Light Rail and Sustainability

Let me offer up a definition of sustainability that I think most environmentalists and progressives would accept:

We are acting in a sustainable manner if we are achieving our goals in a way that does not hamper the ability of other people in the world, or of future generations, to achieve their goals.

Most environmentalists and progressives would call light rail lines in US cities a "sustainable" technology because of its notional impact on fuel use and CO2 output (yeah, I know, but we are not going to address those assumptions today).

Let me present one fact, from Federal Transit Administration's 2009 survey of public transit authorities, whose data is linked in various ways here.  Or you can download the summary spreadsheet here.  For all US light rail systems in total:

User fares paid per passenger-mile:           $0.18

Total cost per passenger-mile:                     $2.22

Taxpayer subsidy per passenger-mile:       $2.04

Since I live in Phoenix and the Phoenix light rail system seems to get particular praise as a "success" from light rail supporters, here are the Phoenix light rail numbers;

User fares paid per passenger-mile:          $0.07

Total cost per passenger-mile:                     $3.89

Taxpayer subsidy per passenger-mile:       $3.82

So there, folks, is your sustainable technology.  As I have written before about sustainability, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

Nationwide, non-users of light rail pay for 92% of its costs.   In Phoenix, non-users pay for 98% of the costs.  Taking the Phoenix system as an example, resources are drained from literally millions of people so that 17,000 or so people can ride it round trip each day.   Using resources from millions of people, and building up debts that will last into the next generation, to support the transit of just a few people, seems to be the antithesis of sustainability.

If there is any common denominator among progressives, it is that they have little respect for how individuals spend their money.  So they might be unmoved by the loss of resources from so many.  So lets just look narrowly at transit, which I presume the do care about.

Before Valley Metro operated a light rail system in Phoenix, they also operated a bus transit system.  This system still requires a subsidy, but it is much lower than the light rail subsidy.  In 2009, the bus subsidy was $0.74 per passenger-mile.  This means that for the same amount of taxpayer funds, Valley Metro can provide 1.0 passenger-mile by train or 5.2 by bus ($3.82/$0.74).   I can guarantee that cities building light rail are not having their budgets quintupled.  So the result is that, as light rail gets built, total transit ridership falls in most cities as rail costs crowd out existing bus services.

Update: Most light rail articles in our local papers, which have been mindless boosters of the system, generally consist of asking riders if they like the system, who inevitably answer "yes!"  This is somehow a proof the system is great.  Well, duh.  I too am likely to be happy with a service where I only pay 2% of the costs.

Update #2:  Last year, there were about 3.2 trillion passenger miles driven by urban drivers in cars in the US.  My point about light rail is that we can barely afford it for just a few people, given that we spent $1.3 billion to build a rail line for about 17,000 daily round trip riders in Phoenix.  If it were truly a sustainable technology, it could be applied to all commuters.  But at a national average taxpayer subsidy per light rail passenger mile of about $2, this means that to roll light rail out to everyone would cost $6.4 trillion a year, almost half our annual GDP.  If it required the subsidy rates we have in Phoenix per passenger-mile, such a system would cost over $12 trillion  year.  In fact, the numbers would likely be even higher in reality, because light rail in most cities is almost certainly built on the highest populated corridors with the most bang for the buck (though some of the diminishing returns would be offset by network effects).


  1. David:

    Does your subsidy figure include initial capex, or is it opex+ongoing capex only? If it's the former, a light rail proponent could argue that there are funding sources which are only available for new construction (this is true, but those funding sources rarely actually pay the whole figure). If it's the latter, it's a much more devestating critique.

  2. Bob Smith:

    Cost numbers reported by public transit agencies are almost always operating costs only and exclude capital costs. Capital costs are usually underfunded by most agencies, which leads to stupid things like floating 30 year bonds to pay for 20 year rolling stock, or Miami's situation where they literally budgeted nothing for capital costs and so have no money to replace their soon-to-be unusable monorail track.

  3. Don:

    You know, if transit companies were privatized, we'd wind up with a much more "sustainable" system, both environmentally and financially.

    What progressives seem to forget is that the _cost_ of a transportation business is largely tied to energy use (fuel) and in a profit-motivated transit business, companies are absolutely brutal about driving that cost down because it's one of the things they CAN control, through both gross fuel efficiency of their fleet and fleet maintenance. Additionally, fleet maintenance reduces the cost of having to refresh the fleet so often, reducing the "carbon footprint" of purchasing new vehicles.

