Transportation

HSR Needs Funding, Not Belt-Tightening

By Don McLean
Published November 13, 2008

The Hamilton Spectator's opposition to another bus fare hike is most welcome and well-founded. But their "solution" of asking the HSR to further tighten its belt is not practical.

The HSR has been forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years by councils that see transit as little more than social assistance. In the 1990s, the HSR budget was slashed by 40 percent, and even today, despite years of provincial gas tax subsidies, it is still 20 percent lower than it was in 1994.

Comparisons with other Canadian municipalities show that the HSR is already one of the lowest cost-per-ride transit systems in the country. Unfortunately, that's meant poorer service.

Many routes run for only seven hours a day with no weekend service. Basic tools such as marketing and passenger counts have been largely eliminated. Routes tour across the whole city - one going from downtown Stoney Creek to Ancaster with four different branches, and another meandering from Meadowlands across the mountain to the steel mills via Ottawa or Kenilworth.

The fare hikes, after deducting the lost ridership caused by them, will generate only $1.29 million. That's could be covered by a tax increase of only $6 per home. Nearly every other city in the greater golden horseshoe is vigorously expanding their transit systems. They understand that good bus service supports existing businesses and attracts new investment, in addition to its environmental and social benefits.

Most Hamiltonians understand this too, as shown by the overwhelming support for the light rail rapid transit proposals. But many councillors say the money has to come from somewhere else, that Hamilton can't afford such improvements - which helps explain why other municipalities are a higher priority for provincial transit investments. Queen's Park helps those who help themselves.

We cannot afford not to dramatically improve our transit system. The health impacts of air pollution, looming climate chaos, an aging population, an energy-constrained future and especially the economic meltdown are each powerful arguments for investing much more in the HSR and DARTS.

This blog entry was also published in the Hamilton Spectator as a letter to the editor.

Don McLean is chair of Friends of Red Hill Valley and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall, a volunteer group that has monitored city affairs since 2004 and distributes free news articles via email. The group can be contacted at info@hamiltoncatch.org.

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted November 13, 2008 at 10:16:42

Only $6 per home? They're already talking about a 9% increase. What kind of social-ist state is this, that the homeowners need to pay for everything in this city?

Transit is fine, but there needs to be a user pay element to it.

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By Smacky (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 10:23:08

"Needs to be a user pay element"?

Have you heard about a thing called "bus fare"?

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By Nookie (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:34:06

"What kind of social-ist state is this"

Ha-ha! You clearly don't know what social-ism is if you think it's social-ist to fund essential public services like transit.

I guess you also want drivers to pay the full price of the roads they drive on. Oh, you don't? Whyever not?

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 13:03:09

Dan,

"The HSR has been forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years by councils that see transit as little more than social assistance"

If the HSR has been cutting back almost continually for twenty years then what is driving the increase in costs? In fact, it the were cutting back "almost continuously" for the last twenty years how is it that there is even an HSR left?

"Nearly every other city in the greater golden horseshoe is vigorously expanding their transit systems"

Really? Please name them. From what I can tell they are prepared to enhance their services so long as the money come from Queen's Park.

"They understand that good bus service supports existing businesses and attracts new investment, in addition to its environmental and social benefits"

Downtown has good bus service and GO transit. Yet despite this over the last twenty businesses have chosen to locate in suburban areas while the downtown has declined. What does that tell you about your theory?

"Most Hamiltonians understand this too, as shown by the overwhelming support for the light rail rapid transit proposals"

If most Hamiltonians supported this then how do you explain the HSR having been "forced to cut back almost continuously for the last 20 years". If Hamiltonians supported it so much the "cutbacks" never would have happened.

"Comparisons with other Canadian municipalities show that the HSR is already one of the lowest cost-per-ride transit systems in the country. Unfortunately, that's meant poorer service"

What other municipalities? Please name them and your source for this info. Also, just because it is low cost doesn't mean that it is poor service. It could just mean that it is run more efficiently.

"We cannot afford not to dramatically improve our transit system. The health impacts of air pollution, looming climate chaos, an aging population, an energy-constrained future and especially the economic meltdown are each powerful arguments for investing much more in the HSR and DARTS"

Enough with the "sky-is-falling if we don't invest in our transit systems" already. The Red Hill Valley Parkway was built and the world hasn't come to an end so why should anybody take you seriously anymore?

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By Bork Belly (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 14:09:57

"The Red Hill Valley Parkway was built and the world hasn't come to an end" I love the steadily lowering expectations from Red Hill supporters since the highway was finished. A few years ago it was going to renew the city and draw in all kinds of new industrial employers to increase the tax base, now the best they can say is that the world hasn't come to an end. We spent $250,000,000 on a highway that has done basically NOTHING for the bottom line except make it so Multi Area Developments can build a huge subdivision on the East Mountain and youve got the nerve to attack someone who opposed the highway because the world hasn't actually ended (even though they didn't say the world was going to end anyway)? Pretty sad.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:29:09

Don, if transit is as valuable as you say it is, why does the government have to fund it?

The private sector is all about making money, so if there is consumer demand for mass transit, private businesses will provide it.

The money losing routes would be scrapped and the money making routes would get better service.

