Transit References & Experts

As the papers annotated below show, the evidence is overwhelming that rail transit does not reduce congestion, clean the air, promote economic development, or do any of the other things claimed for it by its advocates. These papers are in the following categories:

High-Speed Rail

America’s Coming High-Speed Rail Disaster
Author: Ronald Utt
Citation: Washington: Heritage Foundation Backgrounder no. 2389, April 13, 2010, 6 pp.
Summary: High-speed rail is “one of the most expensive forms of transportation that a nation could choose.”
Quote: “Passenger rail subsidies in six European countries totaled $42 billion per year, proportionately similar to what the U.S. federal government spends on all transportation.”
Why Colorado Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: Golden: Independence Institute Issue Paper no. 5-2009, 2009, 29 pp.
Why Colorado Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: Golden: Independence Institute Issue Backgrounder no. 2009-F, 2009, 6 pp. 
Why Florida Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: Gainesville, FL: American Dream Coalition, 2009, 29 pp. 
Why Florida Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: Gainesville, FL: American Dream Coalition, 2009, 6 pp. 
Why Georgia Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: Atlanta: Georgia Public Policy Foundation, 2009, 36 pp. 
Why Iowa Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: Mt. Pleasant, IA: Public Interest Institute, 2009, 34 pp. 
Taking Illinoisans for a Ride: False Promises of High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: Springfield, IL: Illinois Policy Institute, 2009, 26 pp. 
Taking Illinoisans for a Ride: False Promises of High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: Springfield, IL: Illinois Policy Institute, 2009, 1 p. 
Why Indiana Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: Ft. Wayne, IN: Indiana Policy Review Foundation, 2009, 29 pp. 
Why Louisiana Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: New Orleans, LA: Pelican Institute, 2009, 7 pp. 
Why Missouri Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: St. Louis, MO: Show-Me Institute, 2009, 31 pp. 
Why Missouri Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: St. Louis, MO: Show-Me Institute, 2009, 4 pp. 
Why North Carolina Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: Raleigh, NC: John Locke Foundation, 2009, 27 pp. 
Why Ohio Should Not Build High-Speed Rail
Citation: Columbus, OH: Buckeye Institute, 2009, 22 pp. 
Why Oregon Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: Portland, OR: Cascade Policy Institute, 2009, 22 pp. 
Why Oregon Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: Portland, OR: Cascade Policy Institute, 2009, 4 pp. 
The High Cost of High-Speed Rail
Citation: Austin, TX: Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2009, 25 pp. 
Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (long version)
Citation: Seattle, WA: Washington Policy Center, 2009, 28 pp. 
Why the U.S. and Washington Should Not Build High-Speed Rail (short version)
Citation: Seattle, WA: Washington Policy Center, 2009, 4 pp. 
Author: Randal O’Toole
Summary: State-by-state reports on problems with high-speed rail proposals. If your state is not listed, read the report for a nearby state.
Quote: “High-speed rail is an idea whose time has come’Äîand gone. A technology that might have made sense a century ago is today merely an anachronism that could cost American taxpayers tens or hundreds of billions of dollars yet contribute little to mobility or environmental quality.”
High-Speed Rail Is Not ‘Interstate 2.0’
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington: Cato Institute Briefing Paper no. 113, September 9, 2009, 12 pp.
Summary: Contrary to the claims of rail advocates, Obama’s high-speed rail plan is nothing like Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. The former will require endless subsidies while the latter paid for itself in highway user fees.
Quote: “The average American traveled 4,000 miles on interstates in 2007. High-speed rail proponents optimistically estimate that the average American would ride the FRA’s high-speed rail system less than 60 miles per year.”
High-Speed Rail: The Wrong Road for America (632-KB pdf file)
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2008, 20 pp.
Summary: Evaluates high-speed rail in Japan and Europe and proposals for high-speed rail in the Midwest, Florida, and California.
Quote: “Europe’s emphasis on using rails for moving people has had a profound effect on the movement of freight. While a little more than one-fourth of U.S. freight goes on the highway and more than a third goes by rail, nearly three-fourths of European freight goes on the road and just a sixth goes by rail. Moreover, rail’s share of freight movement is declining in Europe, but increasing in the United States.”
The California High-Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report (1.7-MB pdf file)
Authors: Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich
Citation: Los Angeles, CA: Reason Foundation, 2008, 195 pp.
Summary: Planners who want to build a 220-mile high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles vastly overestimated potential ridership and underestimated costs.
Quote: “Tidership projections are absurdly high’Äîso much so that they could well rank among the most unrealistic projections produced for a major transport project anywhere in the world.”

