Monday, September 03, 2007

Classic Example of Why Subways Are Overrated

Everyone loves subways. They are fast, sexy, and simply work. However, they are massively expensive (think on the order of $100 million per kilometer), and so developing them comes at the expense of other projects.

Here's an article about the subway in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and how it is mocked because it is not the top priority for the country:

Msgr. Agripino Núñez Collado, a religious leader active in civic affairs who spoke at the event, apologized to the hundreds of assembled guests for arriving an hour late. He said he was stuck in traffic so bad that the vice president had to send motorcycle officers to extract him and race him to the palace. What better endorsement for a subway project than that?

But as the religious leader spoke, the palace lights briefly went off, a reminder of the power cuts that are a regular part of life in Santo Domingo. How can a country that cannot keep its lights on possibly keep the trains running on time, critics ask.

Unfortunately, the attitude of "what better endorsement for a subway project" is just wrong. The goverment could have done other projects for a fraction of the cost. My personal favorite would have been busways or another form of segregating public transport. Other ideas would be congestion charges, increased licensing fees, favoring non-motorized transport, or any number of cheaper options.

Politicians are often not willing to do anything that would go against cars, when those solutions would be great for the city. Subways will always get subsidized because they are clean and provide a positive image for a city and multiple positive externalities. However, for a developing country with other priorities, the DR should have tried cheaper options.

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