Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, good morning. My name is Roy Kienitz, and I am Secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning. In addition to my current work, you may recall that I served on the staff of the Committee on Environment and Public Works for many years working on transportation issues.
The previous witnesses have done a good job in illuminating the transit investment needs presented in the Conditions and Performance Report, so I will use my time to speak to the benefits of transit that justify its costs, and to specifically refute some of the more commonly heard arguments made for reducing our commitment to transit.
As you have heard, recently released data derived from the 2000 Census long form show transit usage failing to grow during the 1990s. This has been cited as evidence for a number of things, including the failure of increasing levels of investment in transit begun around 1994 to deliver results. This conclusion cannot properly be drawn from this evidence for several reasons.
Figure 1. Net Change In Transit Ridership and
Driving From Previous Year
Figure 2. Usage Rates for VariousTravel Modes,
2000 Census vs. 2002 Omnibus Household Survey
The Census Bureau reports that less than 5 percent of commuters take transit as their usual mode to work; however, the Omnibus survey finds that 14 percent of all Americans reported using transit at least once for some type of trip in the past month. (See Figure 2 above.) This share climbs to 22 percent when only areas where transit is available are counted. This is higher than the number of Americans who fly on a commercial airline in the average month Ė just 11 percent.
Although different data sources yield different results, the overall picture is relatively clear: prior to 1994, the long term trend in transit use was downward. This trend has since reversed itself dramatically.
TRANSIT AND TRAFFIC CONGESTION
Another common denunciation of investments in transit is the lack of evidence that they have produced measurable reductions in traffic congestion. As a factual matter, this statement is largely true. But as usual, thereís more to the story.
A. The Burden Of Congestion. Although the addition of new transit service to an area rarely has a major effect on the congestion experienced by those who continue to drive, it does reduce the negative impacts of this congestion on the region as a whole. This concept is encapsulated by a metric developed by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) called the "Congestion Burden Index." Simply put, this index rates each major U.S. metro areas by its Travel Rate Index (a measure of rush hour congestion calculated by the Texas Transportation Institute) and the degree to which a regionís residents avoid this congestion by taking transit or other modes. This is illustrated by the following example.
Both the San Francisco and Detroit urbanized areas have a population around 4 million, but congestion is more intense in the San Francisco area Ė the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) ranked itís Travel Rate Index (TRI) second in the nation in its 2001 report. However, more than three times as many people in the Bay Area avoid this traffic every day by taking transit than in Detroit. As a result, the net effect of this traffic on the region actually ranks 29th out of the 68 areas studied by TTI. Detroit, by contrast, ranks 15th in the severity of congestion, but third in the burden this congestion imposes on the regionís people and its economy. This is because such a large share of the regionís population is subjected to congestion on the average day.
|San Francisco, CA||Detroit, MI|
|Workers Avoiding Traffic||490,000||119,000|
|Workers Stuck in Traffic||76%||93%|
|Rush Hour Traffic Rank||2||15|
|Congestion Burden Rank||29||3|
B. Are Other Investments Better At Reducing Congestion? We cannot dismiss transit because it fails to produce major reductions in congestion without first applying this test other possible transportation investments. The most popular of these among many transit skeptics is additional road building. A longitudinal analysis of congestion trends conducted by STPP shows that metro areas that have invested heavily in road building have had no more success in reducing traffic congestion than those that made relatively few investments in new road capacity.
Figure 4 above compares two groups of cities tracked by TTI. The data on the left describe 23 metro areas that expanded road capacity per person most rapidly during the 1990s. Road mileage per capita in these areas grew by 17 percent during the decade. The data on the right describe 23 cities that expanded road capacity the least; road mileage per capita actually declined in these areas by 14 percent over the decade.
Regardless of these very different policy choices, traffic congestion in the two sets of cities at the end of the decade was almost undistinguishable Ė a TRI of 1.23 for the High Road Building cities vs. 1.19 for the Low Road Building cities. In addition, the change in rush hour delay over this period, as measured by increases in a cityís TRI, was similar for both groups, rising 7.2 percent in the Low Road Building group and 6.5 percent in the High Road Building group.
TRANSIT COSTS MONEY, BUT SO DOES NOT HAVING TRANSIT
Public sector spending for transportation is a minority of total transportation spending. Household and business spending dwarfs government spending by almost five to one. For many years, transportation was the third largest category of expenditures in the average household budget, behind shelter and food. In recent years, however, transportation surpassed food to become the second largest household expense. The Commerce Departmentís Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that transportation consumes 18 percent of the average familyís budget (see Figure 5 below.)