Rail Transit

Administrator Rogoff Remarks: “Next Stop: A National Summit on the Future of Transit” (Same presentation, including video, on FTA web site)
Author: Peter Rogoff, FTA Administrator
Citation: Speech at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, May 18, 2010
Summary: Transit agencies should not propose to build new rail transit lines when they can’t afford to operate and maintain keep their existing lines. 
Quote: “Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this: Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive. Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a ‘special’ bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.”
National State of Good Repair Assessment
Author: Federal Transit Administration
Citation: Washington: FTA, 2010, 31 pp.
Summary: As a follow-up to the 2009 Rail Modernization study (below), the FTA estimated the state of repair of all the nation’s transit systems. It estimates that transit suffers from a $78 billion maintenance backlog, mostly due to rail transit.
Quote: “The actual level of investment in the rehabilitation, replacement and improvement of the nation’s existing transit assets was in the range of $12.0 to $13.0 billion in 20094. This amount is below the $14.4 billion required to address normal replacement needs alone, suggesting the investment backlog for the nation’s transit assets is increasing.”
MBTA Review (1.7 MB)
Author: David F. D’Alessandro, Paul D. Romary, Lisa J. Scannell, and Bryan Wollner
Citation: Boston: State of Massachusetts, 2009, 36 pp.
Summary: Boston’s transit system is falling apart, it faces growing deficits, and it cannot afford to repay its huge debts.
Quote: “In addition to its structural deficit, the MBTA continues to have significant problems related to the maintenance of its aging infrastructure. There is abundant evidence that the service and safety issues that plague the MBTA are considerably worse than is commonly understood–and are becoming critically worse.”
Rail Modernization Study: Report to Congress (3.7 MB)
Author: Federal Transit Administration
Citation: Washington: FTA, 2009, 52 pp.
Summary: The nation’s seven leading rail transit systems suffer from a nearly $50 billion maintenance backlog, and the money now being spent on maintenance is not even enough to keep them in their current state of poor report.
Quote: “More than one-third of the study agencies’ assets (weighted by replacement value) are in either marginal or poor condition, implying that these assets are near or have already exceeded their expected useful life.”
Defining Success: The Case Against Rail Transit
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington: Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 663, March 24, 2010, 36 pp.
Summary: This paper tests almost every urban rail transit system operating in 2008 against a variety of criteria, including profitability, ridership, and cost-effectiveness, and finds that most systems fail every test.
Quote: “When compared with passenger travel by auto, transit’s share of travel has declined in most rail regions since 1980.”
Rails Won’t Save America (520-KB pdf file)
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2008
Summary: Shows that rail transit is much more heavily subsidized than any other form of travel in the U.S. Despite these subsidies, rail transit has been unable to attract a significant number of people out of their cars and does not save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or promote economic development.
Quote: “People who want to save energy should plan to buy more fuel-efficient cars and encourage cities to invest in traffic signal coordination, which can save far more energy at a tiny fraction of the cost of building new rail transport lines.”
Zero Sum Game: The Austin Streetcar and Development (1.3-mb pdf file)
Author: Wendell Cox
Citation: Austin, TX: Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, 2007, 28 pp.
Summary: Streetcars do not stimulate economic development. At best, they might transfer development from one part of a city to another.
Quote: “The condominium data indicates the same total valuation in the downtown area with or without the streetcar. The projected gain in the streetcar corridor is achieved at the expense of the balance of the downtown area.”
Congress Should Link Amtrak’s Generous Subsidy to Improved Performance (1-mb pdf file)
Author: Ron Utt
Citation: Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 2007, 8 pp.
Summary: Congress should cap subsidies to Amtrak and condition future subsidies on Amtrak’s increasing its passenger loads to match airline performance.
Quote: “Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use attributable to rail passengers could be reduced by two thirds of all intercity rail passengers were shifted from Amtrak to buses.”
Does Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions? (452-kb pdf file)
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2008
Summary: Most light-rail lines consume more energy per passenger mile than an average SUV and emit more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than an average automobile. Moreover, auto efficiencies are increasing while transit efficiencies are declining.
Quote: “Persuading 1 percent of auto owners to purchase a car that gets 30 to 40 miles per gallon or better the next time they buy a car will do more to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions than building rail transit.”
On the Social Desirability of Urban Rail Transit Systems (308-kb pdf)
Author: Clifford Winston and Vikram Maheshri
Citation: Journal of Urban Economics, 2006, 21 pp.
Summary: Rail transit costs far more than any benefits it produces in congestion relief or to transit riders.
Quote: “We find that with the exception of BART in the San Francisco Bay area, every system actually reduces welfare and is unable to become socially desirable even with optimal pricing or physical restructuring of its network. We conclude rail’s social cost is unlikely to abate because it enjoys powerful political support from planners, civic boosters, and policymakers.”
Great Rail Disasters: The Impact of Rail Transit on Urban Livability (572-kb pdf)
Author:Randal O’Toole
Citation: Center for the American Dream, 2004,
Summary: A review of ridership, congestion, energy, safety, and other information shows that rail transit has reduced the livability of every urban area that has it.
Quote: “Taken together, regions with rail transit collectively lost more than 14,000 transit commuters in the 1990s. By contrast, regions with bus-only transit collectively gained 53,000 transit commuters.”
Rail Disasters 2005: An Update to Great Rail Disasters (844-kb pdf)
Rail Disasters 2005 (higher resolution version) (2.5-mb pdf)
Author:Randal O’Toole
Citation: American Dream Coalition, 2005,
Summary: A review of two decades of transit ridership data reveals that regions with bus-only transit are far more likely to have growing ridership and to have transit keep up with the growth of driving.
Quote: “The high cost of rail transit produces two major threats to transit systems: cost overruns and increased vulnerability to recessions.”
Transitory Dreams: How New Rail Lines Often Hurt Transit Systems (36-kb Word document)
Author:Jonathon E.D. Richmond
Citation: Taubman Center for State and Local Government
Summary: In most cases light rail has worsened overall transit-system financial performance while providing little or no gains in public-transport ridership.
Quote: “Transit managers have tended to both forget the promise of initial forecasts and to provide isolated results on the rail systems without connecting their arrival with the declines in overall system performance that rail projects have often caused.”
Off the Rails (1.5-mb pdf)
Author: Taxpayers League of Minnesota
Citation: Brochure used to campaign against Northstar commuter-rail line.
Summary: Shows that an expensive commuter-rail line will do almost nothing to relieve congestion.
Quote: “The first study on Northstar said that for every dollar invested, only 26 cents of benefit would be generated. The latest MnDoT study suggests 84 cents on the dollar return. It’s as if taxpayers were throwing money away!”
Light Rail Is the Worst Transit Option (76-kb Word document)
Authors: Laissez Faire Institute
Citation: Chandler, AZ: Laissez Faire Institute, 2006, 2 pp.
Summary: Compares light rail’s efficiency with other modes of transit.
Quote: “The average cost (of light rail) per passenger mile was around $1.80. These costs are higher than the average cost per bus passenger mile of about 80 cents.”
Does Light Rail Worsen Congestion and Air Quality? (140-kb Word document)
Author:John Semmons
Citation: Presentation to the 84th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 2005
Summary: Building light rail in the streets costs less than finding exclusive rights of way. But by reducing roadway capacity, building light-rail lines in the streets actually increases congestion and congestion-related air pollution.
Quote: “Projections indicate that the side-effect of reduced roadway capacity is larger than the primary effect of luring drivers out of their cars.”
Getting the Story Straight!
Author: Representative Steve Davis
Citation: PowerPoint presentation made to the 2006 Preserving the American Dream Conference, September 16, 2006, 18 slides.
Summary: A proposed commuter rail line in the south Atlanta area would cost $106 million and promises to take only 1,800 drivers off the road.
Quote: “$106 million invested over 20 years at 6% interest is enough money to provide limousine service to all of the projected 1,800 riders.”

