According to a CNN poll released yesterday, almost 3 out of every 4 Americans think at least half of the money in last years $787 billion stimulus bill is being wasted. A nationwide unemployment rate of 10% probably is part of the reason why people have such a poor perception of how effective the stimulus has been. But according to a recent study, that stimulus money could have created a lot more jobs, had it just been spent on public transportation rather than improving existing highway infrastructure.
A study by Smart Growth America found that every billion dollars spent on public transportation projects created over 16,000 months of employment, almost twice as much work as those created by simple highway expansion and renewal projects.
The study found that a billion dollars spent on fixing or expanding highways created an average of 8,781 months of job. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spent over $27 billion on “shovel ready” highway projects, many of which that have yet to get underway. Of the $15 billion thus far spent on highway projects, approximately 138,831 full time job-months have been created, or sustained. These projects are as simple as repaving roads to updating our sorely dated bridges and rural roads. There is no doubt that the money spent here was sorely needed as America’s highway system gets more crowded and out outdated.
But the study found that public transportation projects employ almost twice as many people for the common sense reasoning that public transportation requires employees to operate buses, trains, subways, and other infrastructure. The stimulus invested just $8.4 billion in public transit projects, (and another $9.3 billion in high-speed train projects and expanding passenger train capacities, which wasn’t counted in the study.) Public transportation definitely got the shaft. The SGA study figures that of the $4.4 billion spent on those public transportation projects, 72,328 full time job-months have been created or sustained.
If the study is accurate, the government created 368,935 months of employment. If the numbers were reversed, and $27 billion was spent on public transit, and just $8 billion spent on highways, the government could have created 515,235 months of employment, or 40% more jobs spending the same amount of money.
What’s more, other studies have suggested you can save over $9,000 a year by using public transportation as opposed to driving a car. The House of Representatives also recently passed a $154 billion “mini-stimulus” for Main Street that includes another $27 billion for highways and just $8.4 for public transportation. If you’re keeping tally at home, that is $17 billion for public transportation ($26 billion if you count money towards trains) and over $52 billion for highway projects.
Again, common sense dictates that, while our highways definitely need fixing and improving, the best way to knock down unemployment is to permanently employ people, save them money on transportation, and reduce our dependency on cars. Public transportation also requires less land to acquire, more vehicles to purchase, more people to run and maintain those vehicles, and reduces congestion on roads.
Doesn’t sound very green or efficient or even practical to me. Maybe the government really is wasting our tax money.