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William A. Draves

Thanks D.P. As I looked at the numbers, to be fair to car lovers it appeared that car drivers contributed 58% of the cost, and that 7% of that went into mass transit funding, and other subtractions for other purposes brought the number down to 46%.

D. P. Lubic

The unfairness part comes from the double standard that is applied. Highway users have never had to pay the full cost of roads directly, but a railroad is expected to pay ALL of its operating costs and ALL of its capital costs, plus pay a profit. That's a steep hill to climb when your competition doesn't have to do that.

This is an old complaint; take note of the film below from the 1950s (!), in particular at a point starting at around 13:00:

The question is still around today:

Chinatown Bus lines

Of course, most of the general funds that make up the difference are themselves paid by people who drive, so this isn’t as grossly unfair as it seems. This is a very good topic which this post has came up with!

D. P. Lubic

While looking for some of this material, I also ran into this. It's a little older--2007--and has a curious feel to it, sounding both old and current at the same time.

D. P. Lubic

I don't know if you'll actually get anything from the pro-car crowd, but Car and Driver magazine(or C/D, as it calls itself) had a two-part series of the ten "most wanted" "enemies of the C/D way of life."

Last month, the first five included Apple computer (cars have too many electronic gizmos that distract you from driving), the insurance industry (car insurance is too expensive, especially for younger people), Toyota’s Camry, ca. 1982 (a wonderfully selling car that was highly reliable--but bland, lacking the excitement enthusiasts prize), and light rail (the transportation of the future that will always be the transportation of the future--a criticism of monorails, too).

This month, the second half of the list includes the Interstate highway system (which made driving boring, partially by bypassing all those towns we now think are cool, like the fictitious “Radiator Springs” of the animated film “Cars”), Google (self-driving cars–driving your own car is one of the highest expressions of FREEDOM ™), American Traffic Solutions (red light camera company), car dealers (still slimy), and Craigslist (car buying and selling made even worse than dealing with dealers or newspaper ads).

I say, it sounds more and more like auto drivers, and in particular enthusiastic drivers who really appreciate good and distinctive, machinery, feel threatened. I don’t think that should be so–if we really do get people off the roads, that frees up traffic capacity for them. On the other hand, it cuts the demand for cars, which in turn reduces the revenue for the road system and reduces the money available for new car development.

Maybe they are right to be scared. . .

D. P. Lubic

Ah, the numbers you're using are a bit out of date. For highways, the cost recovery has gotten worse; it's down to less than 46%. For comparison, Amtrak is now up to about 87% cost recovery.

Home page for the 2010 edition above:

Amtrak was going to announce it had an 85% operating cost recovery ratio (this is just operations and track leases on freight lines, and does not include capital expenses). I can't find a source just yet, but it turns out the actual cost recovery ratio was about 87%.

Not all of this is ticket sales. Parts of it are rents from space in certain stations, and a big part is state support for certain trains. Some people would argue that Amtrak is actually worse for that, but they forget or don't know that highway departments count federal money as "revenue," so they're really working with the same accounting terminology.

Cost recovery by train on ticket revenue only:

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