Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Why DO conservatives hate trains?

Found while looking up something else: An interesting piece in Slate.com, "Why do conservatives hate trains so much?"

Writer David Weigel dissects the opposition and notes it's more libertarian than conservative (other than a delusional George Will line about trains – "...the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism." Whoa, George, you might wanna dial back the paranoia a tad.)

Libertarians, Weigel notes, don't have a problem with transportation. What they and some Republicans have a problem with is federal spending on transportation. But then, the article goes on to note, "Amtrak passengers pay more of the cost of their transportation than do drivers on the interstate. About 62 percent of Amtrak's operating expenses, according to the Department of Transportation, comes from fares. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the percentage of highway spending paid for by users—in the form of gas taxes and tolls—is headed below 50 percent."

Weigel goes on to quote other reasons some conservatives don't like rail transit, although little of what he reports as their reasons square with the reality that highways are just as expensive, just as prone to go over budget, just as heavily subsidized.

Ultimately, in my opinion (and Weigel gets at some of this) conservatives don't like rail because liberals do. Some people will do anything in order not to be in the same camp with people whose beliefs they disdain. This is not limited to politics, of course, and seems to be a general part of human nature. Have you ever been around UNC and Duke basketball fans? They make liberal-conservative spats look tame.

37 comments:

tarhoosier said...

Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs are way more destructive than our comparatively tame disputes. Ethnic cleansing, mass murder, Human rights violations; Mary are you sure your comparison to university competition does not diminish this horrible abuse and degradation of humanity? Please reconsider your prose.
Your point is stunted by your hyperbole.

Mary Newsom said...

That's an excellent point, tarhoosier, and I have deleted that reference.

As someone who spent years helping edit other journalists' writing, I can say with certainty that EVERYONE needs an editor. Thanks for serving as one for me today.

Anonymous said...

We hate trains b/c they are vast chasms where money ceases to stop flowing. Usage is laughable by comparison to highways and WE WANT i485 finished before another dime is wasted on light rail or any other "brilliant" mass transit idea.

Anonymous said...

I don't hate trains. But if I have limited funds, I spend it on necessities first. The government is $14 trillion in debt, yet states and local govs are always looking to the feds to fund their nonessential wants. Our govs have acted irresponsibly for a long, long time, acting as though their wants can always be met by an unlimited money supply-tax dollars-someone else's money. There's never, never "ENOUGH" for them. That's why locally we spend 1 of every 5 tax dollars on debt service. So, be clear, we don't hate trains, but on one hand, schools are talking again today about cutting 590 more teachers-and you're wondering why conservatives hate trains. Take the total population of this county and country- how many of these citizens actually ride trains. Very few.

Henry H. Lafferty, AIA, CNU-A, LEED AP said...

First, I am not sure why the "conservative" response frequently seems to be posted anonymously. I also wonder how someone can respond in the 1st person plural (we) speaking for all conservatives, since not all people who consider themselves conservative are in agreement with regard to issues like abortion, gay rights, or gun control.

It should be noted that the frequent response by "conservatives" usually points to cost or frequency of use. To suggest that trains are not viable because no one rides them is a specious argument - we are living with 50 plus years of urban design that has created cities that do not support transit. If we rectify those mistakes, then it is my assertion that people would ride trains.

In terms of expense, the same people who argue that rail should not be subsidized by taxes drive their cars and trucks on one of the greatest public works project in the history of the world. In order of magnitude, the pyramids, the great wall, and the Roman roads are Lilliputian compared to the interstate highway system in the United States. Not only that, but we are actually not really paying the true cost of a road and highway system that promotes sprawl and ever increasing automobile use. Hidden costs include air pollution and its delterious effect on health; acid rain and greenhouse gasses to name just a few.

The same "conservatives" who hate trains, are wearing blinders when it comes to the true cost of the roads that they advocate for.

