Off Track

Gov. Linda Lingle splashed some cold state water on the city’s plan for an elevated rail transit system this weekend. She seemed especially worried about the cost of the system in the face of this recession. As the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported Saturday, “Since the 2008-09 recession, governments and private contractors have all scaled back their projects, Lingle said, noting that the state had to modify its harbor and airport plans, but the city is still going ahead with the transit plan ‘that will burden generations with a project that the community may not be able to afford.’”

What is happening in other cites with rail? This morning I found an eyebrow-raising article from the San Jose Mercury News about San Franciso’s BART system, which is a well regarded as a great example of mass transit. Bay Area folks are actually giving up on BART because it has had to raise its rates to the point of being unaffordable. Said one resident, “Giving up public transportation has meant a significant boost to my income. I can literally make my car payment with the savings.”

Despite its spiraling fares, BART, as noted at Reason Magazine, still requires annual tax subsidies of more than $300 million to stay afloat.

We are often told by those who see government as the solution to every problem that some services are too vital to be left to the free market. You can’t trust those greedy capitalists to be there for you when you need them, the argument goes, and they’ll shortchange the public when times get tough just to save a buck.

Then along come the hard times, and what do you see? Tax revenues plummet, government coffers drain, and, the next thing you know, the government is cutting back the very same vital services it promised it was uniquely qualified to provide: things like a full school year, Medicare reimbursements and affordable mass transit.

So, how exactly are we better off for having socialized these systems?