Trains Get the Short End of the Subsidy Stick.
It would be nice if the anti-passenger-rail people in Congress and in state governments would show a little consistency. For example, if their philosophy of governance dictates that Amtrak should get no government subsidies, then shouldn’t that concept also apply to other transportation modes? To highways or bike lanes, for example? Or to the airlines?
What, you say incredulously, you mean the airlines are subsidized? Indeed they are. The federal government pays for the air traffic control system. States and counties and cities pay to build and maintain the airports. And there are direct subsidies for air passengers all over the west and Midwest. Here’s just one example.
In Iowa, the federal government pays out almost $11 million every year to subsidize operations at six small airports. The average number of passengers at each of those airports per day? Forty-two. That computes to a subsidy of about $120 for every passenger for every flight. As that legendary baseball icon Casey Stengel would say, “You could look it up!”
Meanwhile, Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, is against extending Amtrak service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City and from there to Des Moines. His main objection? The new rail service would require a subsidy. How much of a subsidy? According to Branstad’s own Department of Transportation, about $2 per passenger.
At the same time, Iowa’s DOT is planning to expand the interstate highway system in the state at a cost of about a billion dollars. That’s an average cost of $6 million per mile.
And so we continue to construct highways, subsidizing cars and trucks, and we expand airports and subsidize passengers who choose to fly. But we still oppose very modest subsidies for the best transportation bargain of all, passenger rail.
Here’s the essential truth: Every American has the right to some form of public transportation.
That means the family car should not be your only option if you want to travel 300 miles to see your new grandson … or if you have to go to Kansas City to see a specialist for a medical condition … or back home from college between semesters … or, yes, even if all you want is to see another part of the country for a few days. It’s the responsibility of government at all levels to see that as many Americans as possible can choose to travel on public transportation.
It’s our right!