Transit Policy

Toward Creating Sustainable Transit
Author: Wendell Cox and Ronald Utt
Citation: Washington: Heritage Foundation WebMemo no. 2935, June 15, 2010, 3 pp.
Summary: Transit is increasing unsustainable, requiring more subsidies to produce less every year. Making it sustainable requires introducing competition and spending funds cost-effectively. 
Quote: “Transit’s chief problem is perverse incentives that have allowed its operating costs to rise faster than those of any other similar industry.”
Public Transit Program Issues in Surface Transportation Reauthorization (164-kb pdf)
Public Transit Program Funding Issues in Surface Transportation Reauthorization (168-kb pdf)
Author: William J. Mallett
Citation: Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2007, 25 pp. & 27 pp.
Summary: These overlapping reports propose three alternatives to increasing taxes to pay for transit infrastructure needs: 1. Focus transit improvements on regions where transit really works; 2. Dedicate transit funds to rehabilitation of existing systems rather than building new ones; and 3. Replace existing programs with grants distributed to regions based on transit ridership or population.
Quote: “Funds distributed according to transit ridership would reward areas that commit their own resources successfully to providing transit service.”
The Public Finance of Private Communities and Private Transit (52-kb PowerPoint show)
Author: Fred Foldvary
Citation: Presentation given to the Preserving the American Dream conference, San Jose, CA, 11 November 2007, 13 slides
Summary: Economist Foldvary proposes a comprehensive reform of urban areas through private streets run by community associations; private transit; and covenants instead of zoning.
Quote: “We can recover from ‘smart growth’ with private communities.”
A Desire Named Streetcar: How Federal Subsidies Encourage Wasteful Local Transit Systems (1.2-mb pdf)
Authors: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2006, 15 pp.
Summary: Incentives built into the federal budget encourage transit agencies to support high-cost alternatives such as rail transit when lower-cost options would do as well or better.
Quote: “As some cities began to build new rail transit systems, they ended up getting the lion’s share of transit funds. Rail advocates in other cities argued that they would not get their share of the funds unless they, too, began building rail lines.”
How to Reform Public Transit (3-mb PowerPoint)
Author: Ted Ballaker, Reason Foundation
Citation: PowerPoint presentation made to the 2006 Preserving the American Dream Conference, September 16, 2006, 51 slides.
Summary: Transit agencies spend enormous amounts of money trying to attract “choice” riders, i.e., people who have a choice of driving. In doing so, they often neglect transit-dependent people. An improvement would be to run transit the way we run food programs for low-income people, i.e., giving vouchers to transit-dependent rather than huge subsidies to transit bureaucracies.
Quote: “Food stamps focus on the needy. Public transit focuses more and more on choice riders.”
Transit and Congestion Relief (100-kb PowerPoint)
Author: Thomas Rubin
Citation: PowerPoint presentation made to the 2006 Preserving the American Dream Conference, September 16, 2006, 20 slides.
Summary: As a part of the Reason Foundation Mobility Project, Rubin is studying the relationship between transit and traffic congestion. While the results are only preliminary, some examples show that transit can actually be associated with increased congestion.
Quote: “Can transit actually cause congestion to increase? No, not by itself. But, as a component of an officially adopted program of ‘interesting’ transportation decisions, a case can be made.”
End Funding Discrimination in Public Transit (32-kb Word document)
Author: Juliet Ellis
Citation: San Francisco Chronicle, 1 December 2005
Summary: Transit funding favors middle-class neighborhoods and discriminates against the poor.
Quote: “The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission — which plans and allocates funding for the area’s transit needs — supports a ‘separate and unequal transit system’ that discriminates against poor transit riders of color.”
Reforming Transit (612-kb PowerPoint)
Author: Francesco Ramella
Citation: Presentation given at 2005 Preserving the American Dream conference
Summary: Great Britain has privatized most of its transit service. This has produced better service at a far lower cost than transit services in France, Germany, or Italy. Britain now focuses its subsidies on transit-dependent users, not on transit agencies.
Quote: “Subsidisation of public transport seems not be justified on the ground of economic and environmental reasons. Subsidisation could be worthwhile only on social grounds.”
The Future of Mass Transit (96-kb pdf)
Author: Thomas Rubin (transportation consultant)
Citation: Veritas, Summer 2000, pp. 14-25.
Summary: Transit can provide mobility for people who cannot drive, but it can’t reduce traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, shape cities, or stimulate the local economy. 
Quote: “In almost all cases, improved bus transit services can be, at a minimum, extremely competitive with rail transit alternatives and bus is frequently a clear and convincing winner in any fair compeition. The key word is ‘fair’ because many such modal competitions are stacked against all but the preselected winner, which is virtually always rail transit.”
The Illusion of Transit Choice (128-kb pdf)
Author: Wendell Cox
Citation: Veritas, March, 2002, pp. 34-42.
Summary: Building a transit system that is competitive with the automobile — that is, that can deliver people from any point in an urban area to any other point in no more than 150 percent of the time it takes to drive — would be prohibitively expensive.
Quote: “The annual capital and operating costs for a comprehensive system providing transit choice to the entire community would be more than the total personal income of the metropolitan area.”
Does Transit Really Work? Thoughts on the Weyrich / Lind “Conservative Reappraisal,” (web document)
Author: Dr. Peter Gordon (USC)
Citation: Los Angeles, CA: Reason Foundation, 1999
Summary: The support of conservatives Paul Weyrich and William Lind for rail transit is based on wishful thinking and an overly optimistic treatment of selected cases.
Quote: “W&L would (somehow) compel sufficient retail and services to develop near transit stations so that transit could also become the mode of choice for trip-chaining commuter-shoppers. This is the dream of many city planners who advocate Transit-Oriented Development. To date, and unless offered huge carrots, investors have shown very little interest in locating near transit stations.”

