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Light rail costs too much, does too little

Transit Lobby Backed Up by $2.3 Billion in “Suspicious Transactions”

Oct 12


Siemens, the maker of light-rail vehicles, has admitted to finding $2.3 billion in “suspicious transactions” — meaning probable bribes — on its books. Company salespeople apparently bribed government officials around the world to get them to buy Siemens products.

The German government recently fined the company about $300 million for the $635 million in suspicious transactions that it had previously reported. Now it appears this has only scratched the surface of the company’s moral problems.

The Antiplanner previously reported on the bribery scandal, noting that in the U.S. corporate “bribes” were legal when offered in the form of campaign contributions — and that Siemens had contributed to the campaigns of both ballot measures and political candidates who supported rail transit.

Of course, some will say, the highway lobby is probably guilty of the same practices. The problem is, there really isn’t any highway lobby. Automobile and oil companies hardly lift a finger in support of roads or anything else that would relieve congestion. Why should they? The auto companies know people will still buy their cars, and the oil companies know that congestion merely means more demand for fuel that people will burn sitting in traffic.

The companies that build highways are, for the most part, equally adept at building rail lines. So they don’t really care whether we spend billions on roads or rails, just so long as we spend billions on something. If they thought about it, they might even prefer rails, because rails do less to solve congestion and so there will always be more rail business.

The American Road Builders Association changed its name to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, reflecting the fact that its members sometimes build rail lines. Lately, they changed their name again to just TRIP, which stands for “the road information program.”

The only real highway lobby is the highway users lobby, consisting mainly of trucking companies and a few bus and taxi companies. But they are pretty small compared with the massive transit lobby. In 2005, the highway users had an annual budget of less than $750,000. Even if you add TRIP’s budget, which was less than $400,000, you get a total of less than $1.2 million.

By comparison, the transit lobby had an annual budget greater than $20 million. Of course, this doesn’t count any of the suspicious transactions campaign contributions made by Siemens, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and the many other companies that feed off of rail projects. So much for the supposedly all-powerful highway lobby.

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Reprinted from The Antiplanner