So Conrad deFiebre has his way of calculating the operating loss of public transit, which makes the public subsidy less that when we at the Minnesota Free Market Institute calculate it. He claims the basic fare returns 47 percent of operating costs; the MnFMI puts it closer to 20 percent. The Met Council, which ought to know, has numbers somewhere in the middle; it calculates user funding of 30 percent for buses and 38 percent for light rail. It is indeed a dull mind that can’t find statistics and a methodology to support its position. It takes a sharp mind to fathom the insight behind the statistics.

What is consistent in all three calculations of user funding of public transit is that user fees, no matter who is calculating them, do not come close to cover transit operating costs. (It is significant that none of the calculations include amortizing construction costs, which further distorts the percentage of operating costs paid by users.) That leaves deFiebre still facing the unanswered question, “With operating deficits between 50 and 80 percent, how are we going to fund further ambitious expansion of public transit without unsustainable tax increases?

deFiebre’s notion that  $1.6 billion annual property tax subsidy for roads and bridges in Minnesota is equivalent to property tax subsidy for public transit demonstrates ignorance of the difference between a public good and private benefit. Roads provide benefit even to those who do not drive: Roads are the means by which emergency vehicles (police, fire and medical) get to any person’s home. Every item in any person’s home from material possessions to basic needs like food and clothing has at one time traveled some distance via a truck over a road. By contrast, light rail and bus service benefits only those who ride them. LRT and bus riders receive a private benefit from ridership; non-riders receive no benefit.

There is much wrong with the formulaic way Minnesota distributes transportation funding; and not all new roads are necessary investments. Nonetheless, it is appropriate for local property taxes to fund local road construction and maintenance in cases where roads have limited local impact. Local taxpayers serve as watchdogs on local projects. State funding should be used for infrastructure of statewide significance – not for a project like the Central Corridor that has no statewide public benefit.

The “Big Lie” operating here is that public transit is a panacea for an “energy crisis” — that it can reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce congestion, improve the environment, and create jobs and a more livable community, hence government must coerce the selfish and the ignorant into giving up their preferred lifestyles and/or paying to implement deFiebre’s vision of a better Minnesota. Transit operating at a significant deficit is a trade-off with the economic loss from reduced personal mobility and other productive uses of the capital, a reality that deFiebre and his crowd refuse to acknowledge, let alone address.