Transit Myths

Ten Transit Myths (web document)
Author: Randal O’Toole (Thoreau Institute)
Citation: Los Angeles, CA: Reason Foundation, 1998.
Summary: America’s public transit systems suffer from myths that are harmful to both transit and American cities.
Quote: “Myth: Transportation subsidies are unfairly biased towards autos and highways. Reality: Since at least 1975, transit subsidies have been tens to hundreds of times greater than highway subsidies.”
Myths of Light Rail Transit (web document)
Author: Dr. James V. DeLong
Citation: Los Angeles: Reason Foundation, 1998
Summary: Official hopes that light rail will solve urban transportation problems are based on myths that will be rudely shattered when realities intrude.
Quote: “Myth: Rail is high-capacity transit. Reality: Bus corridors have vastly more capacity than any single rail line.”
Kennedy, 60 Minutes, and Roger Rabbit: Understanding Conspiracy-Theory Explanations of The Decline of Urban Mass Transit (156-kb pdf)
Author: Dr. Martha J. Bianco (Portland State University)
Citation: Portland, OR: Center for Urban & Public Affairs, Portland State University, 1998, 21 pp.
Summary: Though untrue or, at best, exaggerated, the myth that General Motors destroyed transit systems is popular among rail advocates because it makes their rail proposals seem more attractive.
Quote: “If we cannot cast GM, the producer and supplier of automobiles, as the ultimate enemy, then we end up with a shocking and nearly unfathomable alternative: What if the enemy is not the supplier, but rather the consumer? What if, to paraphrase Oliver Perry, we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us?”
The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles (208-kb pdf)
Author: Dr. Jonathan E. D. Richmond (MIT)
Citation: Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 15(4):294-320
Summary: The popularity of rail among Los Angeles government officials is due to a series of myths, including the myth that trains are faster and more efficient than buses. As one LA transit commissioner is quoted as saying, “Trains are sexy, buses are not.”
Quote: “The train — concrete, sexy, transport of intimate memories and powerful ideas — provides a solid basis for political support. Technologies with negative symbolic connotations cannot do that.”

