Robert Samuelson has two strategies in his recent op-ed about HSR: cherry picking data to mislead, and just lying where its simpler.
But, thankfully (since I have to head in to work later today), I do not have to spend time picking apart his contribution to the fact-free zone status of the Washington Post ... Robert Cruickshank at California HSR Blog has already taken it down.
Two important snippets after the fold but, really, just go and read the piece over at the CAHSR Blog.
In 2010, Amtrak carried 29.1 million passengers for the entire year. That’s about about 4 percent of annual air travel (2010 estimate: 725 million passengers). It’s also roughly a quarter of daily automobile commuters (124 million in 2008). Measured by passenger-miles traveled, Amtrak represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the national total.
This is a meaningless stat – it basically says “since passenger rail has been artificially limited to be a small part of the transportation market, its overall share is small, and so we should never expand it. Notice that Samuelson does not tell readers that the Acela has over 50% of the market on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York, and a similar amount between NYC and DC. Samuelson is trying to make Amtrak look less successful than it really is.
Rail buffs argue that subsidies for passenger service simply offset the huge government support of highways and airways. The subsidies “level the playing field.” Wrong. In 2004, the Transportation Department evaluated federal transportation subsidies from 1990 to 2002. It found passenger rail service had the highest subsidy ($186.35 per thousand passenger-miles) followed by mass transit ($118.26 per thousand miles). By contrast, drivers received no net subsidy; their fuel taxes more than covered federal spending.
... Also, you may have caught Samuelson’s claim that drivers aren’t subsidized. What a joke. State and federal gas tax revenues haven’t paid for the cost of maintaining roads for many years.
Further, even when federal gas tax revenues paid for the cost of maintaining funded highways: (1) the highways were still subsidized and (2) road subsidies are not the only subsidies that drivers receive.
Federal gas tax receipts are received on gasoline consumed while driving on all roads and streets, but only funded eligible Interstate, National, State, County and Township highways. That means that all gas tax paid to drive on unfunded streets has always been subsidizing funded highways, even when the National Highway Funded was not receiving supplement from general tax revenues.
States collect gas taxes, and the degree to which these involve the same cross-subsidy vary from state to state. However, it is common for states to exempt gasoline from sales tax, and since by far the greatest share of value added occurs outside of most states, this means that for most states, a large portion of the state gas tax is a shift of tax revenues from general revenues to road funding.
And of course, there is very little driving done on public on street parking, but it is provided gratis in much of the country, while parking minimums in zoning standards across the country provide "free" parking by requiring property owners to allocate a substantial amount of their private property in support of those who happen to drive cars.
And this is just the cross subsidies and hidden subsidies that come with direct dollar values ~ the cost of traffic congestion, air pollution, and economic insecurity of resting our transport system on a primarily imported commodity that will be experiencing a series of escalating price shocks over the decades to come as increasing demand presses against declining supplies, none of those are taken into account either.
Robert Cruickshank does a good job of tackling all the lame cherry picking that Robert Samuelson engages in for this op-ed ...
... but I do want to stress. When there are no facts to cherry pick, Robert Samuelson appears to be happy to just write lazy lies that reinforce the established misconceptions of his target audience.