Friday, May 11, 2007
The Mass Transit Swindle
I know a professional couple who live in suburban Philadelphia. Their home, in an exclusive community, is assessed at more than $500,000. They commute to Philadelphia for high-paying jobs. Their combined annual income is $200,000.
The husband drives into Center City Philadelphia while the wife takes the SEPTA train into the city. They can afford two cars, but don't need a second car. No car payment, no insurance, no maintenance costs.
I don't know how much the train ride into Center City costs, but let's say it's $5 a day. Can a family making $200,000 a year afford to pay $10 a day to get to work? I think they can, but why should they when Pennsylvania taxpayers pick up the tab?
I help subsidize this well-off couple to get to work every day with my tax dollars. This is why I can't get excited about all the doom-and-gloom predictions by transit agencies like SEPTA that it will have to reduce service and raise fares.
Gov. Ed Rendell and the mass transit lobby (the overpaid executives who run the transit systems and the high-paid union workers) are always telling us how poor people will be hurt if we don't continue to subsidize failing mass transit systems.
That's a load of horse manure. There's a lot of professional people riding subsidized trains to their six-figure jobs. That's a dirty little secret Rendell doesn't want you to know.
Rendell claims ridership has grown significantly in the past four years. Then, why aren't the state's mass transit systems operating more efficiently? If they have more riders, paying more fares, where is the money going?
Nobody is offering to help subsidize my ride into work or pay for my parking. Gas prices are at an all-time high. Why doesn't Gov. Ed Rendell eliminate the state tax on gasoline to help working people? That would cut gas prices by 30 cents a gallon right now. Toss in a cut in the federal gas tax and the price at the pump goes down by 50 cents a gallon.
When my car breaks down, I have to pay to fix it. When the rich suburban couple's car breaks down, they both ride the subsidized train into work.
Next time you hear SEPTA or BARTA or LANTA or CATA or any of the state's other mass transit systems beg for more tax dollars, ask them to produce numbers on how many of their riders are high-income earners who enjoy taking the rest of us for a ride.
I see empty buses driving around all the time. This doesn't make economic or environmental sense. If the transit agencies can't justify a route, cut it. If nobody rides the bus on Saturday, park it. Let the guy making $100,000 a year pay more for his train ride.
Two years ago, Ed Rendell diverted nearly $500 million in federal highway funds to keep SEPTA afloat. The agency burned through the money and now wants another handout. Why would you give the same people who failed to make any changes to make the agency economically responsible more money? Has SEPTA cut any of its patronage jobs? Is it giving executives bonuses even though they can't operate the system in the black?
Subsidies to transit agencies is another form of welfare. The person on the receiving end will never get off welfare as long as the government keeps handing them money.
The best thing that can happen to mass transit in Pennsylvania is to cut service and raise fares.