Skip to content
This site is not affiliated with or endorsed by TriMet transit in the rose city...maybe even Rose City Transit

Transportation / development subsidies

or The real reason why we have traffic congestion and "sprawl"

People often complain about subsidies given to transit or urban re-development, but don't note how road use and suburban development are also subsidized. Moreover, the former is often needed because of the latter--if driving and suburbia didn't look so cheap, transit and urban areas would attract enough people on their own to be viable without substantial subsidies. Road & suburban subsidies have broken the marketplace, and transit & urban subsidies are really just a workaround. Overall, it would be best if we solved the real problem, and let the marketplace decide how people live--by charging people the real cost of what they use and cause.

Likewise, people complain about land use restrictions, but don't note how using land can affect surrounding property owners and, due to development and other subsidies, taxpayers in general. The real problem isn't that some people aren't allowed to do what they want with their land (e.g. develop it), it is that if they are allowed to, they can foist the burdens that the use causes onto the neighborhood and onto society.



While most vehicle users do have to pay registration, gas and other taxes, there is much that these taxes do not cover:


Someone who purchases a single, non-discounted fare and uses it for one boarding often pays for a high portion of their fair share of transit system costs. The cost of a person taking up one position (e.g. one seat) for a half-hour ride is small:

cost to operate the vehicle per hour$90*
divided by/
capacity of the vehicle (e.g. number of seats)40
divided by/
half-hours in an hour2
Each rider's fair share of costs$1-2


This cost is about the same whether the rest of the vehicle is empty or full. However, statistics often divide the operations costs by passengers carried, in effect making people who do ride fiscally responsible for people who don't ride.

So where do transit subsidies go?


Cyclists and pedestrians may be the most subsidized percentage-wise, however their actual subsidies relative to other modes are probably low. Cyclists cause little damage to pavement and, when using low-traffic streets, require little in extra costs. In addition, bicycles take up much less space than vehicles, meaning that bike lanes and paths can be narrower than vehicle lanes and roads, requiring less land and pavement, and that many bicycles can be parked in a space that would fit one car. In fact, many bicycle racks are placed in areas of building grounds that already exist, meaning that, unlike a parking lot, they take up no extra space. Moreover, they get health benefits including exercise, which people often do not get enough of, leading to obesity and other costly health problems.

Air travel

Airports take up large amounts of land and generally do not have to pay property taxes. While they often provide their own police, fire and other services, some airports receive funding from cities' general funds as well as federal and possibly state grants. In addition, the Air Traffic Control system is government-provided and airlines have been given huge bailouts.


By Jason McHuff,