It is my observation that there is a push-back by many who call themselves "conservative" when the discussion moves toward subjects like "community", smart growth, sustainability, mixed use, and yes, trains - in short areas that require cooperation, mutual respect, and some degree of behavioral change. Too bad, because now, 4 1/2 years later, we are hearing a repeat of the whining about high fuel prices at the pump. In 4 1/2 years we have had an opportunity to change our behavior and our living circumstances. And yes, TRAINS, can go a long way towards reducing our dependence on the automobile. But that does mean that we have to stand or sit next to someone we may not know, like, approve of or agree with and engage with them as another human being instead of a label like "homeless", "gay", or god forbid, "liberal" or "conservative".

Anonymous said...

How often do you ride public transportation Mary? No offense public transportation sucks. You can't even bring your coffee on the light rail.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the comments regarding highway spending. You say that actual users are heading towards paying below 50 percent. What about all the people who benefit from the cargo carried by trucks on the highways. Aren't all taxpayers, even those who never use a car, getting benefits from highways that allow necessary goods to be transported throughout the country?

Cato said...

Sort-of libertarian Megan McArdle of the Atlantic has an interesting response - to Weigel, not Mary. Also a pretty good refutation of the percentage-paid-for-by-users argument.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/03/why-do-conservatives-hate-trains/72242/

Anonymous said...

Why do liberals hate people keeping their money so the liberals can't waste it?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps some conservatives are forcefully objecting to trains because so many who support the development of light rail couch their pro-train arguments around criticism of the highway system and then often manage to slam those who aren't living the "urban lifestyle". When I read an article that states highway users aren't paying their fair share for highway maintenance and development, with nary a mention of all of the goods (which we all use) being transported on those highways I have to wonder about the common sense of the author of the article. Are they so agenda driven that they are unwilling (or too lazy) to do careful analysis? I also wonder if they have read today's article about rising costs for CATS and the Lynx. What a surprise!

Jack said...

Mary, let me ask a similar question: “Why do liberals hate regional libraries”?

In your Viewpoint column in today’s Observer you took the library task force to task for recommending that the focus be on larger, regional libraries that can offer more services, better collections and – gasp! – ultimately save tax dollars. That of course logically translates into closing redundant, smaller libraries – something that liberals just can’t fathom. They love to spend other people’s money on good intentions and bad ideas.

Like you, I too would love to have a library in my own back yard - at taxpayer expense – that I could walk to each day, just like I did as a kid. Libraries are good and good for you! I figure it we put it up for a vote, no doubt we’d end up with about 1,500 tiny libraries dispersed throughout the county, requiring an outlandish tax budget to cover redundant operating costs such as electricity, staff, collections, maintenance, etc.

The point that you and other liberal thinkers have missed is that the regional library concept is nothing new. It was instituted here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the 1990s with the building of the much larger Morrison, South, North and other regional libraries. The idea at the time was that many smaller branches such as Cornelius, Myers Park, and Carmel – all of which are close to the existing regionals – could be closed to take advantage of scale of economy.

But politics and liberal thinkers who believe money grows on trees quickly put an end to that logic. Guess how many of the libraries that the regionals were to supercede actually closed? Nada! What a waste of taxpayer money to institute a great plan and then have our “tunnel vision” government back away from it. It has taken almost 20 years for the plan to finally come to fruition, and only then because of dire economic straits. Had the plan been followed earlier, the library system could have avoided the staff reductions and restrictions they put into place last year, because the regional system would have already absorbed staff and others allowed to be gradually shifted elsewhere.

It amazes me that we long ago consolidated our one-room schoolhouses into “regional” campuses to save money, but when it comes to doing the same with libraries – oh my gosh, the sky is falling!

Next time you are at one of the tiny branches, go to the big dictionary and look up the word "regional". Then ask yourself why are they called regional if they are not allowed to serve a region because it is still occupied by redundant branches.

Henry H. Lafferty, AIA, CNU-A, LEED AP said...

We are quick to point out costs associated with Trucking vs. Train transportation. If we are really interested in this issue and not just in having a political discussion, I suggest reading a report published in January 2011 by the GAO: A Report to the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives
SURFACE FREIGHT TRANSPORTATION
A Comparison of the Costs of Road, Rail, and Waterways Freight Shipments That Are Not Passed on to Consumers.

