In Which I Surprisingly Agree With Tom Coburn
The fiscal obstinacy of Tom Coburn, you might be surprised to know, is saving American lives. Due mostly to his objections, an otherwise uncontroversial bill to grant oversight of rail transit safety to the Federal Transit Administration is being held up in the senate. I don’t agree with the substance of his objections, but I’d be glad to see the bill defeated.
Federal oversight of transit safety will almost certainly make rail transit slower, less reliable, and less convenient. Even sensible regulations requiring, for instance, the purchase of up-to-date railcars will require the diversion of funds required to maintain service levels. Since the bill contains no extra money for rail transit systems, most of which are already cutting service after seeing their state-level funding slashed, safety regulations that have any effect will amount to something like a pure tax on rail transit service.
Why should that matter if the regulations save lives? Maybe it shouldn’t, but any regulations that have the effect of reducing rail transit service will lead to more transportation-related deaths, even if they succeed in making transit safer. The reason is that transit ridership, especially rail transit, is a good with many substitutes available, most notably driving. As transit becomes less convenient, those who have a choice will switch to driving and by doing so dramatically increase their odds of premature death. Rail transit is already so much safer than driving that the overwhelming priority of the National Transportation Safety Board, which supports the bill, should be promoting and expanding transit service, not making it more costly and difficult to provide.