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Interesting Piece on LRT in US Context - a commentary

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    ... Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2004 7:50 PM Subject: Interesting Piece on LRT in US Context From the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis....
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2004
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      -----Original Message-----  On Behalf Of P. Christopher Zegras
      Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2004 7:50 PM
      Subject: Interesting Piece on LRT in US Context

      From the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.... http://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/2004/c/pdf/light_rail.pdf

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      Friday, July 02, 2004, Paris, France, Europe

      Thanks Chris for that good heads-up on the LRT piece.  A comment and invitation for further discussions if I may, since I think this gives us a policy platform which stretches well beyond the intention of the authors (which was basically to be clever).  (This letter incidentally is also being transmitted to the authors of the piece at the Fed in Saint Louis for their comments in turn.)

      Molly and Tom, economists let’s note, have in their article trotted out a tired old trick that has been around for a long time in the ‘give the poor a Beetle instead ’ variant of transit bashing.  This is not only one of the oldest games in town but also I am afraid rather mean-spirited stuff, because it attacks LRT on the cheap, dragging it out of its full and necessary longer term and structural context.  (Not incidentally that I have LRT on my personal short list for immediate action to move toward  more sustainable mobility system, but more on that another day.)  

      We have to look at and decide about LRT case by case and as part of a larger package of policies, actions and services. And indeed perhaps its major contribution in many places where they managed to get it right is that it works to catalyze and justify a whole web of related transportation improvements --  including for walkers, cyclists, and users of other parts of the transit system – which otherwise just may not have got done, or at least had to wait another and perhaps far distant day.  Moreover, when wisely done as we have seen in many places, let’s cite Portland Oregon as one of many shining examples in the US, it helps to cluster activities.

      Pity that the authors stretched beyond their remit and competence to provide such a poor assault, but it’s not the first time this has happened so no great damage is done.

      But the Bible says that “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings may come the greater truth”, and if suckings also includes economists, well then we have to listen. 

      By this I mean that the major contribution of their piece lies elsewhere, and specifically in the important section in which they kindly explain to us what externalities are and then go on the make the critical point in which I believe all (or at least most) of us are in full agreement: and that is that drivers should pay their way (just like airline passengers, eh?).

      The trick of course is how to create a new culture –because that is definitely what it will take – in which this is accepted.  Because once it is, IT CHANGES EVERYTHING!

      Hmm.  Let’s think about that..

      One small step might be for you to go to the New Mobility Agenda at http://newmobility.org and cast your vote for Ken Livingstone and Congestion Charging, warts and all. Or if not your vote, let us hear your vigorous views as to why that may not be the best way to go.

      In closing, kind thanks to the Molly and Tom, together with an invitation to tune in here if they wish to learn something about the full context of the little sub-issue that they chose to take on without apparently quite understanding the greater whole.  Welcome.  Sustainability and social justice is a big house.

      Eric Britton

      "Almost an economist"

      1962-1966, Department of Economics, School of Graduate Faculties, Columbia University




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