    Taking these into account, without even adding the additional "sustainability" of a truly mobile fleet of rolling stock (it's much harder and more environmentally unfriendly to move the train tracks than it is to reroute a bus or van), and the free market solution is in my mind clearly the winner in this area.

    Why the heck isn't this obvious?

  4. Noah:

    Why the heck isn’t this obvious?

    When spending somebody else's money, obvious isn't on the list of things to consider.

  5. Louise:

    It would be interesting to compare the subsidies and cost for "highway and road systems" to light rail.

    If I had a choice to take the train or fly cross country, I'll take the train. The Hudson river line from Albany to NYC is wonderful, get into Penn station and take the subway to were you need to go. Much better than driving.

  6. rox_publius:

    i think louise has a point. it would only be fair to include the highway construction and maintenance costs in the calculation alongside that of the light rail. it seems the bus # probably only includes the costs for the means of conveyance, and not the infrastructure that needs to be in place, whereas the rail # includes track maintenance. i suspect the conclusion would be similar, but it would make for a fairer comparison.

  7. Danny:

    The cost of a transportation business isn't tied so much to fuel costs as it is labor costs. Privatized transit would likely find ways to eliminate high wage unionized labor long before they would worry about fuel (which is already pretty low). It is the labor costs that kill transit systems. The hourly operating cost of a light rail system is around $160/hr (including depreciation), but if you eliminate the drivers, conductors, and fare enforcement and their associated wages/overtime, that cost drops to around $60/hr.

  8. Bryan:


    The federal and state construction budgets are entirely covered by the gasoline taxes. This means that there aren't any subsidies for highways and road systems in the sense that Warren is talking about. The people that use the road system pay for the privledge through fuel taxes, which all said is a pretty direct and convinient way of paying.

    In terms of the absolute cost of the various systems, please consider that the standard rule of thumb cost of using a car is 50cents per mile. This includes depreciation on the car, maintenance, gas, and the gas tax which pays for the upkeep and construction of roads. The numbers that Warren quoted for the rail systems are more than 4 times as expensive.

    Cost accounting for bus systems should already take into account their share of road maintenace unless bus systems are somehow not paying taxes on their fuel.

  9. mahtso:

    I believe Bryan is mistaken with respect to the Phoenix area: There is a county-wide sales tax that goes to roads. (And to other transportation modes, if memory serves.)

    I agree that the cost of the road/infrastructure should be factored in to the cost of a bus ride. An important factor, however, is that the light rail can only be used for the light rail, whereas the roads are used for buses, cars, and trucks. Consequently, I suspect the bus is still much cheaper than the light rail.

  10. Don:

    Louise: Ok, I'll test you hypothesis. Taking the train from Penn Station, New York, NY, to Union Station, Los Angles, CA (decidedly cross-country), leaving Friday, Feb. 25, 2011 (about 2 weeks form now) the best rate for Amtrak is $197, departure time is 3:00AM 2/25, arrival time is 8:15AM ... Monday 2/28!!!! Flying Southwest, I leave at 6:00AM 2/25, arrive at 11:34AM 2/25 (about 8.5 hours in the air) and it costs $218. I used 2/25 because I could not get tickets (for either) today. If I did it on Friday, SW was $494 and Amtrak was $248, both with similar schedules to above. You're welcome to the train, but I'm not willing to burn half my vacation on the railroad!

    Rail travel works fine if you have a HUGE mass of people that move between two very dense and intertwined urban centers (where most people don't want to drive anyway), but it's possibly the most expensive, most wasteful means of transportation available in a place like Texas or Arizona.

    Just for completeness, Greyhound: Leave 9:30AM 2/25, arrive 12:40AM 2/28, cost $135. I don't know if the bus would be much of an improvement on the train, but I suspect not (and the train may be more comfortable because you can walk around). The difference here is that Greyhound isn't picking my pocket for your trip.

    rox_publius (nice nickname BTW :^): I can go for that, but remember to divide the cost of that infrastructure by the ton miles or passenger miles (or some hybrid of the two) of ALL the vehicles using it. The incremental cost of a highway is WAY cheaper than a dedicated (or even rented dual purposed) rail line because it is useful to more than one entity and the capex/opex is spread over a huge crowd in general. Good examples of this are tollways, which average between $.25 and $2 per mile, depending on the vehicle size and location of the roadway (land price and taxes), and that includes the HUGE profit margins that most toll management companies make on such projects over the useful life of the roadway. Still not even CLOSE to the passenger mile costs for train service.