JAT said...

Yippee.

DolleyMadison said...

If your food budget is cut in half you don't quit buying fruit and vegetables. You quit buying ice cream and chips, and buy the store brand toilet paper. But the smart folks who run government refuse to give up their ice cream - trains - and instead go after our bread and butter - our teachers, libraries, etc. I LOVE trains. But we need to look at priorities.

Stephen Parrish said...

Mr. Lafferty, nice array of titles. The appeal to authority is quite daunting.

The smart people with titles doing urban design over the last 50 years have produced an environment in which people don't want to live in the worlds the planners created!

We continue to vote through freedom of movement against the results of your plans here at the end of 50 years, nor are we interested in your plans for the next 50.

Because in your planning and your correction of the last 50 years will be coercion and control.

Therein lies the road to war, because I refuse to allow the planners voices to speak for me.

Our elite and credentialed authorities don't understand wealth or how it's created.

We need to stop the spending and lift the shackles off of business and innovation. Otherwise we'll eventually eat over half of our seed corn...

Money pulled from the private sector and sunk into trains will not wealth create but destroy.

I agree with Will, and said before he did that liberals love trains. You can check for papers at the beginning and end of every trip.

Tom Brasse said...

You know, I have a lot of friends that oppose any spending on the light rail. I have a lot of family in Maryland and a couple of them use the rail system there to commute. I have ridden it on occasion during family trips up there and have found it to be a great way to get around and avoid sitting in traffic. I think we (CLT) will have to use more mass-transit as we grow and it would be foolish to rule any of the potential options out (maybe the trolley). It seems logical that rail would be a very good option for us and that the main arterial routes into the City should be served, eventually. Part of the issue some have with the light rail is the way it was funded and the seemingly foolish execution on the existing section. If you're going to push it through, why would you termintate it short of the biggest problem on the southern end of the County? Capture the Ballentyne crowd! Imagine the ridership if that line terminated at Rea Road, or even US 521 and ran to uptown. If we are going to oppose under-funded roadways, lets not push through a local road plan that greatly increases the street network for cars. Let's make that network for bikes and pedestrians and allow the streets to terminate in cul-de-sacs with walking and bike paths to connect blocks. It seems we miss opportunities to provide the value in choices other than hopping in the Bimmer. We add asphalt & infrastructure costs, lose density and increase the cost of our housing stock. Not only that, we increase the future maintenance responsibilities that the taxpayers have to foot for all of that asphalt, concrete and infrastructure. More per house, period.
I love trains, but we seems to shoot ourselves in the foot when executing a plan here locally, and it sure isn't because we are lacking staff in the planning department.

Henry H. Lafferty, AIA, CNU-A, LEED AP said...

The creation of wealth is and has been traditionally from manufacturing, agriculture and mining. Wealth creation has very little to do with trains (the topic of this discussion), taxation, the financial industry, entertainment, or website design.

But it has everything to do with taking a longer view to innovation than the short-term "bottom-line" thinking that characterizes business and public discourse today.

Coupled with ad hominen attacks and putdowns simply because we disagree with someone will not lead to solutions for the challenges we are currently facing.

Paul Black said...

http://streetsblog.net/2011/01/25/republican-opposition-to-transit-a-geographic-explanation/

Anonymous said...

"Wealth creation has very little to do with trains (the topic of this discussion), taxation, the financial industry, entertainment, or website design."

Excuse me sir , but wealth creation has everything to do with regulation and taxation. If it costs more to produce and government takes more from my profits I have less wealth. May I recommend reading Hanry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson.

Stephen Parrish said...

Sir, the train is not evaluated in a vacuum. It must stand in competition with shrinking sources of capital.

I contend that the expansion of the regulatory state has increased the cost of business to the extent that business is much harder to do here (and thus easier to do elsewhere). Misallocating capital, malinvestment by the State in pet projects is a net loser. Perhaps we'll have the luxury of thinking about trains again in the distant future. Right now, we must kick-start the egg laying goose.