Transit Planning

San Francisco Bay Area Rail Expansion Projects: Promises and Performance (784-KB PowerPoint file)
Author: Tom Rubin
Citation: Presentation at the American Dream Coalition conference in Reston, Virginia, December 4, 2008
Summary: Reviews the expansion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
Quote: The BART extension to San Francisco Airport cost almost 50 percent more than planned, and “all of the overrun ($623 million) was borne by local agencies, causing major problems.” Current ridership is less than 40 percent of the ridership projected for 2010.
Declaration of Thomas A. Rubin ( file)
Author: Thomas Rubin
Citation: Bena Chang v. Santa Clara County
Summary: Rubin reviews Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (San Jose) data for a court case regarding a ballot measure to increase funding to the agency.
Quote: “Yes, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is the worst transit agency in the United States.”
A Short History of San Francisco Bay Area Transit: Is Valley Transit the Worst Transit Agency in the U.S.? (17-MB PowerPoint file)
Author: Thomas Rubin
Citation: Presentation given to the 2007 Preserving the American Dream conference, San Jose, CA, November 10, 2007.
Summary: Reviews the history of modern rail transit in the San Francisco Bay Area with particular focus on San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).
Quote: Among major transit agencies, VTA has the nation’s third lowest light-rail passenger loads and lowest bus loads and the highest subsidy per passenger and per passenger mile.
Contractor Performance Assessment Report (4.4-mb Word document)
Background Data (16-kb Excel spreadsheet)
Author: Frank Spielberg and Steven Lewis-Workman
Citation: Washington, DC: Federal Transit Administration, 2007, 193 sheet.
Summary: Although published in 2007, the heart of this report (beginning on page 13 of the document) is a long-suppressed 2003 study of rail projects that shows that they cost 20 percent more and carry 35 percent fewer riders than projected. Estimates of operating costs, however, were fairly accurate.
Quote: “Adjusted for inflation. . ., the cost of the completed projects averages 20 percent greater than the initial estimates. (However,) the accuracy . . . has been improving over time.”
Trends in U.S. Rail Transit Project Cost Overrun (128-kb pdf)
Author: Nasiru A. Dantata, Ali Touran, and Donald C. Schneck
Citation: Paper presented at the 2006 meeting of the Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC, 20 pp.
Summary: Finds that rail transit projects since 1990 have cost an average of 40 percent more than their original projected costs.
Quote: Some of the cost overruns shown in table 2 include 13%, 26%, and 56% for heavy-rail lines n Baltimore, Boston, and Los Angeles; 42%, 11%, 78%, and 49% for light-rail lines in Dallas, Denver, New Jersey, and Minneapolis.
The Sunk Cost and Concorde Effects: Are Humans Less Rational Than Lower Animals? (1.2-mb pdf)
Authors: Hal Arkes and Peter Ayton
Citation: Psychological Bulletin 1999, 125(5):591-600.
Summary: Asks why people throw good money after bad on wasteful projects such as the Concorde SST or rail transit, and concludes it is “due to humans’ over-generalization of the ‘don’t waste’ rule.”
Quote: “The sunk cost effect is a maladaptive economic behavior that is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made.”
Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects Error or Lie? (488-kb pdf)
Authors: Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Soren Buhl
Citation: Journal of the American Planning Association 68(3) Summer 2002: 279’Äì295
Summary: Reviews of 258 transportation projects worth $90 billion reveal that the cost estimates for those projects were highly misleading. U.S. rail projects ended up costing an average of 41 percent more than estimated while U.S. road projects ended up costing an average of 8 percent more than estimated.
Quote: “Underestimation cannot be explained by error and is best explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying.”
How (In)accurate Are Demand Forecasts for Public Works Projects? (356-kb pdf)
Authors: Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Soren Buhl
Citation: Journal of the American Planning Association 68(3) Spring 2005: 131-146
Summary: Reviews of 220 transportation projects worth $59 billion reveal that the user forecasts for those projects were highly misleading. Rail projects overestimated ridership by more than 100 percent, while highway projects underestimated use by an average of 9 percent.
Quote: “The causes of inaccuracy in forecasts are different for rail and road projects, with political causes playing a larger role for rail than for road.”

Transit and Social Equity

Reconsidering Social Equity in Public Transit (76-kb pdf)
Authors:Mark Garrett and Brian Taylor, University of California at Los Angeles
Citation: Berkeley Planning Journal 13 (1999): 6-27,
Summary: Transit agencies have lost sight of their core market of inner-city residents in an expensive and ineffective effort to recapture business from suburban residents.
Quote: “The growing dissonance between the quality of service provided to inner-city residents who depend on local buses and the level of public resources being spent to attract new transit riders is both economically inefficient and socially inequitable.”
The Demographics of Public Transit Subsidies: A Case Study of Los Angeles (296-kb pdf)
Authors: Hiroyuki Iseki and Brian Taylor, University of California at Los Angeles
Citation: University of California Transportation Center research paper 700, 2003,
Summary: Transit subsidies per trip are highly regressive, being very low for low-income people but very high for high-income people.
Quote: “While low-income residents generally benefit from the public transit subsidy, this analysis finds that the benefits of subsidies disproportionately accrue to those least in need of public assistance.”
The Effects of Federal Transit Subsidy Policy on Investment Decisions: The Case of San Francisco’s Geary Corridor (84-kb pdf)
Authors:Jianling Li, University of Texas, and Martin Wachs, University of California
Citation: University of California Transportation Center research paper 651, 2003, 
Summary: Federal transit subsidies give agencies incentives to select capital-intensive projects that may be inefficient and ineffective. 
Quote: “With a large proportion of funding earmarked by Congress, the political nature of funding allocation can discourage serious comparison of transit investment alternatives.”
Shall We Try to Get the Prices Right? (196-kb pdf)
Author:Mark Delucchi
Citation: Access magazine, #16 (Spring 2000), pp. 10-14.
Summary: Marginal social cost pricing — that is, eliminating subsidies and charging transportation users for the social costs of their transport — would increase auto driving costs by about 7 cents per vehicle mile. But it would increase transit costs by 40 cents to $1.09 per passenger mile. 
Quote: “Thus, the elimination of subsidies in accordance with a plan for MSC pricing (and optimal investment) would, on average, reduce, not increase, the use of public transit.”
Who must pay for transit services? The users (mainly) (212-kb pdf)
Author:Francesco Ramella
Citation: Presentation before the 2005 Preserving the American Dream conference.
Summary: In Germany, France, and Italy, transit expenses per capita are four times greater than in Britain, which has deregulated its transit. Yet British air quality has improved, British travel times are faster, and British roads are safer than those in Germany, France, and Italy.
Quote: “Subsidization per passenger km is three times lower in Britain metropolitan areas.”