    Danny: I didn't say fuel was the most expensive cost, I said it was the most expensive cost that the business owner could directly control. He has to have drivers and the wage for drivers is mostly set by either the market or the unions (both largely out of his direct control).

    An example of what I'm talking about: Say our esteemed host were to branch into public transit systems (in addition to public parks - and I want a cut of the take if you do this! ;^), privatizing buses in FooBar, AZ. He signs a contract that he has to cover all locations in the city within 6 blocks (pickup spot every 12 blocks). He secures "park-n-ride" areas already owned by the city and works with for example large retailers for parking lot space where no park-n-ride exists to create hubs. He then use one of cars, vans, minibus, or bus along various short routes to bring people to the hubs and express buses between the hubs. When a new subdivision comes into town, or a new sports stadium is built, or whatever, he doesn't have to go out and buy right-of-way and lay pavement to get there because the developer bares most of that cost. And if there's a one-time event (e.g. the Superbowl) or a seasonal even (e.g. the Rodeo), he can make temporary changes to his routes to accommodate these events (as many bus lines do today) and associated traffic patterns. In the end, he doesn't run empty buses, built for 40 passengers, all over town on routes that have 10 regular riders. He doesn't run 1 bus a day on a route that could support 4 because he'd leave money on the table. He sizes the vehicle to the load capacity required, saving money by saving gas, and making a tidy profit. He'd be able to charge his costs and profit and still give a reasonable level of service. He can make additional money by providing useful services to passengers (e.g. Wifi on the buses and coffee, sodas, and fast foods at the hubs, etc.) and he can streamline things like payments using modern technologies like swiping you CC on and off the bus to record the passenger, integrating all transactions for the CC at the end of the day to save on transaction costs.

    That's just a few things that would be far more efficient even than current bus lines, not to mention huge, wasteful commuter trains and "high-speed" rail services (what a joke that is!).

  11. M Heiss:

    Building more roads, and wider roads, should be the goal of transportation dollars, since human convenience ought to be a priority of planners.

    It is impossible to use the lightrail for an emergency evacuation of the metropolitan area.

  12. Bryan:


    You may well be right with regards to the tax structure at the county level. The figures that I've seen only refered to road construction and maintenance expenditures at the federal and state level.

    I have a couple things to point out though.

    First, most local infastructure projects that I've heard about have at least some funds matching from the feds and the state. This represents at least a partial contribution on the part of the people paying the gas tax.

    Second, to my mind, light rail corresponds to a highway type road. At least here out east where I live, that means it's maintained by state. Counties and other localities do preform some road construction and maintenace, but not anything that I would ever consider to be a highway level project.

  13. Douglas2:

    At federal level the road spending is self funding from fees and taxes related to road use. But two thirds of the nation's road network miles are not interstate, or intercity, or even commuter roads -- they are the roads that feed into (or out of) that system in neighborhoods, office parks, retail estates, etc.
    These are the roads that allow emergency services, school buses, postal delivery, etc. to have access to individual homes and businesses. In my view it isn't unreasonable that part of the cost of maintaining them should come from property or sales taxes, as the value of the property (and annual sales) would be much depleted without them, and the miles of road/annual vehicle miles is so large that expanding the fuel tax to fund them would be politically unpopular (and quite regressive).

  14. GoneWithTheWind:

    It's so much worse then your cost info puts it. I think your information is incorrect and I have no doubt you have been intentionally misinformed by government officials. The typical light rail cost $20 per passenger and the tax payer subsidy is about $19.50.

  15. John Moore:

    You give the environmentalists and many liberals (are they distinguishable?) too much credit. Most of them are for things that feel good - don't bother them with facts - if it feels good, it is; if it doesn't, it's an evil plot by big corporations.

  16. Highway:

    There is another aspect to the difference between the subsidies in construction of commuter and other passenger rail systems and the subsidies in construction of highways and roadways.

    I would state that whether a person drives a car or not, they derive significant benefit from the network of roadways. This benefit shows in lowered costs of goods and services that are available to them and an overall increase in the availability of those goods. So even if you don't drive, you gained the benefit of your local grocer or restaurant having foodstuffs delivered, of your bookstore having inventory delivered, or even of the ability to deliver goods directly to you in a rapid manner.

    The converse, however, is that people who do not use commuter rail systems derive almost no benefit from the presence of those rail systems. The only marginal benefit they could be said to gain is the absence of those riders on the roads, and in the case of something like the 17,000 daily riders of the Phoenix light-rail system, this is close to trivial when considered against the volume of the roadways.

