Human Transit: transit and a shrinking u.s. government


Jarrett Walker makes a brilliant point about US transportation financing prospects. Human Transit: transit and a shrinking u.s. government:

"In other words, US urban policy would become more like that of Canada, a country where the Federal role in most urban matters is much smaller than in the US, but where cities, regional governments, and provinces are correspondingly freer to chart their own way, and pay for it.

It's easy to imagine that more conservative states would just let their cities die through underfunding, but that's certainly not happening in Alberta.  Canada's most conservative province, a natural resource powerhouse that draws comparison to Texas in its boom times, has remarkably good inner-city transit policy and a continuous stream of provincial investment.  Calgary's downtown commuter parking cost is about the same as San Francisco's and the result is extremely strong ridership on its bus and light rail system, at least for commutes, and support for a dense core. 

The transition to a more Canada-like Federal role would be hell.  Everyone involved is understandably horrified by the prospect, including me much of the time.  But if the Federal budget-slashers win, US cities and states will be on that course whether they like it or not.  Are we sure the eventual outcome would be a disaster?"

Having just returned from Vancouver, I suspect Canada does better than the US on many infrastructure investment questions (collapsing concrete in Quebec aside). In the end, both the "left" and the "right" should welcome this outcome. Local governments, weened from Washington will make decisions that better fit local needs. Transit investment will increase in places where it should (and not where it shouldn't). There will remain intra-metropolitan investment mismatches, but a lack of federal dollars may also disempower the MPO. At any rate, metropolitan mismatches are less odious than federal investment mismatches.

When the established interests start saying their "ohs noes" about the shrinkage of federal funds, think about our neighbor to the north. They somehow muddle through.


Perhaps more local control would be a good thing, but America (or at least American politicians) seems to be demonstrating that no matter the level of government, they don't want to invest in infrastructure. Our own recent state budget deal including a state raid on a transit infrastructure fund set up by counties, and financed by a locally-imposed sales tax.

@Brendon I read the article you link to, and despite the characterization by local politicians, it doesn't seem a raid so much as requiring localities to pay more (and the state pays less) for local transit. From a state perspective this seems perfectly reasonable, i.e. why should International Falls subsidize Metro Transit (and vice versa, why should the Metro subsidize anything out in International Falls). Obviously it was unexpected, and these transitions should be planned for, but as an end state, having a local share of 10% vs 90% are equally arbitrary if we are dealing with cross-subsidies.

Well, the State and CTIB had an agreement to fund local operations based on a certain formula, which the state has now changed. Also, CTIB dollars were not supposed to offset the costs of the Met Council, which they are now doing. So I guess we can argue about the term "raid", especially based on how these decisions create stability needed to plan and build long-range transportation projects.

Maybe local control and funding is better. In the theoretical, it seems like the answer is that it definitely would be. More interesting to me is the question of how we get there without what Jared calls "hell".

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

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Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on August 2, 2011 4:39 PM.

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