Buses vs. Rail

Misinvestment in Transit in Los Angeles (3-mb PowerPoint show)
Author: Tom Rubin
Citation: Presentation to the Preserving the American Dream conference, San Jose, CA, 11 November 2007, 61 slides
Summary: Compared with other urban areas, Los Angeles buses have above-average performance, while rail has below-average performance.
Quote: “Bus works in Los Angeles, guideway transit doesn’Äôt, so strengthen what works — and abandon what doesn’Äôt.”
Transportation and Transit for Scottsdale (5.1-mb PowerPoint show)
Author: Tom Rubin
Citation: Presentation in Scottsdale, AZ, 10 February 2007, 82 slides
Summary: Rail transit is a poor choice for Scottsdale.
Quote: “The failed syllogism: If we do nothing, things will get worse. Building rail is doing something. Therefore, we must build rail.”
Using Automobiles & Wi-Fi to Reduce Traffic Congestion (128-kb Word document)
Author: Robert Behnke
Citation: Presentation to the 2006 Preserving the American Dream conference, September 16, 2006
Summary: Smart Jitneys and municipal wireless networks can be used — at a low cost to both taxpayers and users — to reduce transportation and other problems and to improve the quality of life in rural, urban and suburban communities.
Quote: “Municipal Wi-Fi/Wi-Max networks can also be used to provide Smart Community (i.e. special, proprietary, mobile-Internet) services, including Smart Jitney dispatching, to residents and visitors. Sometimes called single-trip or dynamic carpools, Smart Jitneys are privately-owned cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks that are computer-dispatched to pick up and deliver passengers and parcels door-to-door, for a fee, in selected travel corridors.”
Smart Jitney/Community-Enhanced Transit Systems (108-kb Word document)
Authors: Park Woodworth and Robert Behnke
Citation: Presentation to the American Public Transit Association (APTA) 2006 Bus and Paratransit Conference, 16 pp.
Summary: Urges transit agencies to begin providing door-to-door “smart jitney” service to their operations.
Quote: “Adding a new, door-to-door, route-deviation, microbus service to your existing transit-paratransit-ridesharing system could increase your ridership and farebox recovery rates significantly.”
Virtual Exclusive Busways: Improving Urban Transit while Relieving Congestion (820-kb pdf)
Authors: Robert W. Poole, Jr. and Ted Balaker
Citation: Los Angeles, CA: Reason Foundation, 2005, 44 pp.
Summary: A “virtual exclusive busway” provides a free-flowing lane for buses that is also open to auto drivers who are willing to pay a “value-priced” toll that varies to insure that the lane will never be congested.
Quote: “Experience over the past decade with value pricing shows that such pricing can be used to create the virtual equivalent of an exclusive busway, paid for largely by drivers. This is too good an opportunity for transportation planners to pass up.”
Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise (1.1-mb pdf)
Author:General Accounting Office
Citation: GAO-01-984, 2001,
Summary: Bus rapid transit costs less to start and less to operate, and can move passengers at higher average speeds, than light rail.
Quote: “Given the merits of Bus Rapid Transit and its potential cost advantages, we believe that it should be given serious consideration as options are explored and evaluated.”
Busway vs. Rail Capacity: Separating Myth from Fact (164-kb pdf)
Author: Peter Samuel, Tollroads Newsletter
Citation: Los Angeles, CA: Reason Foundation, 2002, 5 pp.
Summary: Buses cost less, are more flexible, and on any given route can theoretically carry as many people per hour as heavy rail and far more people than light rail.
Quote: “The Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane [carries] close to 16,000 passengers/lane/hour throughout the morning rush hours and over 25,000 passengers/lane/hour in the busiest hour. . . . By contrast light-rail capacity is cited at 6,000 to 20,000 passengers/hour.”
Getting and Using Transit Data (488-kb PowerPoint)
Author:John Semmens
Citation: Presentation to the 2005 Preserving the American Dream conference.
Summary: Describes a variety of sources of transit and transportation information and how it can be used to critique rail transit projects.
Quote: “I wish I could tell you that getting & using transit data is a surefire defense against transit waste. It’Äôs not. . . . Nevertheless, getting & using the data is the only option that is normally within the realm of financial feasibility for those aiming to prevent this waste.”

