LaHood also emphasized the need to increase spending across the board on transportation projects to help the economy.

“Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear,” LaHood said. “They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind. To live near work and schools and good hospitals. And to enjoy clean, green neighborhoods. Our stimulus funds are helping many communities begin to realize those dreams…. But if we’re really serious about creating livable, sustainable communities built around good transportation, then we must reform our current spending programs.”

LaHood cited the spending of $8 billion in taxpayer dollars on a new passenger rail program, expanded support for Amtrak and another $1.5 billion in discretionary TIGER grants, which are designed to support efforts such as tolling, as evidence of the administration’s willingness to spend on priority projects.

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20 Comments on “US DOT Removes Results Measurement From Transit Funding Decisions...”

  • avatar

    Raise gasoline taxes to $10/gallon and utilization rates will skyrocket.

    • 0 avatar

      Because apparently the only way to get people to use things that are inefficient for their needs is to sabotage the things that serve their needs better.
      I’m a huge fan of trains and rail, of all sorts.  But it just doesn’t make sense in the US the way they’re doing it.  I don’t know if there’s really any way passenger rail can ever be very useful in the US.  Freight?  US rail for freight is awesome.  But it’s not sexy.  It’s not showy.  It’s not something they can take visiting dignitaries to and show off, like a super fast train, or a palatial station / terminal.
      People want trains and transit… for that other guy.  They want that other guy to get off their road, to get out of their way.
      These new ‘goals’ are just a way to funnel more money to even more wasteful projects that look good.

    • 0 avatar

      Because apparently the only way to get people to use things that are inefficient for their needs is to sabotage the things that serve their needs better.
      Exactly why GM and its corporate cronies set up NCL, a front company to buy streetcar systems and convert them to buses while the government ploughed money into the largest public works project in history, the interstate highway system.

  • avatar

    I would like a better transit system where I live, but I am not sure how long it would take to implement.  I also wouldn’t want to have the transit system and not keep the current roads up to date.  It will be interesting to see how this goes.

  • avatar

    Raise gasoline taxes to $10/gallon and utilization rates will skyrocket.
    Actually, no. The depression this would cause would eliminate the need to commute to jobs that no longer exist.  You might get away with 10% of that, but the DC crapweasels wouldn’t spend the largess wisely.
    LaHood hears loud and clear that people want to leave their cars behind yet the Ft Worth proposal  assumes only one or two in one hundred people would be served. Must be some kind of politicians dogwhistle….

  • avatar
    Andy D

    20 yrs ago, the MBTA replaced its “rattlers”  with subway cars manufactured in Canada.  The  latest generation of streetcars are from Korea.  Unless Mr Lahood creates a street car   company  in the US that can under bid the Koreans,  I dont see this  changing.
    A few yrs ago , when gas hovered around 4$ a gallon, ridership on the MBTA got  to  the point that it didnt  have the rolling stock to handle rush hour demand.   Mass transit  is  a  great concept. But unless it  is heavily subsidized, it will never last.  I was told that 80%  the MBTA’s money is from  Federal subsidy.

  • avatar

    These people ought to be in prison.

    • 0 avatar

      No, tar and feathers.  The corruption/stupidity on display here literally leaves me at a loss for words.

      “Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear,” LaHood said. “They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind.”   Really??  Then why, Mr. LaHood, has this government, with your own involvement, plunged billions into the AUTO MAKERS??

      And Lord knows we don’t want solutions based on any cost-benefit analyses; that would limit the graft-tasticness way too much!!  Just shovel the money where it will buy the most votes.

      Shit.  Shit.  Shit.

    • 0 avatar

      Welcome to Chicago. This is how we do business.
      You gotta problem with this?

      Its the same shit above, somebody suggesting that even MORE taxes into this guys hands would help.
      Raise the price of gasoline so we have more money to spread around the boys.

      By the way, as a side note…this is going to happen with the healthcare plan as well.
      They will agree to whatever it takes to get the big ass program running, then EXPAND, expand, expand.
      Soon, the great new government bureaucracy has grown into adulthood.

  • avatar

    Hey Hood ornament, Rail systems are only functional to a small percentage of people in most cities.   Here are just 2 ideas to help us all now.
    1. Synchronize traffic lights
    2. Get rid of toll booths

    Both of these are huge gas wasters, and cause congestion.

  • avatar

    Please tell me you meant to run this article on 01 April.

    Or, that it was meant for the article about Russia.

    Oh well, we’ve got the best government money can buy!

