Since President Obama took office, the phrase “high speed rail” has become the buzzword for just about anything. Supposedly, it will stimulate our economy, reduce carbon emissions, and make cats and dogs live in perfect harmony. There’s just one problem I foresee with the President’s grand ambitions. I can’t find to many people interested in riding the damn thing.
High speed rail will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars. An entire infrastructure has to be put in place to support it as standard railways can’t handle the speed these trains can generate. That means more eminent domain seizures. That means less money for things people expect from government, be it law enforcement or welfare. That means years of construction with little to show for it prior to the grand unveiling.
For many that’s not that big of a deal. They’re willing to wait for something if it’s pretty awesome. They’re even willing to spend tax dollars for it. The question is, will it be worth a damn?
One of the knocks on Amtrak is best summed up by my trip to Manhattan, Kansas several years ago. I needed to actually get to Kansas City where a friend would pick me up. Taking Amtrak was going to take longer than a bus, and cost me more than taking a plane. There was no incentive to take a train at all, especially since a large chunk of that time period was a lay over.
In theory, high speed rail should solve that. The train moves faster after all. But the question is, will there be enough trains? A large part of my reason to not take a train - despite a desire to actually travel that way for once - was due to a very long lay over. The reason for that was because there isn’t enough traffic to justify more trains. So far, there’s little reason to assume high speed rail will have more travelers and therefore more trains running.
On July 31st, Georgians will not only head to the polls to vote in party primaries, but also to determine the fate of the the TSPLOST, a 1-cent local sales tax dedicated to transportation projects.
This effort isn’t the first attempt at a sales tax to fund transportation improvements and expand mass transit. Back in 2009, then-State Rep. Vance Smith, who would later go on to lead the Georgia Department of Transportation, proposed a 10-year statewide sales tax; which, if passed, would have raised taxes by $22 billion.
Disagreements between House and Senate leaders led to the effort stalling out, killing what easily would have been the largest tax hike in Georgia history. Senate leaders, led by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, preferred a regional approach to the issue. But with new leadership in the House in 2010, the Legislature ironed out a new tax hike proposal, the TSPLOST, a regional penny tax to be presented to voters this year.
Assuming all 12 regions pass the referendum later this month, the TSPLOST is projected to bring some $19 billion in new tax revenues to the state. In most regions, the split between regional and local projects will be 75-25. However, in the Metro Atlanta region, 85% of the $7.2 billion in expected revenues will go to regional projects. Fifteen percent will go for local projects. If passed in every region, this would be the largest tax hike in Georgia history.
It’s not just the CEO of GM that seems oblivious to transportation realities apparently. A lot of people seem to believe that everyone should trade in their low gas mileage cars and either get shiny new cars or take public transportation. It must be nice to live in the State of Delusion. Personally, I live in Georgia.
To start with, as I outlined in a previous post:
Many people make do with cars that cost a few hundred dollars and drive them until the wheels fall off, mostly because they don’t have a choice. Think about it for a second. The average cost of a new car in 2010 is $29,217. That’s much, much more than a lot of folks can afford. Now, this is an average and therefore is skewed with the addition of more expensive cars. However, let’s say the cost for a new car with higher fuel efficiency is only $15,000, which is well below the average and actually a couple grand below the actual range of cars looked at that could be described as more “fuel efficient”.Now, Akerson wants people to pony up that $15,000 for an all-new, fuel-efficient car. Sounds great. Unfortunately, how is someone who only makes $12,000 per year (which is above the poverty level for a single person in 2011) supposed to manage a new car loan for that much? Oh wait, they won’t.
[Yes, I’m quoting myself. Cut me some slack here already.]
Probably the one thing that defines Americans as a culture may well be our fascination with automobiles. We didn’t invent them, yet we have been absorbed by the need to own them for the last century. We may not have invented them, but we damn sure invented a way to put one in every garage in the nation. In Europe, they don’t seem to feel the same way…at least the European Union doesn’t.
From The Telegraph:
The European Commission on Monday unveiled a “single European transport area” aimed at enforcing “a profound shift in transport patterns for passengers” by 2050.
The plan also envisages an end to cheap holiday flights from Britain to southern Europe with a target that over 50 per cent of all journeys above 186 miles should be by rail.
Top of the EU’s list to cut climate change emissions is a target of “zero” for the number of petrol and diesel-driven cars and lorries in the EU’s future cities.
Siim Kallas, the EU transport commission, insisted that Brussels directives and new taxation of fuel would be used to force people out of their cars and onto “alternative” means of transport.
“That means no more conventionally fuelled cars in our city centres,” he said. “Action will follow, legislation, real action to change behaviour.”
This fight is bound to be ugly based on further quotes from the piece.