Transit Safety

Accidents Point Up Dangers of Rail Transit (52-kb rtf)
Author:Randal O’Toole
Citation: Thoreau Institute, Vanishing Automobile update #48, January, 2004,
Summary: For every billion passenger miles carried, commuter trains kill twice as many people as buses and light-rail vehicles kill three times as many.
Quote: “The worst record is held by Los Angeles light-rail lines, which kill nine times as many people per passenger mile as buses.”
How Safe Is Light Rail? (316-kb Word document)
Authors: Gary J. Green
Citation: Chandler, AZ: Gary Green, 2003, 13 pp.
Summary: Uses Federal Transit Administration data to show that light rail is one of the most dangerous forms of transportation in the U.S.
Quote: “A collision on light rail service was 18 times more likely (per passenger trip) than on heavy rail service and a collision on light rail service was more likely to result in a fatality or serious injury.”
Transit’s Safety Challenges (268-kb Word document)
Author:John Semmons
Citation: Presentation to the 82th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January 2003
Summary: Although auto fatality rates per passenger mile have steadily decreased for decades, rates for light-rail transit, which are much higher than for autos, have remained the same — or grown — over the past decade or more.
Quote: “The high risks of light rail ought to be a cause for concern and pause in the quest to place more of these trains onto city streets.”
Light Rail Fails Safety Test (96-kb rtf)
Author:John Semmons
Citation: Laissez Faire Institute
Summary: Light rail is not involved in more fatal accidents, its rate of violent crime is three times greater per passenger mile than for buses.
Quote: “Compared to other transit modes, light rail has the worst crime rate.”
Sound Transit light rail bound to kill people, but the agency has a strategy to evade responsibility for it (124-kb pdf)
Author:Emory Bundy
Citation: Beacon Hill News, July 12, 2004
Summary: Seattle’s planned light-rail line will run in the same streets as cars and pedestrians, so there are bound to be accidents and deaths. 
Quote: “The fundamental error is inherent to the projects-the mistake of running a massive, steelon-steel, slow-stopping behemoth through urban neighborhoods, on a demanding time schedule.”

Critiques of Existing Transit Systems

Colorado Transit: A Costly Failure
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Golden: Independence Institute Issue Backgrounder 2010-C, 2010, 5 pp.
Summary: Colorado transit systems are far more costly and most are far less environmentally friendly than driving.
Quote: “Colorado transit riders pay an average of 81 cents every time they board a bus and $1.04 when they ride light rail, while taxpayers pay an average of more than $3.60 to support each bus trip and close to $7 to support each light-rail trip.”
Public Transit in Montana
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Bozeman: Montana Policy Institute, 2010, 4 pp.
Summary: Montana transit systems are far more costly and far less environmentally friendly than driving.
Quote: “Public transit also has a heavy cost on the environment. Urban buses use more energy than private vehicles and release more than twice the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.”
Tackling Public Transit in Tennessee
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Nashville: Tennessee Center for Policy Research Policy Report no. 10-04, June 3, 2010, 10 pp.
Summary: Tennessee transit systems are far more costly and most are far less environmentally friendly than driving.
Quote: “The only truly energy efficient transit system in Tennessee is vanpools, which is the closest thing public transit offers to actual cars. Those who want to save energy and reduce pollution would do better encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient cars than encouraging cities to expand transit service.”
Public Transit in Washington
Author: Randal O’Toole
Citation: Seattle: Washington Policy Center, July, 2010, 11 pp.
Summary: Washington transit systems are far more costly and most are far less environmentally friendly than driving.
Quote: “In Washington state, the public subsidy for cars is 1.3 cents per passenger mile and the public subsidy for transit is $1.14 per passenger mile.”
Washington Metro Needs Reform, Not a Federal Bailout (100-kb pdf)
Author: Ronald D. Utt
Citation: Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 2007, 2 pp.
Summary: The poorly managed Washington Metro needs hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to rehabilitate and maintain the high-cost rail system. A Virginia member of Congress has proposed to divert $1.5 billion in federal funds to keep the system going; Utt argues that this will merely support inefficient management.
Quote: “Unreliable and poorly run, the system is subject to frequent failure, bad weather, suicides, driver error, and passenger medical emergencies. During one recent setback, a Metro spokeswoman said, ‘delays could be less severe if a large number of commuters stay home.'”
Light Rail Transit Impacts in Portland: The First Ten Years (64-kb pdf)
Author:Ken Dueker and Martha Bianco, Portland State University
Citation: Presentation to the 78th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, 1999
Summary: Light rail has had some positive effects on transit use and slowed the growth of two-plus car families, but the effects have been slight.
Quote: “Examination of data suggests that it may be advisable for planners to entertain more modest expectations of LRT.”
San Jose Case Study Part Two: Light Rail (24-kb rtf)
Author:Randal O’Toole
Citation: Thoreau Institute, Vanishing Automobile update #33, Decenber, 2002,
Summary: San Jose’s light-rail system has so indebted the region’s transit agency that it has been forced to make severe cuts to the transit system.
Quote: “San Francisco cable cars and New Orleans tourist streetcars are both more productive than San Jose light rail.”
Planning for Total Gridlock (5.6-mb PowerPoint)
Author:Chris Walker
Citation: Landowners Opposing Wasteful Expenditures on Rail
Summary: Washington, DC’s metro rail system consumes 60 percent of the region’s transportation resources yet carries only 5 percent of the region’s travel.
Quote: “Metrorail is a White Elephant which must be maintained but not expanded.”

