Letters, Saturday, December 11, 2004

On Track or Off the Rails?

What a pleasure to read about the painfully long-overdue light-rail link between Santa Monica and downtown L.A. in your Dec. 4 editorial, "Westward Ho." This back-to-the-future 21st century rail plan redresses Los Angeles' 20th century debacle in motorization as its exclusive means of ground transportation. Los Angeles enjoyed the highest per capita automobile ownership and rail transit ridership prior to the elimination of rail alternatives after World War II. The rail-versus-car "choice" was always a false dichotomy.

It's worth remembering that rail/freeway coexistence was central to the first plans for the Santa Monica Freeway. Most early highway plans (like the Cahuenga Expressway and the 10 Freeway) included right of ways for rail transit. These intermodal transportation alternatives were paved over by political pressure from the highway lobby at the local, state and federal levels.

Regulations were written to restrict, rather than enhance, technological competition in urban transportation. Government-subsidized freeways severed many rail lines without compensation for rerouting and, most important, "front" companies set up by the auto-oil-rubber lobby forcibly liquidated rail technology and prevented competition by much more efficient electrical technology.

Lessons that plagued Los Angeles' past should be learned to inform the future. Markets that enhance technological competition, rather than exclusively subsidize special interests, give consumers more choice and make cities more livable.

Glenn Yago PhD
Dir., Capital Studies
Milken Institute
Santa Monica

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What will it finally take to take rail transit proposals off the table? The data are in. None of the U.S. rail transit projects built after WWII has any impact on road traffic conditions. Yet the Los Angeles Times supports the Metropolitan Transportation Authority putting "aside the local, state and federal dollars needed to cover the $490-million tab" for an Exposition Boulevard line.

Even if we also put aside these costs and ignore The Times' constant fretting that there are never enough tax dollars for the public good, there still is not a single economic reason to spend more money on rail in Los Angeles.

James E. Moore II
Professor and Chair
Industrial and Systems
Engineering, USC

Peter Gordon
Professor of Real Estate
Economics and Public Policy, USC

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