Anonymous said...

While you're out reading The Slate and other left-leaning outlets - take the time to read your own papaer.

Only 3 years old and maintenance costs are skyrocketing? http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/03/10/2125754/blue-lynx-costs-expected-to-rise.html

Every cost estimate, every ridership estimate, and every economic benefit estimate has been WRONG!

stephen parrish said...

It would be interesting to catalog all of the things Charlotte govco has invested in-- the hype vs. the reality.

The low hanging fruit are obviously the whitewater center's log flume ride, the NASCAR HOF, I guess we could throw in City Faire, the cost of the choo choo.

That would be a real nice article by a paper that challenges the prevailing government leaders and city hypesters. Need to find a paper that would do that...

Jack said...

"...the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

I guess then we conservatives should also be against air travel, because the collectivism of gathering 200 or so people onto an airplane with the goal of transporting them efficiently, speedily and cost effectively must be downright communism. In the past 30 years, the federal government has spent $30 billion on Amtrak. But it has spent $1.89 trillion on air and highway modes of travel, according to the New York Times and Washington Post.

Mr. Weigel obviously thinks individualism is some sort of mythical God-given right for human beings to be wastrels. Since Ike started the interstate system in the 1950s, government has encouraged individuals to hop into automobiles and drive, drive, drive – usually solo – wasting fossil fuel, creating unnecessary pollution, and even destroying field and forest as we are continually encouraged to sprawl.

Mr. Weigel thinks this is laudable individualism. This conservative thinks it’s a misallocation of taxpayer money. We’ve created more economic and health problems by subsidizing automobiles, and we haven’t yet experienced the worst unless something changes.

As a conservative, I believe that if we insist on continuing to be poor stewards – if we believe that is our individual right – then we at least need to immediately reduce air and road subsidization. That reduced spending will certainly keep tea partiers happy.

Otherwise, we need to put our tax money where we “collectively” get the biggest overall benefit. If that be on trains, so be it. If that be on buying a fleet of super-sized helicopters from a good old American company and ferrying Union Countians to and from uptown jobs, so be it – because 250 people per ‘copter in these parts means 250 less cars on the road.

Sixty years ago Dick Tracy started wearing a TV/Radio wristband. We all thought that was laughable science fiction. Now we have cell phones that do even more. Sixty years from now our great-grandkids will wonder why we just didn’t transport people in the early 21st century using electronic beams a la Star Trek. In the meantime, we owe it to them to start making some wise decisions.

Anonymous said...

Because blacks people are allowed to ride on them.

Come on Mary. Be brave. Share the truth.

Not yours, but what a lot of people believe.

They-don't-want-to-sit-next-to-people-who-are-different. Especially if they're black.

For all the people who have this opinion, how's that soon to be $4 a gallon gas working for you?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that options are good. We should neither focus on highways nor on trains, and instead put our energy into a system that works well using both methods of transportation.

Take Independence for example, it has been said that light rail along that corridor would do little to affect traffic congestion. Therefore we don't use trains in that particular location. Using trains to connect JC Smith and UNCC (and maybe even Davidson College one day) to uptown seems to be a great idea. Car-less students who may want to spend money in uptown don't have easy access to the city. Let's create a way for those students to come into Uptown and spend some money: Trains. As a former student at one of those institutions, I would have spent tons of money in local businesses if I didn't have to have the 15 dollar hassle of filling up on gas and finding parking. Those 15 dollars could have been spent in a local bar, or at the symphony, or at a Charlotte sporting event.

Let's use rail where it works best, and highways where they work best!

Choo-Choo said...

Trains and Regional Libraries are a lot alike. They are ironically economic because – unlike cars, roads and branch libraries – you can’t and don’t try to put them everywhere. The less we have, the more we save. And that savings isn’t just monetary.

