Were Tammany's Critics Anti-New York?
The New APTA-Weyrich-Lind Paper

Twelve Anti-Transit Myths: A Conservative Critique, by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind attempts to refute arguments made in opposition to overly expensive urban rail projects. The paper, sponsored by the business members (vendors) of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) responds to what it characterizes as the "anti-transit troubadours," which include Wendell Cox (and the The Public Purpose), The Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, Randal O'Toole, the US Department of Transportation, Don Pickrell, Tom Rubin, Clifford Winston, John Charles, the Reason Public Policy Foundation, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Goldwater Institute, Harvard University, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Sutherlin Institute, Sam Staley, John Semmons, the Cascade Policy Institute, the Buckeye Institute and others. One certainly finds one's self in auspicious company! The frivolously styled and sometimes taunting piece provides little in "on-point" refutation to the criticisms it cites.

Were Tammany's Critics Anti-New York?" (this statement) examines the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper's discussion of some issues raised by Wendell Cox and The Public Purpose. The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper does not provide on-point refutation of any point raised by Wendell Cox or The Public Purpose. Instead, the paper "changes the subject" or makes inferences that The Public Purpose has taken positions that it has not. Thus, it is not necessary to respond in detail. A few points will convey the sense and extent to which the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper fails to refute the critics.

Were Tammany's Critic's Anti-New York? Getting the Labels Right

The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper broadly characterizes critics of high cost urban rail projects as "anti-transit troubadours." This could not be further from the truth.

Who Are the Transit Advocates? The test of transit advocacy is not the support of excessively expensive strategies, it is rather support of measures that increase public transit service levels and ridership. On that score, the "troubadours" are more pro-transit than those who lead and those who sell their products to transit. Generally, the "troubadours" are reformers who support transit strategies that would increase service levels and ridership. For example, rapid bus systems and competitive contracting have been proven to be superior strategies with respect to effectiveness and cost efficiency. Implementation of such strategies, favored by most of the reformers, would increase transit service levels and ridership. Favoring more transit and more transit ridership is pro-transit, not anti-transit.

Public Transit: Hijacked by Special Interests: Regrettably, much of the transit industry is subject to control by special interests that benefit from higher than necessary transit costs (transit unions, management whose compensation depends on higher budgets and larger staff sizes and companies that plan and build expensive rail lines). This reflects what Mancur Olson characterized as the incentives to "take" being stronger than the incentives to "make," (Power and Prosperity, 2000). This occurs when an institution, such as transit, serves its internal interests first, and those of its customers or clients second. Such behavior can be sustained in the long run only if the organization is a monopoly (government or statutory monopoly), shielded the competitive influences that would otherwise require sound strategies and fiscal discipline. Unlike the reformers, the transit "powers that be" are wedded to extravagant strategies that preclude the substantial service expansions and ridership increases that could be achieved within the constraints of current resources. In that regard, it is transit leadership that is anti-transit. Indeed, future historians could well conclude that transit had been run by its enemies during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The Reformers: Pro-Mobility and Pro-Access: Finally, the reformers are generally not anti-rail, they are pro-access and pro-mobility. They propose strategies that would provide higher levels of mobility and access throughout urban areas, without regard to the mode of travel. For example, The Public Purpose supports urban rail where it is appropriate. This is illustrated by an op-ed by Wendell Cox published the Apple Daily supporting the proposed expansion of Hong Kong's rail system (the Apple Daily is Hong Kong's second largest newspaper). The Public Purpose favors the most effective and cost efficient transportation strategies, rail or otherwise.

Transit and Tammany: Institutional Objectives Conflicting with Public Objectives: For the transit industry to characterize the reformers as anti-transit is akin to the Tammany Hall political machine characterizing the late 19th century reform movement as anti-New York (which it did). Tammany's interests were often at odds with those of New York's people. Similarly, the transit industry's interests are at odds with those of the riders and taxpayers on very fundamental issues.

Changing the Subject: Market Share is Not Ridership

Five quotations are provided on transit ridership trends, including that of Wendell Cox (page 6):

    From 1983 to 1997, public transit's market share has [dropped] 17 percent in new rail urbanized areas." Transit market share dropped in all urban areas that built new rail systems except San Diego…

The Challenge: To refute the declining market share point, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper would have to show that from 1983 to 1997, transit market share was increasing in the new rail cities. The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper provides no such evidence, because there is none. The argument by Wendell Cox is thus not contradicted by the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper.

Logical Fallacy #1: Changing the Subject: Instead the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper changes the subject. While claiming that the quotations are wrong "on every point," the two page refutation that follows does not even mention the term "market share." Instead, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper talks of rising ridership from a recent base. Ridership and market share are different concepts and terms. Transit "market share" measures the percentage of urban travel that occurs on transit. When market share is increasing, transit is becoming comparatively more important as a mode of travel, When market share is decreasing, transit is becoming less important. It is possible for ridership to increase and for market share to fall at the same time. This occurs when the increase in transit ridership is at a lower rate than the increase in other forms of travel. This is what has happened in recent years. From 1990 to 1999, transit ridership rose 11.4 percent. At the same time urban personal vehicle use (automobile, SUV and personal truck) increased more that twice as much, at 24.0 percent. The result is that public transit's market share dropped 10.0 percent, from 2.05 percent to 1.84 percent. During the 1990s, public transit captured just 0.98 percent of new urban travel, less than one-half its market share at the beginning of the decade.