    Given the disparity in the beneficiaries of these two modes, a much stronger case can be made for subsidization of roadways than commuter rail.

    Of course, I think that the best resolution would be for any subsidization out of general funds of both highways *and* rail systems to stop. Let roadways pay their own way, and let rail systems pay their own way. And reduce tax rates to compensate for the amounts that are currently used for those purposes, to make it revenue neutral. We're already paying for these facilities. Let's have a more transparent accounting of their actual costs and benefits.

  17. joshv:

    I still don't get your blanket objection to light rail. Sure it makes no sense in Arizona, but in Chicago it makes a lot of sense, even if people who don't use it are subsidizing it.

    Why? The whole damned city would stop functioning if everyone drove to work. Roads would be choked for hours a day, and there'd be no parking once you got downtown. So everybody who drives to work in Chicago benefits from light rail, even if they don't use it, and the entire state benefits from the economic engine that is Chicago. The same argument applies to the heavily subsidized elevated and subway in Chicago. The city just wouldn't work without them. It could not exist in its current form.

  18. James H:

    Highway, I don't think that traffic is improved at all from light rail. Since the riders were probably going to drive part or all of the light rail route by car, and now one lane in each direction has been removed from car traffic, I think that the end result is that the roads along the light rail route are more congested as they would have had continuous vehicle traffic and now have sporadic rail traffic.

  19. Don:

    joshv: If the commuter trains in Chicago are so great, then let their passengers pay for the system. If they have to be supported to the level that many of these systems are supported, then there is something seriously wrong. And as I've already pointed out above, buses and van services are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to run, and more flexible.

  20. DrTorch:

    One of my favorite topics covered by Coyote.

    First, I've seen numbers that taxes and tolls pay for about 64% of the cost of roads. As Bryan said, it's a convenient way for uses to pay the costs. Property taxes usually make up the difference, and as Highway points out, you're getting the benefit of roads regardless. So, those taxes are passed along in the price of goods and services, so it too is user pay.

    joshv- I've lived near Chicago, and taken the DC's Metro to work. Frankly, light rail is not "needed" in big cities either. The answer is again to have faith in the system. Harder commutes would force the marketplace to adapt. Better than light rail in DC were Metrobuses and van pools. Buses have so many advantages over rail, it's comical.

    Another overlooked answer is that cities would evolve. Maybe, much like in Coyote's piece about city officials pursuing business w/ tax incentives, we'd see a bigger distribution of enterprise and jobs if gov't would get out of the way. Ironically, that's exactly what progressives want, but they screw themselves.

    Finally, your comment, "The whole damned city would stop functioning if everyone drove to work." reminds me of what Rep Jim Moran said about expanding the DC Metro Orange line (currently at $900M in Fed monies). His comment was that it allows gov't workers to get to work, otherwise things would freeze up. Hmmm, seems to me that I'd like a smaller federal government. Let's get rid of the DC metro and send all those people away!

  21. Dan Smith:

    I checked the LR subsidy for Minneapolis (where I live) and just about passed out. $4.32 per passenger mile. So if I drive to the Mall of America and take LR downtown and back, somebody else has paid $80. Thanks, whoever you are!

  22. perlhaqr:

    Louise: And what do you do after you've taken the train to Oklahoma City? I don't recall them having a subway.

  23. Dan:

    I won't argue for or against light rail. I happen to come from Chicago, and, as JoshV points out so clearly, without public transportation the city would come to a halt. But that's a big city and public transportation makes a lot of sense for geographic reasons. In Phoenix, it may not.

    But I do take issue with the idea that unless someone uses a system, he or she shouldn't pay for it. Would you suggest that people who don't have children shouldn't pay taxes for public schools because they don't use them? I personally have never called the fire department, so why should I pay taxes to support it? See where I'm going with this?

    Some public things are worth having even if everyone doesn't use them, because it would be damn near impossible for private firms to provide them (the highway system comes to mind). So even if I never drive on a highway, I indirectly benefit from it because having a good road system is what allows the economy to function (how else would food get to the grocery store?) That's why I should pay for it.

    I'm not arguing whether light rail in Phoenix is a waste of money or not. It may well be. On the other hand, it may actually provide a useful service and be worth having, for instance if poor people who can't afford cars use the system to take them to jobs that they couldn't get to otherwise, which means a better life for them and their kids and perhaps a benefit to society (less crime, for instance).

