City of Madison

Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog

The High Cost of Driving

August 19, 2009 5:44 PM

Cars are very expensive. Much more expensive than mass transit. And it's time we got that word out.

There was an "Eggs & Issues" forum this morning on the proposed Regional Transit Authority. It was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and it featured Kathleen Falk, Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer and myself. It was a very good discussion, but we got the inevitable question from an audience member who I guess listens to too much talk radio. He went on for awhile about how expensive transit is and how drivers pay their own way.

He's wrong and here are the facts. The general City of Madison taxpayer support for Madison Metro's bus routes weighs in at about $8 million a year. The riders themselves pay over $11 million more and the rest of Metro's budget comes from state and federal sources. Compare that to what we do for drivers. The total Traffic Engineering budget is $8 million and this year we're spending $32 million on general fund support for building and rebuilding streets.

So when you add it all up we're spending a minimum of about $40 million on things directly related to driving while we spend about $8 million on Metro transit. Moreover, none of the costs attributable to driving are paid for directly by drivers. Instead those costs are borne entirely by general taxpayers, mostly property tax payers, while a fifth of the bus budget comes from actual users.

Let me be clear. What the opponents of transit like to do is focus on the federal and state gas taxes. There drivers do pay gas taxes that fund state and federal road projects. But the vast majority of roads in this country are local streets and the vast majority of the funding to pay for them comes from local taxpayers regardless of how much they drive.

Now, I know what some of you are going to say: streets are used by more than drivers, they're used by busses themselves and by bicyclists. But think about it. If we were building infrastructure that would just be used by bikes and mass transit, imagine how much less extensive - and expensive it would have to be.

Look, I'm not being anti-car here. I drive. And I don't want to force anybody to do anything. I think what we need are more options starting with expanded bus service to get people to more places that they really need to go on more convenient schedules. But the notion that the investments we make in mass transit will be somehow larger than those we make for driving just isn't supported by the numbers.


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