Rational Transportation

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Rational Transportation

Transportation systems are irrational because because transportation questions have become divorced from land use, and because the funding mechanisms have become divorced from the principle that those who benefit pay for the benefits.

Transportation is essential to civilization

Civilization requires elaborate systems of trade in order to advance beyond the tribal level. Trade, in turn, requires systems of transportation and communication. Unless farmers can haul produce to market and workers can get to their jobs, the system collapses. Transportations do not merely benefit those who use them directly, but everyone in or near the area served.

Transportation dictates development

Before mechanized travel, cities of any size were either seaports or points where rivers and canals converged. Throughout Europe and colonial America, inland centers consisted of villages surrounded by farms.  

Public transportation is essental to land values.

New canals, rail lines, transit lines, bus lines, roads, highway interchanges and airports have produced dramatic increases in land value. Even today, the biggest single determinant of land value is accessibility.

Once established, continued transportation is a right

Under common law, it has long been illegal to close an established path, to charge for using a road that had been free, or to use tolls for purposes other than defraying the costs of the tolled road itself. People arrange their lives and businesses around the expectation that existing transportation will continue, and curtailing transportation is a "taking" from those who, in good faith, allowed themselves to depend on that transportation. This makes it doubly important that government avoid making unstainable transportation commitments.

Public transportation should be publicly owned

The history of privately owned public transportation is a history of plunder, and the best transportation options in terms of "public good" are often not the most profitable options for a private transit company.

Rational transportation requires rational land use

Rational transit yields maximum land value at minimal expense and with minimal pollution and minimal consumption of scarce natural resources. It is irrational to build highways into undeveloped areas, to run transit into suburbs designed around automobiles, and to rezone transit-dependent cities and towns to emulate suburban values. Rational transportation decisions and rational land-use decisions naturally follow one another if the funding mechanisms are rational. 

Resource-efficient transportation

The longer the distance and the higher the speed, the less resource-efficient transportation becomes. The most resource-efficient transportation modes are, in descending order, walking, bicycling, elevators, light-rail, heavy rail, cars and trucks, boats and ships, airplanes and helicopters. The key to resource efficiency lies not just in the transportation systems themselves, but in land-use systems that allow people and goods to travel shorter distances. Rational transportation is impossible without rational land use.

Transit funding should be mostly local

Local governments already govern land use, whether directly through zoning codes and development subsidies, or indirectly through decisions about infrastructure, including transportation infrastructure.  Also, most of the economic benefits of transportation extend to the local communities that are directly served by transportation. Finally, local governments are far more responsible with locally raised taxes than with state and federal money granted on a "use it or lose it" basis, and local governments are far less likely to engage in lavish transportation spending one year and then pull the rug out from transportation the next year.

Transportation should serve existing population centers

Too often, transportation funding extends development into less populated areas instead of focusing on relieving congestion within already populated areas. This policy primarily benefits a few politically connected landowners at the expense of many ordinary taxpayers who live in the already developed areas.

Land value tax should fund transportation

Land owners reap the benefits of transportation, either directly as land users, or indirectly as landlords who can collect more rent (or a higher purchase price) from land that enjoys access to transportation. When those who benefit are those who pay, rational economics play a major role in transportation planning. When one interest group pays and another interest group benefits, transportation decisions are dominated by pandering to those who have the most political clout. Finally, land value tax discourages underuse of land, and underuse of land makes transportation less efficient. Where there is no local option for land value tax, conventional property tax (which combines land value tax with a tax on improvements) is the second-best option.

Land value tax is the best all around tax

Land value tax is the most progressive tax and the kindest to home owners and renters. It is the only tax that promotes development while it preserves the environment, and the only tax that is strongly endorsed throughout history and from across the political spectrum.

Resource royalties and pollution taxes should fund general government

Gasoline taxes can fund road maintenance, but should not fund road construction or expansion, because those who travel on the most overbuilt roads use the least gasoline. The result is that people on poor roads pay for good roads they are not using. Taxes on gasoline can be justified as payments to those who suffer from pollutants generated by gasoline, but this relationship is lost if gasoline revenues are spent to build more roads. Royalties on oil extraction, coupled with tariffs on oil and oil-product imports and offset by decreased taxes on business and labor, can help us conserve oil while helping the environment.

Zoning restrictions should be relaxed or eliminated

Density zoning prevents compact land use. Segregating businesses from residences prevents efficient access to job and shopping opportunities. The worst zoning regulation is probably the one that requires new homes to include parking spaces in areas that depend on public transit. A truly efficient community is one in which people can walk to work and to places where they frequently shop.

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