The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Tuesday, October 15, 2002


From the Cabalmaster:

The latest ?wisdom? from Wendell Cox

Concluding our opinionated critique of Wendell's "Lexus Line:"

3.) By failing to conduct a sensitivity analysis based on marginal cost, Wendell Cox substantially underestimates the (implied) total cost for the “auto strategy.”

Cox’s demonstration of “absurdity” is not particularly transparent. It tends to obscure an extremely important point: the “auto” strategy provides no economy of scale. The rail facilities could accommodate small numbers of unanticipated “new” commuters at zero marginal cost. However, under the “auto” strategy, an additional $5,000 - $10,000 expenditure would be required for each additional commuter. One hundred new commuters, for example, would require up to $1 million per year in additional expenses. It is true that rail systems cannot accommodate large numbers of “new” commuters without substantial investment to increase capacity. However, that is beside the point: Cox failed to conduct the appropriate analysis.

4.) By failing to consider the potential benefits to the transit operator, Wendell Cox substantially overestimated the cost per “new ride” to the transit system as a whole.

In the real world, transit operators do not ship “surplus” buses back to the manufacturer once a new rail system opens. Instead, these vehicles are used to provide additional transit services, including rail feeders and new peripheral connections. Such new services attract considerable numbers of “new rides,” as in Portland and Sacramento, that are not considered during FTA-mandated analysis.

For the sake of his credibility, Mr. Cox would do well to eschew the sort of comparison refuted above.

Additional comment: Automobile leasing is touted as a means of obtaining “the freedom to drive a more expensive vehicle and have lower monthly payments than if you bought it” (see: However, there are caveats. Outright purchase is more favorable for motorists who drive more than 15,000 miles per year (roughly the national average) per year, who wish to keep the car for more than three years, or who wish to add “custom” features. Lessees are responsible for providing insurance and for returning the car in good condition. The lessor may impose a service charge (e.g. $0.15 per mile) for “excess mileage,” exceeding the mileage stipulated in the contract. Lessees may also be assessed for “excess wear and tear” although insurance is available to cover this (an additional expense). The majority of personal vehicles in this country are purchased, not leased. These facts tends to make Cox’s demonstration of “absurdity” appear all the more absurd.

The “career cost” of the rail alternatives, even as inflated by Wendell Cox, looks like a bargain compared to the “lifetime” total cost of auto ownership and operation. This is estimated as high as $450,000 (see: Seattle’s regional planning agency estimated the 1998 per-capita cost of auto ownership and operation at $5,400 (see: The share of annual personal income consumed by auto ownership and operating expenses has been estimated at 13 percent (see: It would appear that considerable savings might accrue to one able to eschew auto ownership, or even operation of an already-owned auto for daily commute use. We wonder if that’s what Wendell (and his supporters) are afraid of.

In conclusion, we repeat our challenge: We've provided on-point refutation to key elements of Wendell's "Lexus Line." We anticipate a detailed, substantial response. Non-response will provide clear and convincing evidence that Wendell's arguments have as much to do with reality as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

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