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should bridges/tunnels subsidize mass transit

Jeanne Boyarsky
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In NYC, we are having our annual increase on tolls (bridges/tunnels) and mass transit (buses, trains.) THis year, I've heard more comments about how the higher tolls on bridges/tunnels shouldn't subsidize mass transit. Part of it is about limiting congestion so I don't feel like it is a fair comparison.

Thoughts?


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dennis deems
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Joined: Mar 12, 2011
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I thought the tolls were supposed to subsidize the maintenance of the bridges and tunnels. Am I confused?

Edit: but a well-functioning mass transit is in everyone's interest, whether or not they utilize it.
Paul Clapham
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    8

If you want to charge people for using bridges, then do that. If you want to subsidize mass transit, then do that. But I don't see why the two things need to be linked in any way. It's just an unnecessary complication of the accounting system as far as I can see.
Henry Wong
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Paul Clapham wrote:If you want to charge people for using bridges, then do that. If you want to subsidize mass transit, then do that. But I don't see why the two things need to be linked in any way. It's just an unnecessary complication of the accounting system as far as I can see.


One of the reasons that this is done in NYC, is because the two things *are* related. The city is basically an island, and would be completely overwhelmed if everyone goes to work in a car. So, to solve this, you need to use both the carrot and the stick -- make public transportation more pleasant to use, and make using cars more painful. And the easiest way to do both is to make one subsidize the other.

Now, having said that, the tolls are pretty high here in NYC. It's $12 on some of the bridges/tunnels and $13 (2 x $6.50) on others. In terms of the stick, it is getting up there.

Henry


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chris webster
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  14

Paul Clapham wrote:If you want to charge people for using bridges, then do that. If you want to subsidize mass transit, then do that. But I don't see why the two things need to be linked in any way. It's just an unnecessary complication of the accounting system as far as I can see.

As a European who lived for several years in Germany, where public transport is among the best in the world, I think there is a strong argument for cross-subsidising mass transit, especially in cities like NYC, where the streets would probably be gridlocked if everybody decided to take their car into the city at the same time. You could say that the people driving their cars over the bridges/trough the tunnels are benefiting from the fact that lots of other people are able to use the trains instead.

FWIW, when I lived in Germany it was great to be able to rely on a fast, cheap, safe and efficient public transport system to get around the city, whether commuting to/from work or going out in the evenings and at weekends - for 5 years I never needed a car once (just as well in a city that claimed to be the "World Capital Of Beer"!). New Yorkers might feel differently, of course, but I reckon these kind of "public good" services are worth subsidising because otherwise they would not exist, which would be a loss to the wider community, even if individuals might not feel obliged to support them otherwise. But you ought to be honest about what's being done with the money, either way.


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Paul Clapham
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But it's really more complicated than that. When you operate mass transit systems, generally the funds to do that come from a variety of sources. Likewise when you build a road system, the funds come from a variety of sources.

When you build a bridge, a large part of the funds to do that come out of general revenues, from taxes which people and businesses have paid in various forms. Nobody says that this constitutes "subsidizing" the construction of the bridge. I'm saying that when you run a transit system, you should do the same thing. Paying to operate a mass transit system isn't "subsidizing" it, any more than raising the sales tax to build a new highway is "subsidizing" it. As soon as you start saying that you are subsidizing something you are expressing the opinion that you don't approve of its existence.
chris webster
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  14

Paul Clapham wrote:Paying to operate a mass transit system isn't "subsidizing" it, any more than raising the sales tax to build a new highway is "subsidizing" it. As soon as you start saying that you are subsidizing something you are expressing the opinion that you don't approve of its existence.

OK, how about "cross-funding"? (Maybe it's my European perspective, but I don't see "subsidies" as an intrinsically bad thing anyway.)
Paul Clapham
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chris webster wrote:OK, how about "cross-funding"? (Maybe it's my European perspective, but I don't see "subsidies" as an intrinsically bad thing anyway.)


In Jeanne's original post it looks to me like "subsidize" is a term of negativity.
Greg Charles
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  11

I support tolls subsidizing mass transit, but then I also think we shouldn't be allowed to build a freeway without building a parallel light rail system to it, so I'm probably on the radical fringe of this issue.
Jan de Boer
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Joined: Dec 10, 2010
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    1
Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:
Thoughts?


First thought: Bicycle! I always look for a job within biking distance and that is my contribution to a better world and less pollution.

Second thought: Are we discussing politics here? I think this was not allowed, or discouraged at least?
fred rosenberger
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  16

Jan de Boer wrote:Are we discussing politics here? I think this was not allowed, or discouraged at least?

we've had politically leaning threads before. As long as they remain civil and polite, they are usually allowed to stay. But often at the first sign of trouble, they get completely nuked. If a mod is feeling bored, they may attempt to clean it up to keep the good parts, but that is at each and every moderators discretion. More often than not, we don't feel like bothering and simply employ the nuclear option.