It was big government that caused - through highway subsidization - suburban sprawl. In a sense its ‘progressive” policy dictated where Americans would live. But no way is suburban sprawl good in this day and age of rising fuel prices that impact just about everything we buy. One man’s insistence on wasting 15-30 gallons of petro a week to drive in a car on his lonesome also drives up the cost of food and other products relied upon by another man. You need petro to make, grow and deliver just about everything.

Therefore it’s time big government changed to a more conservative transportation policy to encourage Americans – private citizens as well as businesses – to locate nearer our mass public transportation systems. To speed up the process, switch support dollars away from new highway projects and costly air travel subsidies and into new strategically placed rail lines.

Anonymous said...

Most conservatives ahte trains because most conservatives hate cities period. It means they have to stand near and associate with people that don't look like them or act like them. the more they can isolat themselves in the country, a gated cul-de-sac subdivision, or in their own car, with the rest of us subsidizing their lifestyle, the better. But heaven forbid they have to be shuttled from one place to another interactiong with the rest of the community thet they'd rather choose to ignore.

Larry said...

I don't know whether Ms. Newsom is one of those who decries conservatives' lack of civility, but this piece is a perfect example of the liberals' behavior that produces conservative incivility. She begins with a fact not in evidence -- liberals hate trains -- and concludes with a defamatory remark about conservatives' motivations. In the end, her comments are little more than the unsupported assertion of a nonfact followed by an ad hominem wise crack.

Since I rather like riding on trains, since I am politically conservative and since I don't mind agreeing with anyone who makes sense, how am I supposed to react? I would trade incivility for incivility, but I learned in graduate school that we get nowhere by attacking the person but only by attacking the evidence and logic of the argument.

Of course, Ms. Newsom gives us no logic and not much evidence to attack. (The numbers she presents strike me as beside the point, and I couldn't find a clear reference to the proportion of Amtrak funding from subsidies.) If she would like to write a piece setting forth the case for subsidizing rail transportation, and refraining from personal swipes, perhaps we could have a sensible discussion of the economics of rail. Until then, all she's going to produce in me is an urge to incivility.

gr8lksmom said...

As a newbe to Charlotte from the Midwest. There is something that really jumps out at you...this city is not navigable without a car!! I think City planners and Leaders have FAILED in making Charlotte a truly world-class city. Do not put another dime in Rail. I am a LIBERAL and a DEMOCRAT. I do believe in the power of feet. Charlotte's sidewalks are a DISGRACE, they are too narrow, too close to the road and they do not transom the city. Many issues come up as we discuss transportation. Some of the more recent discussions have been on the budget of Charlotte school system (CMS). CMS could greatly reduce transportation costs IF City planners THOUGHT to make the city more "walkable" when they were 'planning' all the new, purty neighborhoods. Its a mess, the subdivisions are narrow circles with one way in and one way out, they don't link to other "subdivisions", they're surrounded by BUSY roads... What needs to happen is a SERIOUS discussion on taking out the barriers to open up our neighborhoods and any future planning needs to include sidwalks, bikelanes and safe crosswalks for all.

Anonymous said...

Conservatives do not hate trains. They hate all tax payers having to subsidize something for a select few. The cost of the fares should cover all of the expenses for the trains. In the case of Amtrak, they should raise their fares to cover the remaining 38% of their expenses. I have never used Amtrak and do not plan on using it. Why should I be forced to subsidize it so others can have a cheaper cost to use it?

Anonymous said...

"Conservatives do not hate trains. They hate all tax payers having to subsidize something for a select few."

That is simply not true. If it were, conservatives would be opposed to the insane amounts of money we spend on our highway system, most of which does NOT come from gas taxes.

And it goes beyond just the money. THe more highways we build, the more flood danger we face in most of the country. That is a problem trains don't have.

stephen parrish said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/03/when-rail-becomes-ridiculous/72478/

Megan addresses the answer well. Government makes poor investment decisions. In a constrained capital environment any rational consideration of the opportunity costs can only lead one to conclude that $$ to choo choo's (and ongoing O&M) rob the future of opportunity.

