Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Barrett, Walker to Debate Transit

By - Aug 6th, 2008 12:00 pm

Mayor Thomas M. Barrett [U Wisconsin Law School ’80] will debate transportation issues with County Executive Scott Walker on Election Day, Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 from 12:15 – 1:15 p.m.

The distinguished fellows will appear as part of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” series at Marquette University Law School, where Gousha is a Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy. [Reserve a place by clicking here.]

Barrett and Walker have been at odds over some $91 million in federal rail funds that has been earmarked for Milwaukee transit. Barrett wants some of the money for rail projects. Walker is anti-rail and believes in some kind of crazy superbus.

Meanwhile, our transit system is falling apart and people can no longer afford to drive their automobiles. Automobile miles driven are plummeting, the receipts of the Highway Trust Fund are shrinking, cities are booming along rail lines, and Milwaukee is falling behind the pack. And if Walker isn’t bad enough, the guy who he wants to replace as governor proposes to add unneeded lanes to our freeway and to do nothing about the region’s genuine transit needs.

Barrett should have the edge on this debate, since he will have the facts on his side, provided he knows how to marshal them.

Facts have never been of much interest to the anti-rail forces. Walker will likely rely on the same old hoary reports from discredited sources like The Cato Institute to make his points.

Barrett can point out that highways receive greater subsidies than transit, and could say “no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees.” If he did so, he’d be quoting the Texas Department of Transportation, which undertook a study of highway costs. It found that highway costs were never-ending, and were greater than the revenue sources directed toward them. And you thought freeways were free!

Walker could counter with quotes from “Light Rail in Milwaukee: Much Ado About Nothing,” presented to the Public Policy Forum Transportation Committee on July 10th, 1996 by Wendell Cox.

Cox wrote that “new urban rail systems remove very few automobiles from the road,” and that “transit’s costs have risen so starkly that its costs per passenger mile (person mile) are more than four times that of the automobile.”

When cities have been foolish enough to institute new rail systems, he said, “ridership averages 60 percent below projections.”

Cox also told the group that rail was on the way out as a technology. He pointed out that voters rejected light rail systems in “Houston, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.” Austin and Columbus put their plans on hold, he added.

Those sound like the kinds of facts and arguments that are tailor made for Scott Walker.

Walker, like his supporters, could cite the Cox study — the arguments are pretty much the same they have been making for decades. Never mind that Houston, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis all have rail systems now. Austin voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum for a rail, and its first car has been completed.

Light rail has exceeded projected ridership in city after city. The Bus Rapid Transit systems favored by Walker and Cox are not as efficient as trains, can not be entrained as rail cars can, and do not increase real estate values. Pittsburgh tried a bus rapid transit system, and decided to place its efforts into rail instead.

Minneapolis, one of the cities that Cox thought would never get light rail, has enjoyed spectacular success with its system, which draws “significant new riders” to rail transit, debunking yet another of the anti-rail myths.

Yes, it should be some debate. Regrettably, for Walker it is on a subject where the facts are all stacked in favor of rail, and against the failed and socially destructive policies of Scott Walker and the talk radio cabal.

Remember, people in automobiles listen to talk radio. Folks on mass transit don’t. It’s an empirical fact, and that’s why the A.M. talk radio tunnel of love echo chamber squawkfest brigade opposes rail.

As I always ask my friends who live in cities with light rail, “What do the talk radio people have to say about rail transit?” The answer — nothing. They have moved on to other inflammatory topics.

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