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Paul Clapham
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Part of it is about limiting congestion so I don't feel like it is a fair comparison.


I don't think it is fair either. To limit congestion you have to reduce the number of vehicles which use the bridge. There are various ways you might think of to do that but the method preferred by economists would be to reduce the demand by raising the price. Hence, higher tolls.

Note that mass transit doesn't come into this Economics 101 implementation until you realize that some of those people who didn't want to pay the higher tolls still need to use the bridge. Hence, mass transit. And to avoid pricing those people out of mass transit as well, you apply Economics 101 again and increase the demand by reducing the price.

It's possible to characterize that as subsidies, but I think that's a political term. I think the economists would explain the system I just described as "substitute goods" or some such thing -- IANAE so I probably have the wrong terminology.
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Paul Clapham wrote:
chris webster wrote:OK, how about "cross-funding"? (Maybe it's my European perspective, but I don't see "subsidies" as an intrinsically bad thing anyway.)


In Jeanne's original post it looks to me like "subsidize" is a term of negativity.

Because that's what the complaining has been about. I like the idea of subsidizing mass transit. Or cross-funding it.

Similarly within mass transit, the more popular lines subsidize the less popular lines. But when you want to get somewhere less popular, there is a bus to get there. So it still benefits.
Frank Silbermann
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Joined: Jun 06, 2002
Posts: 1387
Henry Wong wrote:
One of the reasons that this is done in NYC, is because the two things *are* related. The city is basically an island, and would be completely overwhelmed if everyone goes to work in a car. So, to solve this, you need to use both the carrot and the stick -- make public transportation more pleasant to use, and make using cars more painful. And the easiest way to do both is to make one subsidize the other.

Now, having said that, the tolls are pretty high here in NYC. It's $12 on some of the bridges/tunnels and $13 (2 x $6.50) on others. In terms of the stick, it is getting up there.

Henry
Also, NYC gets movies first, Broadway shows with the original actors, etc. But if everybody moved to NYC it would be overwhelmed. So high tolls are part of the stick to encourage New Yorkers to move to Texas.
Pat Farrell
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No train system (aka mass transit) is self supporting. They are all subsidized by something, sometimes taxes, sometimes tolls, etc.

The argument is that subways are a general good, moving people to work and shopping at lower costs to society than if they all drove cars. In Manhattan, my mind breaks if I try to imagine even 10% more cars. NYC only exists because of the subway (and Path and the Long Island RR, etc.)

Of course, in the US, Interstate highways are not self supporting. They are subsidized by massive amounts of Federal, State and local taxes.
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Pat,
That's a good argument. If people don't want to subsidize mass transit, we shouldn't subsidize their roads .
fred rosenberger
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  16

Look at it as supply and demand. the demand (the number of cars that want into manhatten) is high, the supply (the number that can fit) is limited. So, you raise the cost to lower demand. If using that extra revenue to support mass transit lowers demand even more, doesn't everyone win?

I suppose another option would be to say "ok...only the first 10,000 (or whatever number works) people can use the tunnels in today. Once we hit that, nobody else can come in".

Somehow, I don't think that would go over very well either.
chris webster
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fred rosenberger wrote:Look at it as supply and demand. the demand (the number of cars that want into manhatten) is high, the supply (the number that can fit) is limited. So, you raise the cost to lower demand. If using that extra revenue to support mass transit lowers demand even more, doesn't everyone win?

OTOH, there's may be some people who have to drive because they don't have access to suitable public transport options (e.g. night workers or people who live off the transit network) but who may not be paid enough to cover high tolls. There's a risk of pricing them out of employment or creating upward pressure on wages to compensate. No idea how this works out in NYC, of course, but here in rural South Wales high transport costs (including bridge tolls to England) and the lack of fast and reliable public transport options can be a major factor in working out whether people can afford to take a particular job e.g. wages in the nearby cities of Bristol and Cardiff are similar but the bridge toll adds £1300pa (around USD 2100) to the cost of working in Bristol. For a well-paid IT worker this isn't so much of an issue, but for somebody struggling by on minimum wage it's a real problem.
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Chris,
There are places one can live that aren't near a bus line that runs at night. However those people drive to an outer borough subway and take the train from there. They don't drive all the way to Manhattan. Where parking is expensive after the toll anyway. The subway runs regularly 24x7. (except during storms)
Pat Farrell
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    5

Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:The subway runs regularly 24x7. (except during storms)


Many folks who haven't worked in NYC dont' understand how critical the subway is to all life in the city.
It runs 24x7, and its got lots of people on it 24x7. Everyone uses it.

The very rich, masters of the universe, use private car (limo) services, but they are the 0.01% folks.
Software jocks making solid six figure incomes ride the subway. And they ride a lot.
 
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