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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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December 13, 2005

Those Trains

Neal Peirce argues (click here) that Amtrak should remain permanently on the federal dole. As is so common with arguments for subsidy, he asserts that we are all subsidized, so what's the worry. He writes:

The advocates of privatization also need to be reminded that it's not just Amtrak-- that America's highways, airports and seaports are all heavily subsidized. Airlines, and even the big auto manufacturers, come running to Washington for one form of aid or another.

Private cars are not subsidized. Highways are not subsidized really. The highways are built with the gas tax, which is paid by people who buy gasoline. That's a user fee, meaning a payment for use of a thing by the people using it. The more gas you buy the more road you pay for. As I understand, it's the same with airports: the expansion of Sea-Tac is paid for by landing fees there and by a federal fund that collects money from a tax on airline tickets. There is some cost shifting but airports are not built or maintained by taxing people who don't fly to benefit people who do fly.

With Amtrak, there is a huge subsidy--huge relative to the ridership--from people who don't take the train to people who take it. The reason is plain for anyone to see: Not enough people take the train to make it pay. Fifty years ago they did, but not anymore. Outside a few corridors, probably all of them in the East, passenger trains are not economic. They are not close to being economic. Nor, outside these handful of corridors, do they provide an appreciable percentage of passenger trips. They could stop tomorrow and 99 percent of the public wouldn't notice.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 13, 2005 02:36 PM



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