Year Estimated Urban Personal Vehicle Passenger Miles Public Transport Passenger Miles Public Transport Market Share
1990 1,966.4 41.1 2.05%
1999 2,438.8 45.8 1.84%
Change 24.0% 11.4% -10.00%
New Travel: 1990-1999 472.4 4.7 0.98%
Data in Billions of Passenger Miles.
Estimated from data in National Transportation Statistics, FHWA Highway Statistics and American Public Transportation Association.
Latest data as of 2001.08.04

Inaccurate Characterization: When Leasing Jaguars Costs Less than Taking the Train

The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper criticizes (page 37) what has become one of the most quoted and effective criticisms of extravagant rail projects, quoting Wendell Cox (and others):

    Finally, light rail is expensive. With respect to virtually all new systems, it would have been less expensive to lease each new commuter a car in perpetuity --- in some cases, a luxury car, such as a Jaguar XJ8 or a BMW 740i.

The Challenge: To refute this argument, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper would need to show that it would not be more expensive to lease each new commuter a car in perpetuity. No such evidence is provided. Indeed, as is shown below, project planning reports routinely report annual costs per new commuter that are higher than the annual cost of leasing a new car.

Logical Fallacy #2: Inaccurate Characterization: Instead, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper inaccurately characterizes the Jaguar Argument in the quote by Wendell Cox

  • The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper attempts to refute the argument by multiplying the purchase price of a luxury car by the total number of people who ride transit in the nation. The quotation does not suggest buying a new car for each transit rider it refers to leasing a new car for each new rail commuter.. These are not the same thing.

  • The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper attacks the Jaguar Argument by claiming that the cars would have to be replaced during the life of the light rail system. The basis of this statement is the assumption that the Jaguar Argument refers to a one-time acquisition of a car for each new commuter. This interpretation is at odds with the very quotation cited in the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper (shown above), which indicates that a new car could be leased in perpetuity, and would therefore be routinely replaced within the cost constraints suggested.

The Jaguar: Symbolizing Public Policy Absurdity: Out of keeping with its frivolous style, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper falls into the trap of considering the Jaguar Argument as a serious policy proposal. It is not. The Jaguar Argument is used to demonstrate the absurdity of spending so much money to attract a new commuter to light rail. Neither the nation, nor any urban area can afford to solve its traffic congestion problems at such a high cost. Such extravagant policies are simply not sustainable and can only benefit very small numbers of people in limited transportation corridors, which before light rail had better transit service than most others. There are much more cost effective transportation strategies.

The Jaguar Argument: Straight From the Light Rail Reports: In fact, light rail planning reports have shown over and over again that the cost per new commuter would exceed the cost of leasing each new commuter a new car in perpetuity. The annual cost of light rail systems per new passenger, as indicated in these reports, is high enough to lease a car for each new rider who commutes to work every day on light rail. For example, Denver's Southeast light rail line, now under construction, is projected to have a cost per new rider of $18.40. For a new rider who commutes both ways to work every day, this calculates to $8,280.00, $264.00 more than the annual cost of leasing a new Lexus 400 (a $55,000 car).

Cost per New Trip (1997$) $18.40
Annual Cost per New Commuter (450 one-way trips) $8,280.00
Lexus 400 Annual Lease Cost $8,016.00
Denver data from 2000 Federal New Starts Report
Lease data: 1999 quote from linebeck.com for a new Lexus 400.

Light Rail and Jaguars for the Few: The Jaguar Argument stands because so few new riders are attracted to light rail. For example, in Houston, approximately 20 million trips are taken by car and transit every day. Of that, less than two percent are by transit (300,000). Using some of the most aggressive planning assumptions in transit history, Houston Metro's now under construction light rail line is projected to attract barely 8,000 new trips per day, or 0.04 percent of daily travel (one out of every 2,500 trips). Light rail (like the symbolic Jaguar) can only be provided for an elite few, because of its great expense. In Houston, the other 99.96 percent of trips will simply not be served.

Not Checking Sources: You Can't Believe Everything You Read in the Paper

The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper also relies on secondary sources.

Logical Fallacy #3: Not Checking the Sources: For example, the APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper cites an Atlanta Constitution editorial in describing proposals (page 61) made by Wendell Cox in a Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPFF) study. The Constitution had both misreported and oversimplified the GPPF proposals. The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper could have averted this error by directly consulting the GPPF study, which has been available on the Internet for more than one year. Moreover, it is significant that the other metropolitan daily, the Atlanta Journal has supported the GPPF study and findings in a number of editorials over the past year.

Assessment: No On-Point Refutation

The APTA-Weyrich-Lind paper fails to refute a single point cited from either The Public Purpose or Wendell Cox.

06 August 2001

(c) 2001 www.publicpurpose.com --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
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