There is an irrational theme governing how the O'Malley administration approaches transportation spending. In general, "road" is considered to be a four-letter word. Instead of looking at the facts (see charts below), this administration is following previous Democratic administrations in peddling the myth that we must build more transit!
The theory is that everyone else will get out of their cars and start commuting by train, metro, bus or bicycle! It's a lovely story. Unfortunately, it bears no relationship to what actually happens.
Transit plays a very important role in our transportation network, but when transit systems are built on the idea that they will reduce congestion, it does a disservice to the taxpaying public, Drivers, and transit.
Regardless of how many transit projects are built, or improvements made to them, transit never attracts even 10% of the commuting public -- as you can see in the chart below.
This chart shows in a fairly dramatic way, that less than 10% of the public uses any form of mass transit to commute to work. Over 90% drive. This ratio has been a constant for years, regardless of the number and/or type of transit facility the state builds and regardless of other efforts to lure people out of their cars.
Moreover, transit never raises enough revenue to cover even it's operating expenses. The Maryland Legislature decided that the transit system, collectively, should be able to cover 50% of its operating expenses. When transit was unable to meet that threshhold, the Legislature lowered to goal to 35%. Even that goal has been too high.
So who pays to subsidize these transit projects? The primary source of those funds comes from the driving public whose registration and gas tax payments fund most of the Transportation Trust Fund.
This year's transportation budget shows that 57% of the Transportation Trust Fund goes to mass transit; State Highways, the Aviation Administration (which includes BWI-Marshall Airport), the Motor Vehicle Administration, and the Secretary's office must share the balance. (See chart below)
This second chart illustrates how much more revenue is supplied by drivers compared with transit users. This is an area where progress is possible. Fees for the bus, light rail and metro in Baltimore have been stagnant for some time -- even though that violates the law! The original law in Maryland required that transit revenue be at least 50% of its operating costs. It never did. The General Assembly then lowered the requirement to 35%. Not bus, light rail nor metro have been able to meet even that lowered legal requirement. Nonetheless, up until this last session, the General Assembly has been unwilling to force MTA to raise its fees (or lower costs) in order to comply.
The "Gas Tax" bill (HB1515) includes a provision that requires a specific increase in transit fares, but also includes language that may or may not change the effect of that increase.
Transit systems do not, and almost cannot cover the cost of their operations. Even the highly praised and used DC metrorail meets only 75% more or less of its operating costs.
Therefore, every time we construct new transit projects, the State is automatically increasing its transportation operating costs, without providing for a new source of revenue. That is why transit takes a larger and larger bite out of the Transportation Trust Fund.
In summing up, drivers pay not only to maintain and operate the highway system, but also to subsidize transit riders -- who comprise only 1 tenth of all commuters.
Friends of Trent Kittleman
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