Critiques of Proposed Transit Projects

Punishing North Portland, commuters & taxpayers: The hidden costs of the proposed Interstate Avenue light rail line (88-kb pdf)
Author: Gerard Mildner
Citation: Portland, OR: Cascade Policy Institute, 1999, 7 pp.
Summary: A proposed light-rail line in Portland will significantly increase congestion, yet most of its passengers will be former bus riders. Note:This line was built and most of Mildner’s predictions have come true. Ridership on the rail line appears to be no more, and perhaps even less, than on the bus route it replaced. The elimination of two traffic lanes from Interstate Avenue significantly increased congestion. The main purpose of the line appears to be to justify further subsidies for high-density development in the corridor.
Quote: “Building the North Portland light rail extension is a waste of resources that the Portland region cannot affford. Before we decide whether to subsidize light rail trips at $31 each, we must consider whether reducing bus service for inner-city passengers is an acceptable outcome.”
Report Card for Sound Transit (300-kb pdf)
Author:Emory Bundy
Citation: Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives, 2005,
Summary: Seattle’s plans to build light rail and operate commuter rail have been beset by cost overruns, lower-than-projected ridership, and revenue shortfalls.
Quote: “The region is destined to spend more and more money for extravagant transit options, higher per-trip costs, with diminished transit market share. This is contributing to the worst possible outcome, more intense congestion in tandem with higher taxes and subsidies.”
Quack Transportation Planning in America’s Number One City (204-kb Word document)
Author:Emory Bundy
Citation: Presentation to the 2005 Preserving the American Dream conference.
Summary: Provides background to the Report Card for Sound Transit (above).
Quote: “The scale of fraud being perpetrated by Sound Transit may exceed that of WorldCom. WorldCom’s fraud was in the scale of $11 billion. . . . By 2030, Sound Transit will have collected over $17 billion for what it sold to voters as a $3.9 billion package.”
How Sound Transit Abused the Planning Process to Promote Light Rail (1.3-mb pdf)
Author:R.C. Harkness
Summary: An urban planner’s perspective on Seattle’s light-rail debacle.
Citation: Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives, 2005,
Quote: “There is no valid alternatives analysis behind Link light rail.”
Madison Commuter Rail: Let the Taxpayer Beware! (16-kb rtf))
Author:Randal O’Toole
Citation: Thoreau Institute, Vanishing Automobile update #33, January, 2003,
Summary: In considering alternatives, consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff found that bus-only transit would carry more riders than buses plus commuter rail, yet the latter alternative would cost four times as much. So the consultant deleted some bus routes to make rail appear as if it would carry more people.
Quote: “Transport 2020 is telling unwary Madisonians that commuter rail is needed to increase transit ridership by 50 percent. In fact, all commuter rail does is unnecessarily spend $181 million.”
Potemkin Transit: An Analysis of the Airport Light-Rail Proposal in Portland (136-kb Word document)
Author: Dr. Gerard Mildner (Portland State University)
Summary: Portland planners appear to have overestimated ridership of an airport light-rail line, but even if their forecasts are correct, the project will cost $25 per passenger round trip. [Note: The light-rail line in question was built, and ridership did fall short of projections.]
Quote: “Building the airport MAX extension is a waste of resources that the Portland region cannot afford.”
Trolley Folly: A Critical Analysis of the Austin Light-Rail Proposal (276-kb pdf)
Authors: Thomas Rubin (transportation consultant) and Wendell Cox
Citation: Austin, TX: Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2000, 31 pp.
Summary: A proposed light-rail line would cost at least a third of Austin’s transportation funds yet carry less than a half percent of regional travel.
Quote: “The Dallas DART light rail system has been declared a success by Capital Metro. In fact, DART’Äôs original projections that were used to promote their ballot initiative have been missed by a substantial margin. Ridership has fallen nearly 90 percent short and capital costs have escalated 60 percent.”
Transportation in the Balance: A Comparative Analysis of Costs, User Revenues, and Subsidies for Highway, Air, and High-Speed Rail Systems (312-kb pdf)
Authors: Evelyn Chan, Adib Kanafani, and Thomas Canetti (University of California)
Citation: Berkeley, CA: University of California Transportation Center, 1997, 69 pp.
Summary: Compares prospects for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area with highways and airlines. Concludes that the social costs (subsidies plus externalities) of rail would be eighty times as much as for roads.
Quote: “Even under extremely conservative assumptions regarding the estimation of the external costs of noise and air pollution, high-speed rail will continue to require many times the subsidies needed by the other modes.”