Regression to the Mean

Transit advocates are pulling their hair out over news that Capital Funding for Maryland Transit Administration projects is being reduced:

Money for Maryland Transit Administration capital projects is set to plummet by $345 million, or about 10%, over the next six fiscal years, according to the state’s latest draft transportation budget.

The MTA already faces a shortfall of more than $2 billion over the next decade to keep the agency’s transit systems safe, in compliance with regulations and enhanced with new technology and mobility options, according to the agency’s first Capital Needs Inventory. The inventory was required by the legislature following the emergency shutdown of the Baltimore Metro Subway.

The 2020-2025 draft transportation budget “does not reflect progress towards meeting MTA’s immediate, pressing maintenance needs, or the needs of the region’s commuters for a system that connects us more effectively and helps grow the economy,” said Democratic Del. Brooke Lierman, a transit advocate who represents Baltimore and sponsored last year’s Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act.

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Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, Baltimore’s champion of bike supremacy, also chimed in:

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, said he has questioned the transportation secretary in previous years’ briefings about the state’s priorities.

Dorsey supports expanding transit, and he sponsored “Complete Streets” legislation that required the city’s Transportation Department to create new street-design standards prioritizing pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users over cars.

“Baltimore City needs far, far more investment in public transportation than the MTA is currently funded to provide, and the needs are not likely to lessen,” Dorsey said. “If we don’t put in that investment as necessary, we will see a disparity continue to grow in terms of access to opportunity and the assuredness of climate change disaster continue to be escalated.”

Of course, there are actually two sides to this story, as Secretary Pete Rahn (who will be speaking at our Red Maryland Leadership Conference) points out:

The Hogan administration will spend $15.3 billion across Maryland’s transportation network over the six-year budget period, and invest $3.1 billion in the state’s tolls and bridges, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said in a statement.

A $1.1 billion reduction in the state’s overall transportation budget from the previous one “is due to increased operating transit expenditures and delivering on a record construction program in record time,” Rahn said in the statement.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland sets a national example with a “balanced, all-inclusive approach to infrastructure.”

“No governor in Maryland history has invested more in transit, and we are moving forward on nearly all of the highest priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction across the state,” Hogan said in a statement.

Secretary Rahn lays out the facts pretty clearly. The drop in capital spending reflects completed projects and money going into operations and management. The whining from transit advocates has little purpose other than to gin up their base in preparation for the 2020 General Assembly session. That’s why you see transits leading cheerleaders, i.e. Brooke Lierman, putting on their usual dog and pony show. Though as we have documented previously that Brooke Lierman isn’t nearly as smart as she thinks she is, especially when it comes to transportation and transit issues.

One of the other important things to note is the fact that the completion of these transportation projects is nothing more than regression to the mean. As we have documented time and time again, during the O’Malley Administration 53% of transportation dollars were spent on transit projects despite only 8% of Marylanders actually using mass transit. As I wrote in 2014:

….. this story on the Purple Line and using today’s Gas Tax increase as an example shows a bigger problem with Transportation planning as a whole in Maryland. There are roughly 66,000 center-line miles of road in our state, when you combine state, county, and municipal roads and highways. Those 66,000 miles cover the transit needs of all Marylanders, not just those who live in urban areas and have the option of using Mass Transit. And those Marylanders who use those roads are directly subsidizing the transportation of those individuals in urban areas who are using Mass Transit. Yet, the focus for most of the last twenty years has been on adding mass transit infrastructure instead of dealing decisively with traffic and improving the ability of people to drive. With the exception of Governor Ehrlich and his ability to get the Intercounty Connector built, there has been virtually no emphasis on improving transportation flow. And there are many, many ways that our highway system can be improved upon…

….There are so many instances over the course of the last eight years with eighty-plus tax and fee hikes where the O’Malley-Brown Administration has robbed Peter to pay Paul, raising taxes and fees on one subset of individuals to pay for programs and services that benefit a different subset that does not have to bear the burden of paying those tax and fee increases. And there are so many instances over the course of the last eight years where the O’Malley-Brown Administration has identified “priorities” that need to be fixed and instead of working on those “priorities” (say, infrastructure projects) they have instead raised taxes to fund alternative priorites (like, say, mass transit).

That of course, says nothing about farebox recovery rates, which we have also chronicled in the past.

While it’s admirable that the transit advocates are banging drums for their priorities, their priorities are well out of step with the priorities of not only the Hogan Administration but also the priorities of a large majority of Maryland residents. After two decades of overprioritization of mass transit projects the benefits the few at the expense of highway construction that benefits the many, we are seeing a regression to the mean that provides both kinds of transportation with appropriate levels of capital funding.

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