Today the Washington Post ran a letter I sent in response to an editorial about the federal transit program (Screeching to a Halt, 6/8/08). Unfortunately, the letter was edited to delete some of my more significant concerns. For example, the final letter omitted my observation of the contradictions in the Post’s call for increased reliance on transit funding through fuel consumption while simultaneously calling for a reduction in fuel consumption. The final letter also omitted my concerns about the Post’s call for fewer accountability measures associated with federal transit funding.
As a result, I wanted to provide a fuller analysis of last Sunday's Washington Post editorial for you to consider:
I have mixed feelings about this weekend’s Washington Post editorial on transit funding. On one hand, I’m always excited anytime a major media outlet decides to focus on transportation issues. Not only is everyone in America involved in transportation, but our ability to move goods and services more efficiently than most other nation’s is at the core of our continued economic success. So it is good to see papers like the Post taking time to discuss transportation issues.
Yet I was extremely disappointed to see how much the editorial writers at the Washington Post don’t know about basic transportation facts, or how little they understand transportation policy. For example, they aren’t aware that this Administration is investing record amounts in transit programs. And they don’t know that as important as the size of that commitment is, we have also applied meaningful economic criteria to a substantial taxpayer investment for the first time.
Even worse, the editorial writers showed just how little they know about transportation policy, despite the fact that the Post recently gave the issue front page treatment. If they had only read their own paper, the editorial writers would know that our Urban Partnership program is driving billions of dollars into innovative new transit projects in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, Seattle and San Francisco.
I wonder if the Post’s editorial writers even read their own editorial page. How else can you explain the simplistic support for higher gas taxes from an editorial page that has long written about the need to move away from our dependence on oil? You can’t urge Americans to consume less oil while simultaneously encouraging them to burn more oil as the best way to fund transit. Yet that is exactly what the Post seems to be doing with Sunday’s editorial.
The part that frustrated me the most, however, is that the Post is calling for massive increases in federal transit investments (on top of existing massive increases to federal transit spending) while calling for an end to performance standards designed to ensure that money is invested wisely. That the Post’s writers consider it bad policy to set performance standards, demand greater accountability and require honest ridership estimates before investing billions of the taxpayer’s dollars is nothing short of shocking.
Instead of providing an informed analysis of our substantial transportation record, the Post’s editorial writers offered a simplistic rehash of special interest groups’ talking points. Instead of asking whether transit agencies are using the money they have today either wisely or well, they called for fewer federal investment standards. And instead of offering a relevant contribution to the transportation dialogue, they offered rusty rhetoric and faulty facts. The Post should know better.