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Transportation and Energy: Some Current Myths


A number of current assumptions about transportation and energy have acquired mythical status, because they seem self-evidently true and hence are rarely examined. Taken as wisdom, these myths form the basis for much proposed reform of transportation policy. They appeared in speeches by most of the candidates for the 1976 presidential nomination and are now echoing in Congress as well. Most of the myths I examine here concern urban passenger transportation: "Good transit systems can attract people out of cars, save our scarce energy resources, decrease private automobile ownership, be more economical than cars. 11 Another of these myths concerns freight transportation: "Federal highway subsidies have been responsible for the shift of freight from railroads to trucks and the consequent problems of the railroad industry." And one concerns the supposed economies of railroad passenger operations. 

Belief in these myths has not been confined to the political world: ten years ago, it was almost universal among even city planners and academics (including me). Thus another function of this article is to summarize what has been learned in transportation research in recent years. In the course of discussing these myths I try to point out some areas where changes in federal policy might make a difference in solving our transportation problems.

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