    I'm not arguing in favor of light rail or not. What I'm saying is, just because we don't use a public system doesn't mean we shouldn't pay for it.

  24. Highway:

    Dan, If you all of a sudden took away mass transit from places like Chicago or DC, sure, it would 'come to a halt.' But that's not the right comparison. The issue is that the 'success' of these systems, which is based as Coyote reports, on the attitudes of the people getting high value out of them, is used as justification for 1) expansion of current systems and 2) development of entirely new systems in different places.

    Expansion of current systems is almost always a worse value proposition than the parts they've already built, because, let's be honest, they generally cherry-pick the best projected cost-benefit ratio development first. Unless there is a huge shift in the development pattern around a city, the relative benefits and costs aren't going to change much.

    So pointing out that the objective measurement of these systems against other modes shows they are value destroyers compared to those other modes is a message that does need to be propogated. Your point is 'sometimes we should pay for something we personally don't use'. But the problem is that there are alternatives that are much more cost effective and provide almost equivalent utility. Coyote has pointed out in the past that they could have bought a Toyota Prius for every single one of those 17,000 riders for much less than the cost of the Light Rail system. He points out in this post how buses could have provided the same service for a much lower cost.

    So it's not merely that we're paying for something we don't personally use. It's that we're tremendously overpaying for something that is a poor choice, and is supported by people who don't do a rational evaluation of it and its alternatives.

  25. Joeleitz:

    I hate light rail and I wish the concept would die. No one seems to take into account how disruptive it can be to the poor folks that live close to it. No one ever takes into account the noise pollution that communities with it have to endure. Also, why should non-users of light rail pay for 92% of its costs? It's a dumb idea that isn't economically viable because it costs millions of dollars to set-up and operate properly. Where I live, the city wants $110 million dollars to set up light rail based on the 20,000 people that used the old rail system last year. After they blow millions on it everyone will continue to take their cars to work anyway because it will still be more convenient to do that. Light rail isn't going to do anything to solve transportation problems in America. You must be another follower of that Howard Kunstler Bozo. (Oh yeah, in reference to Howard Kunstler, 911 was an inside job, whether he can grasp that or not). 😛

  26. Renee:

    Here's some spam. This site is in dire need of some. ****contact management****

  27. Dan:


    I appreciate your response. You're obviously passionate about the light rail issue. I'm not. I wouldn't want to argue one way or another on light rail, because I see merits in both sides' arguments. I'm just saying that I don't like the concept of, "I don't use it, so why should I pay for it."

  28. Bryan:


    I'm not trying to argue for the concept of "I don't use it, so why should I pay for it." I don't regard the fact that a system must be heavily subsidized as a deal breaker.

    However, I would say that a system that is supported by user fees is clearly superior to a system that cannot be supported by user fees(all else being equal).

    I think an aspect of Warren's post that you may not be seeing, is that a system that can pay at least its opperating costs through user fees is a system that can not only be maintained, but expanded to infinity (or at least until it hits break even). In contrast, the light rail system in Pheonix does not support itself, and so is dependent on ongoing opperational subsidies and cannot be expanded without expanding those subsidies. Imagine the cost to taxpayers if additional rail lines were built in Pheonix to increase the capacity from 17,000 daily riders (I know it's not being used at its full capacity). The government looses money hand over fist for every person who uses the service.

    Warren's theory seems to be that a system that cannot pay for itself is a system that is not sustainable or expandable.

  29. Rob:


    Using your example, if the fire department had personal Ferrari/lambougini/Aston Martin that they used to get to a fire quicker, I imagine most people would still complain about the wasted money.

    The people arent complaining that they don't use the fire dept or that it's not good for society, the argument is over whether spending all the extra money is necessary and sustainable.

  30. Floyd McWilliams:

    "Well, duh. I too am likely to be happy with a service where I only pay 2% of the costs."

    I considered taking light rail from downtown Mountain View (CA) to downtown San Jose. Then I looked at the schedule. The trip takes an hour. You could drive it in 15 or 20 minutes.

    I wouldn't like that service even at a 98% subsidy.

  31. Highway:

    Dan, actually, I love rail and trains. And a lot of the people who are against subsidized passenger rail love trains. Coyote builds extremely detailed model railroad setups (as he's documented in the past). So it's with a sense of melancholy that I oppose this type of rail project.

