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Home / Articles / News / Letters /  “Public” Transit Won’t Pay for Itself
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“Public” Transit Won’t Pay for Itself

By City Weekly Readers
Posted // June 5,2013 -

While visiting Utah, I ran across your attack on light rail [“Money Train,” May 30, City Weekly]. I can’t comment on all your UTA-specific attacks, but the article uncritically quoted a variety of odd claims. One person stated, “Good transit projects pay for themselves.”

Wrong. Transit is a public service—like foreign wars or parks or food stamps—and few people expect those services to pay for themselves. In fact, no transit agency in the U.S. is profitable. Why? Public transit was private until government drove it out of business by building highways to suburbs (thus shifting development to places not served by transit) and using zoning to reduce density so that few people could live within walking distance of transit. As a result, private transit became unprofitable, and local government had to take over transit to prevent it from going under. Thus, the idea of privatized transit (which your article seems to endorse) is not workable.

The article blames bus-service cuts on light rail, but whenever a recession shrinks government revenue, bus service gets cut everywhere—in bus-only cities as well as rail cities. And when that happens, the same people who attack light rail usually endorse bus cuts, using the same arguments they use against rail, i.e. that it isn’t profitable or widely used enough.

MICHAEL LEWYN
Touro Law Center
Central Islip, N.Y.

 
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