Jack said...

Mary, I see in this morning’s edition of the Observer that you are back to urging county commissioners to spend, spend, spend when it comes to our library system.

As I wrote earlier, I too love libraries. I use Morrison Regional quite often. (The key word there is “regional”). But for some reason a lot of folks seem to believe that the smaller and nowadays redundant and inefficient branch libraries are sacrosanct. We can close underutilized and redundant schools, even close underutilized churches, but heaven forbid we try to make our libraries fiscally responsible to taxpayers.

If one can afford to live within walking distance of the small Myers Park branch, one can afford to drive or take the bus to Morrison and let the county close MP as a cost savings measure. If one can make it to Scaleybark, one can make it to Freedom Regional. If one can make it to Carmel, then South Regional with its larger collections and services is just up the road. We are not “closing libraries” per se by insisting on fiscal responsibility; we are maintaining a better-managed and more cost efficient great library system

You wrote that the Library Task Force researched similarly sized library systems in cities “around the country” and concluded that our system was neither overbuilt nor overfunded. Well, first off, let me choose the 13 cities and see if we get the same results. Secondly, we who expect public officials to start showing some budgetary common sense don’t care how folks elsewhere lavishly spend taxpayer dollars. We want fiscal conservatism here at home.

You consider $2 million - a guesstimate of what it would take to retain some tiny branch libraries - as a “drop in the bucket”. What you forget is that the more inefficient branches we retain, the greater the operating costs, and that those costs become inflated every subsequent year. Two million soon becomes three. You also ignore the effect of wasteful governmental accounting. In private sector accounting, a fiscal year budget is set, and if it is discovered during the year that benefits or costs can be better addressed by reallocations or cutbacks, you do it! In public sector accounting, what you see is what you get. Once the budget is set the goal of managers is to spend it all. There is absolutely no incentive to be efficient.

You attended the task force meeting Tuesday, and I applaud you for that. Now what you need to do is visit the entire library system – branches, regionals and all. You’ll note, like I, that the bulk of users at the better-utilized branches and regionals are relatively affluent whites who could afford to pay greater fees for all those “free” books, CDs, DVDs and story times they and their children are using. And you’ll note that declining usage numbers indicate more and more of us are reading electronically or downloading music and entertainment off the Internet.

We will still have great libraries in this county when this is all over and done. It’s time for them to become efficient and for government spending to be reduced.

Anonymous said...

Several posters hit the nail on the head--let me do it again. The country, state, and region REQUIRE a good road system to support commerce and capitalism. The road system, either fully paid for by users or subsidized, is a necessity, and obviously needs to be constructed to support both commercial and non-commercial needs. Public transportation is a generosity, not in any way a necessity, and should only be offered to those with significant need, as in the poor. Rail is primarily marketed for choice riders, a service for those who could pay all the costs for their transit but for which Paul robs Peter to lower their personal transit costs.

Many conservatives and libertarians dislike rail for many valid reasons, Mary, and for you to suggest that the primary reason for our dislike is simply to hate what libs like is an insult and simple minded--and inappropriate. Dig a little deeper, Mary, rather than throw out insults and straw men.

If it is necessary for GOVCO to create jobs, rebuild our roads, sewers, water systems--bridges, dams, power transmission grid, etc--our current infrastructure is crumbling exponentially and we are wasting resources on a few choice riders.

I'm not convinced we need an outer outer belt. But I am convinced we need to weather-proof our "house", get the electric and plumbing up to code, repair the roof and paint the exterior, before we run around installing gold plated fixtures and stain glass bay windows. Accomplish the required necessities before spending on the desired.

Dale Johnson
Charlotte

Anonymous said...

"The country, state, and region REQUIRE a good road system to support commerce and capitalism."

Then why won't the private sector build it? Why do these freeloaders require tax money to get it done?

Anonymous said...

I am amused by Lafferty.

Anonymous said...

What's funny to me i that conservatives are more traditional and yet they are more for suburban and automobile areas which are less traditional than urban and rail transit. Weird.