  • avatar

    Minor note: Congressman Blumenauer is actually D-Oregon and represents the East side of Portland, which has lots of light rail and streetcar service and projects. He is also a big bicycle advocate.

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    +1 @, well most of you.  Not that it will do us any good.

  • avatar

    So long as gas/oil receive heavy government subsidies and free passes on pollution (not in cars, but in other uses),  further government action isn’t going to bother me that much. Let gas rise to its natural price and fund itself (pipelines, wars,  security, pollution), and I don’t think any of this would be necessary.

  • avatar
    Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

    Thank you akatsuki.  I don’t understand how people on this site and elsewhere get up in arms over this crying foul over government interference and skewing the market towards mass transit.  The government since the end of WWII has skewed America towards complete reliance on the automobile.  They built and maintain the highways and continue to subsidize gasoline to make it affordable to the average consumer.  It strongly skews the market towards personal automobiles and it’s a double standard that much of the commenters on this site support and enjoy that type of government interference but an attempt to create a more balanced transportation plan is slagged for being unfair and communistic and crooked.  The transportation system we have was built by being crooked.
    I live in Chicago and ride my bike or take the train to work, and if there were more train lines and improved tech on the existing lines, ridership would definitely increase.  Congestion would decrease due to more use of mass transit and transit funding would begin to stand on its own with the increase in ridership.  I cannot fathom why so many people, especially car enthusiasts, would have a problem with balance in the transportation market place.
    Mass transit has taken a back seat because of government interference and there’s a backlog of money due to the other half of personal transit, and I think this is a good thing to divert money where it makes sense rather than throw it at the worst problems.  Living in Chicago and being a transportation engineer, I can tell you absolutely that there is no amount of expansion and money that can allow millions of cars to flow in, out and through Chicago without congestion, and even if there were some absurd expense that could, would it be worth it?

    • 0 avatar

      Nobody on this sight is against transit systems.

      Most enlightened are against government run programs, although there are a few that endorse these.
      But to think that government has a clue even after you yourself use its earlier failed attempts to control society’s direction and patterns is goofy.

      The failed Amtrac program is an example to the world.  It’s drowning under its own employee wage and healthcare.

      To counter your point about there being no way to fix the Chicago expressway congestion, just get off your bike or take a train to Los Angeles.  Why is it there, in earthquake city, are there double layer highways?
      Would it not be possible to have another layer here as well?
      Yes, I am from Chicago.  And this guy and all our politicians are skimming the needed funds. 

      The truth, corruption destroys the Illinois economy and is more the reason behind the hideous highways in my state.
      And the leader until his promotion is the jerk Hood above

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    “Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear,” LaHood said. “They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind. To live near work and schools and good hospitals. And to enjoy clean, green neighborhoods.

    This is typical unmitigate political bullshit.  Ask 100 people if they would rather live in a clean, green neighborhood or a dirty, brown one.  A quick and easy answer for all.  Ask them if they’d rather live close to a good hospital or have to go a long distance to go to a lousy one.  No brainer.  Ask the same 100 people if they would rather have and use a car or depend on public transportation, and secondary questions will have to be asked – like what are the associated costs, and so on.  And, I’d wager that most of them would be willing to pay a little more for the convenience of being able to travel where and when they want.  That message is FAR from loud and clear.

  • avatar

    For me, a livable community is one with single family detached houses well separated from one another and the flexibility of the private automobile to get wherever I want on my own schedule. Being crowded cheek by jowl with neighbors, spending hours riding public transportation or enduring heat, cold, rain and snow on foot or a bicycle is the opposite of livable. Yet, that’s what LaHood and his ilk want for us.

  • avatar

    Unlike most people on this site, I commute to work by rail and subway.  I have four cars, so I hardly am the rah-rah train guy, but the reality is that my three hour round trip each day would take longer by car and would cost more than the $360 monthly rail pass.  However, I live in the ideal situation for rail – suburbs laid out neatly in a line from a major city.  It is really difficult to make money in transit, so subsidies are pretty much inevitable but why is that such a bad thing, provided the transit system is run in an efficient manner?   The simple fact is that automobile transit has been subsidized for years, often at the expense of transit.  You really don’t think the price of gas really reflects the true cost of discovery, refining, delivery, national security and health issues related to burning it do you?
    Transit itself in no panacea however.  A train missed by five minutes often means getting home a half hour later.  Couple that with loud obnoxious people, cell phones, blaring iPods and it’s no wonder people rather drive.  And starting February, I will be off the train and on the road as my new position comes with a car…don’t know if that is a good thing or not.

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