We Have Ways of Making You Take the Bus!

New Mexico is riding the wave of the future. Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) felt that Albuquerque needed a commuter train to carry people to work and that they couldn't wait the normal 10 to 20 years this process usually takes. So now 2,300 people a day ride the train to Albuquerque.

The problem? The state spends $20 million a year on the train. Thus, with 2,300 people using the train, the state is spending $33.44 per passenger per day, assuming 260 business days in the year. While one could argue public transit saves wear and tear on the roads, an individual driving to and from work would have to cause more than $8,000 in wear and tear for the cost of trains to make sense.

In my hometown of Boise, the city government is gearing up for the construction of a 2.6 mile street car loop, which will cover areas already serviced by our local buses -- meaning any impact to air quality or traffic will be minimal. The cost of putting in the rail system will be $40-$65 million.

But don't worry too much about us -- half of that will be paid for by taxpayers in other states. The feds are picking up the tab.

There is a place for mass transit, particularly as cities grow. But these, and other big government transit projects, add up to the bridge to nowhere on wheels. The reason for these massive expenditures? Ideology that borders on religion.

In this new religion, taking the bus, riding a bike, or walking instead of driving are pious good works. And there is no surmounting the religion's faith in solving transportation problems by addressing every mode of transit but what most people actually use to get from point A to point B.

During Idaho's last legislative session, the legislature was presented with information that our existing highways and bridges were in disrepair. One State Senate Democrat focused on the "need" for bike lanes even in rural areas, where riding a bicycle is not an option for most because of the distance involved. Yes, I'm sure there are some people that ride their bicycles in Challis (pop: 909) but does it really make sense to spend the money?

It seems that part of the faith is that these options -- even if barely used -- are good in and of themselves.

Of course, empty bike lanes are a waste of money. Empty buses are a waste of money and fuel. In the private sector, a company whose service was as unpopular as mass transit would carefully evaluate the service and the marketing, and figure out why people don't ride.

Not so much with the federal government. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood admitted at the National Press Club recently, regarding the administration's policies: "It is a way to coerce people out of their cars."