Posts

Montana’s Bus Systems Harmful to Taxpayers and Environment

Montana’s Bus Systems Harmful to Taxpayers and Environment

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

 

We’re often told that public buses are the most cost effective and energy efficient means of transportation available. But a recent MPI study found that this perception doesn’t hold true in rural states like Montana. When compared to driving private automobiles, public transit in Montana costs more and takes a greater toll on the environment per passenger mile than does driving that same mile in a private vehicle.

In addition, high subsidies on public transit systems siphon away nearly half of Montana’s gas taxes that would otherwise be available to build, improve or maintain our public roads. These subsidies support a system that Montanans use to fulfill far less than 10 percent of our travel needs, despite the fact that it’s cheap or even “free” to the rider.

The cost per passenger mile of driving in Montana is substantially lower than that of public transit, and is mostly borne by the person doing the driving. Contrary to popular belief, there are few federal or state subsidies to highways. To the extent that subsidies do exist, local governments are the primary source.

The average cost of driving in Montana—including subsidies —is a little under 23 cents per passenger mile, or about a penny above the national average. The average cost of public transit in Montana, meanwhile, is about $1.76 per passenger mile, with more than 90 percent of that cost subsidized by non-transit users.

Using a different measure, Montana transit riders pay an average of less than 40 cents each time they board a bus, while taxpayers kick in an average of more than $5 to support each of those trips.

Public transit also takes a heavy toll on the environment. Montana’s urban buses use on average twice the energy and release more than twice the carbon emissions into the atmosphere per passenger mile as a light truck. A Toyota Prius would be nearly 6 times more efficient.

The major problem is that urban buses in Montana run mostly empty, filling just one-sixth of their seats. Bus systems in larger cities nationally are much more efficient per passenger mile for the obvious reason that they carry more passengers per mile. As a high mileage, low population state, we have to decide if want to spend and pollute more by promoting an ill-suited policy “solution,” or if maybe we should look at other options.

It’s quite clear that Montanans who are concerned about either public expenditures or climate change and air pollution should be looking for alternatives to traditional urban transit models that rely on buses and scheduled routes to move people around. The question is whether we impose a solution by forcing more people to ride buses, or whether we seek choices that take into account local conditions while still meeting the needs of those who want or need public transportation.

There are many options available to help decrease the costs and environmental impacts of public transit in Montana. Removing state and federal government bias toward high cost, high emissions vehicles that run scheduled routes regardless of demand and allowing communities to tailor their transit programs to local conditions should be one of the first steps toward creating more cost effective and environmentally friendly systems. Other options include smaller vehicles or shared on-demand taxis, privatization, and vouchers for those who need assistance. These types of systems would take people where they want to go when they want to get there at much less cost and with a much lower environmental impact. In short, cities need to decide if they’re in the business of moving people or of running buses.

 

####

For Immediate Release

599 Words

 

The referenced study can be found at www.montanapolicy.org.

Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508

cgraham@montanapolicy.org

 

An Open Letter to President Obama as You Visit Our Great State

By Carl Graham

President, Montana Policy Institute

 

Dear President Obama,

I just heard that you’re coming to Bozeman.  It’s great that you’re willing to get out of the D.C. echo chamber and come out to where us regular folks live.  And I think most Montanans will take pride in a Presidential visit regardless of political affiliations or policy differences.

It’s been rumored that you might also hold a health care town hall while in Bozeman.  If so, may I make a suggestion?  Both political Parties have pretty much turned town halls into fawn-fests with packed audiences and planted questions that result in little more than preaching to the choir and sound bites for the 24 hour news cycle.  I’d like to offer you an alternative, and a way to reach the very people who I assume you’d like to convince that your health care reform proposals are worthwhile.  I mean, of course, those of us who do not think that your proposals would fix the current problems with health care, and that they would even create another whole set of problems that will have to be addressed down the road.

As it turns out, our little nonpartisan think tank – the Montana Policy Institute – has been planning a Free Market Health Care Reform forum in Bozeman since June, and it happens to fall on the very day you’ll be here.  We’ll have national health care policy experts and statewide health and insurance industry leaders talking about what needs reforming, and how we can do it in a way that tackles what’s wrong with health care without harming what’s right with it.  And frankly, I think they’d like to hear from you as well.  We’d be more than happy to make room in our agenda if you want to drop by.

This is a serious forum with expert panels and policy discussions.  Participants are concerned that what’s being proposed is nothing more than the nationalization of one-sixth of our economy and the removal of individual choice from one of the most important aspects of our lives.  You could tell us why we’re wrong by addressing some pretty basic questions:

–          You say that people can keep their own insurance if they like it, as the overwhelming majority of Americans do.  But why would people stick with their current plans if the public plan is cheaper, and what’s the point of a public plan if it’s not?  Isn’t this really just a ruse to get people out of private insurance and into a government-run system?

–          How will private insurers compete with a public option that gets taxpayer startup funding, doesn’t have to show a profit, has the ability to literally print money, and can regulate competitors to increase their costs and decrease their profits?  Can you help us understand by providing another example of a taxpayer-owned enterprise that competes on a level playing field with private sector companies?

