by James A. Bacon
Once upon a time, Virginia built roads and bridges on the picturesque old principle of “pay as you go”, which means the state didn’t spend money it didn’t. . This idea went hand in hand with another bizarre concept that the people who used the transit infrastructure should be the ones who paid to build and maintain it. People who walked (which a lot of people did at the time) or who rode in wagons should not pay for roads.
Now Virginians are much more sophisticated. We tell ourselves that these outdated ideas originate from Harry Byrd Sr., who was a segregationist and racist, who therefore discredits all he said and did. Not only are modern Virginians borrowing billions of dollars to build transportation projects, the government now operates bus, passenger and commuter train lines, and we’re taxing everyone to pay for everything. The bond between those who use and those who pay for transportation infrastructure has dissolved like a corpse in a vat of hydrochloric acid.
Virginia’s original bus, trolley, and passenger lines were once operated for profit. They don’t do it anymore. The government owns and subsidizes them massively – even more than roads and highways (which is a travesty in itself). But apparently these subsidies are not enough. Now the aware subsidized transit tariffs are thought to be a “barrier”. People who use public transport should not pay anything at all.
So, The Washington Post discusses the subject of “fairness” in transportation in an interview with Transportation Secretary Sharon Valentine. Here is part of what she says:
COVID has shed light on how essential public transportation is in connecting people to essential work, food and medicine. It is really vital. … Some of our transit systems in Virginia had introduced no-fare options. What we’ve learned is that tariffs are and can be a barrier, so we’re developing pilot projects around Virginia to work with toll-free tariffs so that we can expand that and see how we might overcome that barrier. particular. The public transport user incentive program resulting from the omnibus bill passed in 2020 examines all the obstacles, as well as the design of our routes and how we can better create this accessibility for all, and in particular those who are underserved. . We are working very hard to achieve this.
And this is how transport becomes part of the welfare state. Public transport in the service of the poor becomes another right.
It goes without saying that no one talks about “fairness” when it comes to car ownership. No one complains that the price of automobiles is a “barrier” to driving. Also, no one is talking about expanding the private sector ride-sharing vans operated by companies like Uber and Lyft.
Look under the surface and you’ll see what’s going on. White environmentalists love public transportation because buses and trains get people out of cars and in theory (if not necessarily in reality) produce fewer CO2 emissions, thus advancing the war on global warming. But the public isn’t as worried as white environmentalists that the planet is overheating and posing an existential threat. Cleverly, public transport advocates are reformulating their environmental wishlists to fight “fairness” and “environmental racism”. Same objectives – to decarbonize the economy – but a new justification. In the age of Black Lives Matter, “fairness” is much more political than “sustainability”.
Awakened environmentalists show remarkable creativity in finding “fair” justifications for the things they wanted from the start, and remarkable indifference to achieving “fairness” in ways that do not advance. their environmental goals.
So rest assured that the future of transportation in Virginia will involve a lot more “free money” borrowed from Uncle Sam, as much debt as the Commonwealth can absorb, and a lot of Peter’s taxation to pay Paul. Everything will be fine until the wheels fall off the spend-borrow and monetize-the-debt bus, as inevitably. Then things will come back to “pay as you go” because when the public debt markets collapse, that will be the only way to pay anything.