Friday, October 08, 2010

Spend more, get less

Here is a post by Wendell Cox that calls attention to the rise of working-at-home, as reported by the 2009 American Community Survey.

Alan Pisarski reviews the Census commuting data back to 1980. Commuting-at-home was 2.3 percent of the U.S. workforce in 1980 and 3 percent in 1990. We now know that it was 4.3 percent in 2009. This probably understates the impact of telecommuting, whereby many of us are neither strictly work-at-home, nor just work-at-workplace.

The Cox post compares transit use to work-at-home 2000-2009 trends for 52 of the nation's largest metro areas. In 37 of these, the work-at-home proportion exceeded the proportion using transit. The differences were negligible in six metro areas. Guess which way the wind is blowing?

Paul Krugman has a series of recent blogs that try to make the case for more rail transit spending. He mentions that auto use is subsidized, so why not transit? In fact, the highway trust fund subsidizes transit use and has for many years. Ron Utt documents all this here.Krugman also writes that public transit is a good investment because it takes cars of the roads.

But here is a post that mentions recent research by Paige Elise Kolisar and myself that does rail transit cost-benefit which accounts for the externality benefits of new-to-transit riders. Even then, losses per round-trip were in the range of $17 (weighted average of six post-WW-II heavy rail systems) to $40 (weighted average of eight post-WW-II commuter rail systems).

U.S. transit subsidies in 2006 exceeded $35 billion in 2006, up from $10 billion in 1978. In that period, transit market share (passenger-miles) fell, from about 3 percent to about just over 1.5 percent. Correlations do not denote causation, we all know. So we have to dismiss the thought that all that spending caused the decline.