    I would be entirely supportive of a private company trying to acquire their own right-of-way without eminent domain and building their own rail line or lines. I'd love to *see* high speed trains. One of my keenest memories is standing on a platform at a local rail station while the Amtrak Acela train whooshed past on the rails immediately next to the platform. But that doesn't mean that any expense is acceptable just to sate my curiosity and appreciation.

    I cannot be supportive of these frivolous wastes of taxpayer money by those who seek to aggrandize themselves or those bureaucracies which pursue them.

  32. Fred Z:

    I am a long time reader of O'Toole's anti-planner web-site, and he knowledgeably discusses these issues.

    One point he sometimes makes, against long distance passenger rail, and roads, is that air travel requires only land at the termini. You do not need to buy road/rail lines, nor maintain them.

  33. Grant:


    I think that when you separate the people bearing the costs of a system from the people who pay for the system, you're asking for trouble. In the case of schools, if you want your kid to go to school, you should have to pay for it. The market for schools would behave the same way every other market sans interference does, there would be varying levels of cost and quality serving all profitable market niches. Costs down, quality up, etc, etc.

    If you want to be able to get into Chicago on a light rail system, but not bad enough to pay the full costs of the system, I would certainly argue that the light rail shouldn't exist. If it does exist, it's an economic drain since extra money had to be forcibly taken from people who don't want the service. Profit and loss mechanisms are critical for allocating scarce resources.

    Full disclosure: I'm somewhat of a radical libertarian, ie, privatize everything. This doesn't sit well with most people primarily because of the fact that going from what we have now to what I would propose, overnight, would result in some of the current "winners" becoming losers and vice versa. So flame away. But light rail systems are, in the US, never planned around an economic cost/benefit analysis, they're political stunts to make some people look good by spending money that isn't theirs.

  34. Mesa Econoguy:

    Would you suggest that people who don’t have children shouldn’t pay taxes for public schools because they don’t use them?

    Yes Dan, I would argue precisely that , because 1) the quality of education sucks, and 2) it is coercion.

    Back to light fail, it doesn't work in Phoenix, and is unneeded. Period.

  35. joe:

    How does the cost per mile break down for driving?

  36. epobirs:

    Dan, your analogies do not go together. I'd pay for the local fire department for the same reason I'd carry medical insurance for catastrophic situations. I don't plan to get hit by a car but nor can I discount the probability and the massive expense it would bring. Paying to school a child is entirely different. Even if I found myself with a baby by surprise (I'm a deep sleeper, it could happen) I'd have a few years to put aside money and make choices about how I wish to educate the kid. I'm pretty damn sure our standard of education would be far better if more parents felt a direct relationship between their expenditure and the results.

  37. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    > Let me offer up a definition of sustainability that I think most environmentalists and progressives would accept:

    > ---- We are acting in a sustainable manner if we are achieving our goals in a way that does not hamper the ability of other people in the world, or of future generations, to achieve their goals.

    Uhhhh, no. Ask a simple question:

    Does it allow the "green libtard" to do whatever they damned well please?

    If the answer is "no", then the notion is clearly unacceptable.

  38. drew:

    this is absolutely the biggest onesided crock ive ever heard. now look into how gas taxes dont fully fund highway expansion and ask why we try to fund billion dollar investments in alaska and other ridiculous places with no population because our contracts with oil interests tell us to (btw I'm not liberal I'm libertarian so expect to get your own logic used against you alot) so you have to pay for a car whose price was artificially raised because of immbedded taxes...then you have to pay tax ON that car. then you have to buy gas which is HEAVILY taxed then you have to buy insurance which is required by the gov't and get licenses and tags renewed and pay for maintenance and oil changes and tires..... then if you live in an urban area you probably see several BILLION dollars spent annually on your highway system of which only about 80% of which is paid for by gasoline taxes at the pump the other 20% comes from my pocket for a system I'd rather not use. so transit gets a fraction of the capital funding and in many cases has to pay property tax and still competes with roads...this is because the usdot is one of the biggest socialist programs around. ever notice that rails dissapeared in the early 1900 proportionately as we spent more and more on highways even though rails used to be PRIVATELY owned and operated and make a PROFIT. same reason toll roads died. name one interstate that turns a profit or pays tax back into the economy...go ahead just one. rail projects are not comparable to buses unless you talk only the car effeciency and nothing else...rail is comparable to its competitor, highways which are the most inneffecient wasteful moneypits around. childhood asthma causing pollution subsidies...nothing more. if you suggest cutting rail funding you cannot bash liberals and thus imply you are somehow conservative when your spending prefernces is even more socialist than theirs.