Public transit

Public transit systems in North Carolina have become less about helping citizens move around their communities in the way they desire and more about planners gaining enough political power to impose their transportation preferences and land use fads on those citizens. And it's not just in North Carolina. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently admitted that his Livability Initiative is "a way to coerce people out of their cars."

"We always saw transit [Charlotte's light rail system] as a means, not an end," Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning director Debra Campbell told Governing magazine. She later added, "The real impetus for transit was how it could help us grow in a way that was smart. This really isn't even about building a transit system. It's about place making. It's about building a community."

Those terms — smart, place making, and building a community — are all euphemisms for anti-car, anti-suburb, pro-public transit, pro-high density living in the center city. In the words of urbanologist Joel Kotkin, planning bureaucrats at all levels are implementing "cramming" policies that will produce a "forced march to the cities."

When the vast majority of Americans want a home with a yard, transit planners must use government regulation to force them into high-density housing and use of mass transit.

Key Facts

  • Approximately 80 percent of Americans want to live in a single-family detached home with a yard, and most people want to take advantage of the mobility offered by the personal automobile.
  • Nevertheless, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency have combined their authority and federal funding to coerce states and cities to adopt policies that force people to live in high-density housing and travel using mass transit.
  • The massive public-transit effort over the last 30 years has resulted in a decrease in the proportion of people using public transit in major metro areas from roughly 8 percent to 5 percent.
  • Of the 22 largest urban rail transit systems in the country, only six carry more than one percent of the share of total passenger travel, and only one of those (New York City's) carries more than 3 percent (see the graph below).
  • In Charlotte, public transit (bus and rail) carries only 2.6 percent of the commuting passengers, but it received 57.5 percent of the transportation funds (see Figure 5, "Highways and Interstates," in next section). This funding imbalance has contributed to the traffic congestion problem in Charlotte.
  • Charlotte's light rail (LYNX) passengers pay only 3.4 percent of the total cost (operating and capital) of the trip. Taxpayers pay $20.14 for every trip, or $40.28 for every commuter to travel to and from work (Randal O’Toole, "Defining Success: The Case Against Rail Transit," Cato Institute Policy Analysis, No. 663, March 24, 2010, p. 4).
  • According to Joel Kotkin, "Over 90 percent of all jobs in American metropolitan regions are located outside the central business districts, which tend to be the only places well suited for mass transit" ("Forced March to the Cities," Forbes, March 16, 2010).

Recommendations

  1. End state funding of rail transit projects.
  2. Repeal the local-option sales tax authorization for rail transit projects.

Analyst: Dr. Michael Sanera
Director of Research and Local Government Studies
919-828-3876 • msanera@johnlocke.org
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