JLF Triangle Blog

Reason Foundation Expert: Passenger Rail Makes No Sense In Most Communities, Including The Triangle

Adrian Moore, vice president for policy at the Reason Foundation, says passenger rail makes no sense for most American communities, including North Carolina’s Triangle region. He recently spoke about why with Mitch Kokai of Carolina Journal Radio. Following is a portion of the transcript.


Kokai: Some of the supporters of transit will look at other communities that have transit systems and say, “Look, it works here.” What are they missing? What’s the part of the picture that they’re missing when they look at some other community and desire to have a train system just like that?

Moore: Well, I mean, they’re missing any kind of facts. They’re saying, “Well, look, it looks cool. Look at how pretty that train is. Look at those nice mixed-use apartments built beside it. Look, there’s transit-oriented development. Look how happy the people riding transit are.”

What they’re ignoring is the reality I just described, that it’s great — Portland, awesome — except they’re still spending 45 percent of their money on a system that’s carrying 5 percent of their travelers. That is eventually going to come to an end. It just can’t be sustained.

As the rest of the system begins to break down because it has to carry 90 percent of the people with 40 percent of the money, or 50 percent of the money, it just can’t be sustained that way. And so, they’re just overlooking the realities behind the shiny train. The shiny train kind of catches the eye and dominates the mind.

Kokai: In the time that we have remaining, a lot of people see in this [Triangle] area, and in the Charlotte area as well, there is a lot of congestion, and something needs to be done. What should we be doing, other than looking at these nice, shiny trains?

Moore: The No. 1 thing is, in no other place do we assume that you should not expand when demand expands. This idea that you can’t expand the road system is laughable. You always hear, well, if you add more lanes to the roads then you just get more travel and it just fills up and you wind up with congestion just the same. But there’s more people traveling, you know? I mean, it’s just, yeah, it’s like saying, well, if you build a second store and that store is busy on the weekends, too, you haven’t made any progress. Well, twice as many people are going to the store and buying goods. More people are on the roads. That means more people want and find it economically valuable to travel.

So one thing is build the roads that you need to build for actual growth and demand. And, frankly, we have a problem: The way we pay for roads is a lousy way, with this gas tax. It’s very hidden; nobody knows what they pay, nobody understands what they’re paying for. I think a more transparent, direct — not … just simple tolling, but a better way to pay directly for the roads, where we actually pay for what we use — would make people, I think, make a lot better transportation decisions, and make it easier to pay for the system that we actually use.

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