May/June 2011

Randal O’Toole and Gridlock Save Taxpayers Billions

Cato senior fellow Randal O’Toole may have saved taxpayers billions of dollars. O’Toole has long been recognized as a major voice in the debate surrounding American mobility. An opponent of top-down planning and publicly funded transit projects, he advocates market-based solutions to transportation that let Americans get around how they want, when they want.

In Tampa, whose transit agency was seeking voter approval for a light-rail project, O’Toole and transit expert Wendell Cox spoke to a Tea Party group in September. Local activists credit this meeting with firing up a campaign against the light-rail ballot measure that voters turned down in November. The momentum behind that campaign helped persuade Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, to kill Florida’s high-speed rail plan in 2011.

Published reports credit Cato, the Reason Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation with doing the work that persuaded the governor to return $2.5 billion of high-speed rail funds to the federal government. Since Florida was a linchpin of President Obama’s $500 billion high-speed rail plan, that action may save U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. “Randal O’Toole is a very convincing fellow,” the Austin Chronicle recently commented. “Spend about half an hour listening to him — as a packed dining room of Austin’s movers and shakers did recently at the Headliners Club — and you may come away convinced that rail-based mass transit is about as desirable for a city as an earthquake, and possibly more expensive.”

O’Toole also gave speeches in Madison and Milwaukee, and published a report on Ohio’s rail project for the Buckeye Institute. Those efforts may have played a role in the decision by new governors Scott Walker and John Kasich to cancel expensive rail projects in their states.

When Cato published O’Toole’s book, Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do about It, O’Toole embarked on a 30-city tour of the country to promote the book and the ideas in it.

Speaking in cities that recently started or are considering commuter-rail service, including Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, Portland, and Raleigh, O’Toole pointed out that the capital cost of many of these commuter trains was more than $1 million per daily round-trip rider. “It would be less expensive, and better for the environment, to give every rider a brand-new Toyota Prius every year for the rest of their lives,” he pointed out. His presentations provided ammunition to transportation activists in cities where they are working to stop new rail projects.