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Do Economists Reach a Conclusion On Rail Transit?

  • Ted Balaker
  • Cecilia Joung Kim
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    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.

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    Article provided by Econ Journal Watch in its journal Econ Journal Watch.

    Volume (Year): 3 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 3 (September)
    Pages: 551-602

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    Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:3:y:2006:i:3:p:551-602
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    1. Adrian T. Moore & Ted Balaker, 2006. "Do Economists Reach a Conclusion on Taxi Deregulation?," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 3(1), pages 109-132, January.
    2. Kain, John F, 1992. "The Use of Straw Men in the Economic Evaluation of Rail Transport Projects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 487-93, May.
    3. McFadden, Daniel, 1974. "The measurement of urban travel demand," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 303-328, November.
    4. Fielding, Gordon J., 1995. "Congestion Pricing and the Future of Transit," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt0g332530, University of California Transportation Center.
    5. Klein, Daniel, 2004. "The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as much as they do)," Ratio Working Papers 31, The Ratio Institute, revised 11 May 2005.
    6. Richard Voith, 1991. "Transportation, Sorting and House Values," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 19(2), pages 117-137.
    7. Kain, John F. & Liu, Zvi, 1999. "Secrets of success: assessing the large increases in transit ridership achieved by Houston and San Diego transit providers," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 33(7-8), pages 601-624.
    8. 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.
    9. Giuliano, Genevieve & Small, Kenneth A., 1995. "Alternative Strategies for Coping with Traffic Congestion," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt8nw1480v, University of California Transportation Center.
    10. John F. Kain, 1996. "Cost-Effective Alternatives to Atlanta's Costly Rail Rapid Transit System," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1762, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    11. Bowes, David R. & Ihlanfeldt, Keith R., 2001. "Identifying the Impacts of Rail Transit Stations on Residential Property Values," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 1-25, July.
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