–          Nearly 85% of Americans are satisfied with their current coverage.  Do we really need to overhaul or nationalize one-sixth of our economy to address the 15% of Americans who are not satisfied?  Couldn’t we just help the 15% and preserve everyone’s ability to pick the coverage that’s best for them by allowing more innovation in insurance products, or even by just providing a voucher for those who really can’t afford insurance?

–          The government already accounts for nearly 50% of all medical spending, as compared to about 25% in 1960.  Isn’t it reasonable to argue that costs have gone up pretty much in proportion to the government’s increased involvement already?

–          Medicare waste, fraud and abuse are estimated to account for as much as 30% of its costs.  That was $700 billion dollars in 2007, or about $2,300 for every legal U.S. resident.  Can we expect that 30% figure to continue as government-run medical spending goes into trillions upon trillions of dollars?  If not, what will be the new incentive for bureaucrats whose salaries are tied to hours worked rather than customers satisfied to cut costs, innovate, and increase efficiency and customer satisfaction?

–          The Congressional Budget Office says plans currently under consideration will increase the deficit by around $200-$300 billion over the first ten years and then really start picking up after that.  Who gets that bill, and how are they going to pay it?

This is just the beginning of what is a long list of our very serious concerns with the approach the Congress and you are taking in reforming our health care system. We’ll have a convention center full of Montanans.   We may not agree with your plan, but we’re prepared to listen.

 

####

By Carl Graham

President, Montana Policy Institute

 

 

Dear President Obama,

I just heard that you’re coming to Bozeman.  It’s great that you’re willing to get out of the D.C. echo chamber and come out to where us regular folks live.  And I think most Montanans will take pride in a Presidential visit regardless of political affiliations or policy differences.

It’s been rumored that you might also hold a health care town hall while in Bozeman.  If so, may I make a suggestion?  Both political Parties have pretty much turned town halls into fawn-fests with packed audiences and planted questions that result in little more than preaching to the choir and sound bites for the 24 hour news cycle.  I’d like to offer you an alternative, and a way to reach the very people who I assume you’d like to convince that your health care reform proposals are worthwhile.  I mean, of course, those of us who do not think that your proposals would fix the current problems with health care, and that they would even create another whole set of problems that will have to be addressed down the road.

As it turns out, our little nonpartisan think tank – the Montana Policy Institute – has been planning a Free Market Health Care Reform forum in Bozeman since June, and it happens to fall on the very day you’ll be here.  We’ll have national health care policy experts and statewide health and insurance industry leaders talking about what needs reforming, and how we can do it in a way that tackles what’s wrong with health care without harming what’s right with it.  And frankly, I think they’d like to hear from you as well.  We’d be more than happy to make room in our agenda if you want to drop by.

This is a serious forum with expert panels and policy discussions.  Participants are concerned that what’s being proposed is nothing more than the nationalization of one-sixth of our economy and the removal of individual choice from one of the most important aspects of our lives.  You could tell us why we’re wrong by addressing some pretty basic questions:

–          You say that people can keep their own insurance if they like it, as the overwhelming majority of Americans do.  But why would people stick with their current plans if the public plan is cheaper, and what’s the point of a public plan if it’s not?  Isn’t this really just a ruse to get people out of private insurance and into a government-run system?

–          How will private insurers compete with a public option that gets taxpayer startup funding, doesn’t have to show a profit, has the ability to literally print money, and can regulate competitors to increase their costs and decrease their profits?  Can you help us understand by providing another example of a taxpayer-owned enterprise that competes on a level playing field with private sector companies?

–          Nearly 85% of Americans are satisfied with their current coverage.  Do we really need to overhaul or nationalize one-sixth of our economy to address the 15% of Americans who are not satisfied?  Couldn’t we just help the 15% and preserve everyone’s ability to pick the coverage that’s best for them by allowing more innovation in insurance products, or even by just providing a voucher for those who really can’t afford insurance?

–          The government already accounts for nearly 50% of all medical spending, as compared to about 25% in 1960.  Isn’t it reasonable to argue that costs have gone up pretty much in proportion to the government’s increased involvement already?

–          Medicare waste, fraud and abuse are estimated to account for as much as 30% of its costs.  That was $700 billion dollars in 2007, or about $2,300 for every legal U.S. resident.  Can we expect that 30% figure to continue as government-run medical spending goes into trillions upon trillions of dollars?  If not, what will be the new incentive for bureaucrats whose salaries are tied to hours worked rather than customers satisfied to cut costs, innovate, and increase efficiency and customer satisfaction?

–          The Congressional Budget Office says plans currently under consideration will increase the deficit by around $200-$300 billion over the first ten years and then really start picking up after that.  Who gets that bill, and how are they going to pay it?

This is just the beginning of what is a long list of our very serious concerns with the approach the Congress and you are taking in reforming our health care system. We’ll have a convention center full of Montanans.   We may not agree with your plan, but we’re prepared to listen.

 

####