At the utterance of the words “public transportation,” most conservatives jump into a defensive posture, ready to curtail massive amounts of government spending (like the billions of dollars proposed for high speed rail in California). Not all public transportation, however, is created equally. Intra-city streetcars and subway systems allow more people for access to markets.
There are two main criteria infrastructure projects must meet to gain the conservative approval. The first is that the project fits within conservative principles by expanding the free market. The second is that the cost will not exceed the overall economic gains from the project.
Principally, public transportation is vital to a highly functioning free market. Most conservatives tend not to focus on urban areas, which is a mistake in and of itself, but in small cities and large cities, it can be incredibly costly to own a car. Monthly parking estimates in Portland, Oregon average around $215. According to Parkopedia, the average prices go up in the city’s downtown Pearl District to closer to $240/month. This is just parking which doesn’t include gas, maintenance, insurance, or any of the other costs associated with owning a car.
On the other hand, a monthly “Hop Fastpass” for Portland’s public transit system is only $100. This is a boon to people who otherwise would have no other means to transport themselves to and from work.
Average monthly parking in New York City is $616. In Boston, it is $425. San Francisco costs $323. Seattle costs $289. Philadelphia has a monthly average of $285 and Washington, D.C. has an average of $274/month.
An unlimited monthly transit pass for light rail/streetcars and busses costs $127 in NYC, $90 in Boston, Seattle’s monthly commuter pass is $153. A monthly pass in Philadelphia has a $96 unlimited monthly pass. Washington D.C.’s unlimited monthly pass is $216. However, there is a cheaper monthly pass for all trips valued at $4 or less priced at $144.
If the only way to get to work is with a car, but you have no money for a car then you can’t work, which means you can’t get money for a car. The United States is all too kind to this system of automobile reliance at the detriment of those who cannot afford automobiles.This stems back to the crony capitalism of the early 20th century when automobile manufacturers bought up all of the streetcar companies and replaced them with busses. By giving people access to transportation, you actually allow the free market to flourish because people gain the means to seek employment and make labor markets more competitive. In fact, access to transit is the number one factor in escaping poverty according to a Harvard study.
The other necessary component for conservatives to support public transportation is simple economic cost-benefit. Portland, Oregon is the best example of this.
The streetcar project in Portland cost $55 million dollars in 2001. By 2008, private investment within two blocks of the streetcar routes amounted to $3.5 billion. In other words, Portland’s streetcar project repaid its own cost in economic growth over 63 times in 7 years. If the government taxed all of that investment at 1.6% — and let’s face it, they probably taxed it at a much higher rate — the project would have been paid for by the growth it generated.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, medium and large cities with expanding tech sectors will see 2:1 growth from public transportation. Silicon Beach, CA, Durham, NC, and Austin, TX are expected to see a combined “$174 billion in business sales” as a direct result of further investment in public transportation.
From an economic standpoint, the case can’t get much better than that.
Public transportation gives people access to more labor markets which increases competition. It also pays for itself by spurring economic growth wherever it goes, with an average return of $4 for every $1 spent, nationwide.
Lastly, although not a strictly conservative desire, public transportation allows for more pedestrian-only roads which are more aesthetically pleasing and allow for a higher quality of life inside cities, which if championed by conservatives, can help them win back votes in urban areas.
The conservative case for public transportation is strong.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.