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Randall O’Toole, the Cato Institute’s go-to guy on transportation policy, says New York should consider leaving its flooded subways to rot :

After Hurricane Katrina, some people  argued  that we shouldn’t rebuild New Orleans, not simply because it was below sea level but because the city was economically and politically dysfunctional. The same argument could be made for the New York City subway system, which was so  heavily damaged  by Sandy that repairing it could cost “ tens of billions of dollars .” [ . . . ]

There are two alternatives to rebuilding the subways. The drastic alternative is to simply let the city fend for itself without subways. A more realistic alternative would be to convert the subways into underground busways. Electric buses could move just about as many people as the subways do with far less infrastructure.

Battery-powered buses in particular would require almost no infrastructure other than rechargers (and the tunnels themselves, of course, which as far as I know weren’t damaged by the storm). At eighteen feet in height, the tunnels are tall enough for double-decker buses, which should be able to move about as many people per hour as the subway trains. With minimal added infrastructure, the buses could even be  driverless , making them far less expensive to operate and maintain than rails.

It may turn out that only a few of New York’s 400-plus route miles of subways were harmed by the storm. But if it was significantly more, the city should seriously consider beginning a transition from rail subways to bus subways.


O’Toole, who makes a living studying and writing on transit, is notorious in transit circles for hating the very thing that supplies his livelihood. He is viewed by his guild a bit like theologians might view a man who claims to practice theology while disavowing   any kind of faith. Or rather, while attacking and deriding faith. As you’ll know if you’ve ever spoken to transit advocates (of which I am one), they do approach these matters with an enthusiasm that can take on religious dimensions. You might call O’Toole the new atheist of transit policy.

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