My wife and I have been visiting my daughter, Katie, and her family in a suburb of Cleveland for the last week. While there we got to go to the first game of the American League Division Series between the Indians and the Yankees. Because the stadium is in the center of the city and parking is exorbitantly expensive, we decided to park in an outlying lot and take the Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority train into the city.
It was my first experience with urban rail. It is very convenient, clean, comfortable, safe, and cheap. As seniors, my wife and I could ride one way for $1.25 each. I was impressed. At a minimum it would have cost $20 to park several blocks away from the stadium. And according to the IRS mileage allowance of 53.5 cents per mile, it would have cost another $15 in gas, maintenance and depreciation to drive my own car.
I wanted to see how the RTA can sell such a good service so cheap. All government entities have to file financial statements that are publicly available on line. I found those for the RTA which includes their buses and trains. WOW!
The RTA incurred an operating loss in 2016 of $262 million on passenger fares of $47 million. That means it cost $215 million more to operate the system than they took in in revenue. The difference came from the taxpayers and debt.
There is a dedicated sales tax of 1% in Cuyahoga County for the RTA that brought in $219 million n 2016. The RTA also received grants from the federal government of almost $50 million and another million from the state of Ohio. That means every taxpayer in the country helps fund the Cleveland RTA. And without doing the research I think I can safely say that every taxpayer in the country helps fund public transportation in all the major urban areas of America.
The question becomes, is that right? Should the taxpayers of Little Town, USA, be financially supporting the convenience of big city commuters? In fact should the taxpayers of rural Cuyahoga county be supporting those who ride the buses and trains of Cleveland proper? The answer should be a resounding NO! If it costs more to operate these systems than what the riders think it is worth in fares, they should be discontinued immediately. Milwaukees folly trolley – NO! Chicagos EL – NO! New York Subway – NO! San Francisco’s BART – NO NO NO to all of them!
NO to the Racine transit system also. Last year it cost almost $10 million to run the Racine bus system and it took in only about $1.5 million in fares. Taxpayers contributed the rest.
I suppose a case can be made for public transit systems with arguments of public policy or reduced congestion, reduced carbon footprint, etc., etc., etc. But it is my opinion that a case can never be made for publicly funding them. If they cannot support themselves, they should be shut down!
And all of this is not even considering the fact that the property these train lines sit on is tax exempt as a public system. Not only are the taxpayers cheated by having to support a system they do not use, they are cheated out of the taxes these properties would have generated if owned and developed privately.
Let’s rethink the way we move our citizens in urban areas making sure that whatever we do supports itself and does not become a drag on our limited public finances. If you want to cut taxes, here is a place to start.