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Do Economists Reach a Conclusion On Rail Transit?


  • Ted Balaker
  • Cecilia Joung Kim


In the United States, the public debate over urban rail projects is complicated by the lack of agreement on goals. Supporters offer a wide variety of justifications to build and expand rail transit. If one focuses on the judgments of economists, the list of justifications shrinks considerably, but we are still left with a bundle of goals. Compared to other justifications, economists appear to be somewhat optimistic about rail transit’s impact on local economic development, but less optimistic about rail’s ability to achieve environmental improvement and serve the transit-dependent poor. Economists seem quite pessimistic about rail’s ability to achieve key transportation goals like reducing congestion. Economists often attribute rail’s political success to rent-seeking and romantic political factors. Of those economists who offer a big-picture view, there appears to be wide, though not unanimous, agreement that rail’s costs exceed its benefits. And it seems that almost all economists who write about rail agree that various demographic features, such as suburbanization, the declining influence of central business districts, and increasing wealth will make it increasingly difficult to design successful rail systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Ted Balaker & Cecilia Joung Kim, 2006. "Do Economists Reach a Conclusion On Rail Transit?," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 3(3), pages 551-602, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:3:y:2006:i:3:p:551-602

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    3. Cetin, Tamer & Deakin, Elizabeth, 2019. "Regulation of taxis and the rise of ridesharing," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 149-158.
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    8. Shaheen, Susan PhD & Cano, Lauren & Camel, Madonna, 2015. "Exploring Electric Vehicle Carsharing As A Mobility Option for Older Adults:A Case Study of A Senior Adult Community in The San Francisco Bay Area," Institute of Transportation Studies, Research Reports, Working Papers, Proceedings qt0cz5s74s, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Berkeley.
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    10. Stern, Charlotta & Klein, Daniel B., 2006. "Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House? The Policy Views of American Economic Association Members," Working Paper Series 6/2006, Stockholm University, Swedish Institute for Social Research.

    More about this item


    rail transit; transportation; economists;

    JEL classification:

    • R4 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics
    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • B0 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General


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