Figure 5. Major Categories of Household Expense, 1998-1999
A. Families With Few Travel Choices Face Higher Costs. Household transportation costs are not the same for everyone. They vary widely by region, and this variation is heavily influenced by access to good quality transit service.
Among major U.S. metro areas, family costs are highest in Atlanta, Houston and other sprawling cities with low transit usage rates. Families in these two areas spend nearly 22 percent of their budgets on transportation. By contrast, costs are low in New York, Chicago and other cities with greater travel choices. Families in these two areas spend less than 15 percent of their household budgets on transportation. See Figure 6 for a ranking of major cities.
Figure 6. Household Transportation Expenditures, Major U.S. Metropolitan Areas, 1998.
These benefits are not entirely free. In metro areas with large transit systems, such as New York, families do pay higher taxes to support these systems, and some of these taxes are not counted by the Consumer Expenditure Survey as transportation expenditures. But these taxes do not come close to outweighing the almost $2,900 in annual savings the average New York areas family achieves when compared to the average Houston area family.
In the New York metro area, public spending on transit in 1998 amounted to about $5.1 billion, or $655 per household. It was just $413 million in Houston, or $250 per household. In New York, transit costs taxpayers about $400 per household per year more than it does in Houston, but even after accounting for this difference, Houston families are still paying $2,500 more per year for transportation, even when the full cost of transit is included.
B. Poor Families Are Hit Hardest By High Transportation Costs. Car ownership can often be a cruel poverty trap. Owning even an old car can be expensive, and transportation costs can become a heavy burden for low income families, particularly when investments have not been made in transit and reliable service is not available.
Figure 7. Household Transportation Costs AS A Share of After
Tax Income. By Income Quintile. 1998-99 (Excludes Air Travel)
As Figure 7 above shows, families in the lowest income quintile spend as much as 36 percent of the take-home income on transportation, a higher share than any other income group. Most of this money is spent on the car. The average car costs over $6000 per year to own and operate, but even the oldest car can cost $3000 per year in insurance, fuel, repairs and other miscellaneous expenses. By contrast, transit costs are much lower, usually $800 to $1500 per worker per year. On a fixed income, this can be the difference between staying in poverty and finding a better life.
C. Regions That Invest In Transit Spend Less Overall. Our current level of spending on transportation, when both governmental and non-governmental costs are accounted for, is high both by historical standards and when compared to other industrialized countries. One multi-year study found that the share of Gross Regional Product (GRP) spent on passenger transportation in U.S. metro areas is 75 percent higher than in European metro areas, and more than double that of wealthy Asian metro areas.
Figure 8. Highway Supply and Transit Service Per 1000 Persons
vs. Gross Regional Product Spent On Passenger Transportation
These differences have many causes, but public investment in transit is a major factor. Figure 8 compares three Great Lakes cities that have taken different paths with regard to transit investments. By restricting this comparison to only North American cities, we can be confident that factors such as high gasoline prices in Europe and Asia do not influence the results.
Of these three areas, the Detroit metro region has invested least in transit, and it uses a relatively high 15 percent of its Gross Regional Product (GRP) on passenger transportation. Chicago, with an extensive rail system, robust bus service, and relatively fewer road miles per person, uses only 12 percent of its GRP on passenger transportation.
In contrast to both U.S. cities, Toronto has invested major resources in a wide variety of rail and bus services, while building relatively few roads. (Toronto was the site of major anti-freeway protests in the 1970s that led to cancellation of several major freeway segments and the shifting of highway funds to new rail service.) As a result, it spends a very low 7 percent of its GRP on passenger transportation.
Because of the choices this area has made about transportation, both its citizens and its governments have money available to spend on other things, from education to health care to entertainment to housing. Too many U.S. regions do not have this option.
THE POLICY CHOICE BEFORE US
The transit skeptics make a convincing case that transit is not now and is not likely to become a dominant mode of travel in the U.S. This is true. However, this fact does not resolve the question of where the next dollar of public funds should go. Because we have made massive public investments in the countyís highway system, each additional dollar spent to expand this system still further delivers relatively fewer benefits than the investments made in earlier years. By contrast, in most areas of the county our transit systems are small by comparison, and the marginal benefit of adding service can still be high.
Further, we must recognize not just the cost of transit, but the opportunity cost of not providing it. When broader social costs are considered, transit is a bargain.
The broad range of publicly available data relating to the costs and benefits of transit allows us to draw the following conclusions.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Committee.
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