Another bonus for those who believe in Global Warming, is a better use of resources. Since lightly traveled routes would be phased out, we would not have buses spewing out C02 with little economic gain to show for it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 15:32:39

ASmith - if roads/highways are as valuable as you think they are, why is the government funding them??

I can't believe this same argument is repeated by the same few posters on here time and time again whenever transit is brought up.

It's 'socialist' to fund transit is it?? Seems much more socialist to take $1 trillion from taxpayers pockets and give it to Wall St.

If funding transit is socialism, then so is funding roads. Can we please move past this and actually discuss the substance of the above article.

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By ADowntowner (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2008 at 17:59:49

First of all, I don't think any logical person would dispute that transit is an important form of transportation.

Perhaps we should look at how it's delivered. For example, look at York Regional Transit. They contract out the operations of their VIVA system while retaining ownership - perhaps this is something that could be explored locally to see if this is beneficial and if it can cap escalating costs/fares?

Secondly, as we saw with the job action at the TTC back in April, riders need a guarantee that their transit system will operate. This is why I personally think Public Transit in Ontario should be declared an essential service. I understand that if transit unions cannot strike they would need to resort to binding arbitration as a last resort. Should Public Transit be declared as essential service, arbitrators need to incorporate in their decisions the region's availability to pay, especially in cities where taxes are high and cities where people's incomes are lower than average and cannot afford exorbitant increases.

I use Public Transit quite frequently and am so eager to see expansion and increased ridership. Public Transit is the way of the future and we need increased investments from higher levels of government and where possible/feasible, the private sector.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 09:59:15

For those who are the most narginalized, public transit is the only form of transportation available, and for many this increase in cost puts them further behind.

Even today, the editorial in the spec is calling for all sides to come together, to solve the problems, yet it is always those at the bottom there are cut while those at the top are not. How can the people take our leaders seriously when they themselves fail to lead the way and take the approprioate cuts in pay, perks, bonuses.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 14:26:13

First of all I never listen to what Don has to say. It is way too biased and mostly based on fiction.

I do believe public transit is a service that the municipality should and must provide. I do believe that as cost go up so should bus fares, not drastically though and I don't believe a 10 cent per ride fare increase is drastic.

One thing that has driven me crazy on RTH is how the Red Hill and all roads get thrown into the debate.

Roads are community life lines, they provide routes for buses, ways for people to move around the community and to their jobs. Most importantly they allow goods to be distributed. If there were no roads, there would be no buses.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 20:43:42

Jason, if the city introduced tolls on primary roads I would be perfectly happy with that.

The government (or the private owner) would get a steady stream of income to ensure it's upkeep and the taxpayer would see a decrease in his/her tax bill.

The city doesn't offer people free phone lines, free internet, free cable TV, so why offer free roads?

To the extent that we target users, rather than the general taxpayer, society tends to build what the true marketplace is demanding, rather than what politicians think the marketplace is demanding.

If you can tell me why transportation is exempt from the laws of the market, I would love to hear it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 17, 2008 at 09:03:29

By A Smith "Don, if transit is as valuable as you say it is, why does the government have to fund it?"

Is this how you feel about health care as well? Why does the government fund ANYTHING? If the market were such a one-stop-solution, then everything that was truly important would just fund itself via "market forces" and we wouldn't need any public services at all!

How far into oblivion must "the free market" take us before we realize that it is NOT a solution at all?

This isn't about capitalism, or socialism, or anythingism - it's about balancing public spending and recognizing priorities.

To the poster named 'Balance': THe reason roads are brought up here (and elsewhere) is because they represent a huge expenditure, much of which benefits mostly the private automobile.

Yes, goods, services and transit uses roads. But they are a small minority of the traffic. If we were building roads only to pander to them, we would not need the expressway, we would not need 5 lanes on main, we would not need most of the road infrastructure we've built. All of that was built to "keep traffic moving". Traffic being comprised mostly of private automobiles.

Discussion of roads and subsidy of the automobile certainly has a place when it comes to discussing public funding of other modes of transportation.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2008 at 23:35:01

Seancb, I was simply making the point that if something has value with the community, government should not be needed to run it.

Government does not run grocery stores, gas stations, department stores and alike, because all of these services can be provided by private businesses.

If the argument is that government's job is to provide for the poor, then it can do this by outsourcing to private businesses. It does not have to operate anything.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2008 at 08:51:53

A Smith wrote:

I was simply making the point that if something has value with the community, government should not be needed to run it.

Is-ought problem. History is rich with examples of projects with strong community value that markets could not create by themselves.

Your reasoning is tautological. You assume that the market will create anything people value; and then you conclude that because the market didn't create something, that means people don't value it.

The examples of light rail systems other cities have built demolish that assumption. In nearly every city that builds light rail, we see the following:

  • It is very popular, even among people who opposed it before its construction and even among people who don't actually use it.

  • It dramatically increases transit ridership.

  • It spurs huge multipliers in private economic development along the transit corridor.

The deeper issue here is that exchange markets cannot themselves produce the circumstances under which exchange markets flourish.

Go back and read Hobbes if you're unclear on what I mean. People can only engage successfully in the kinds of voluntary exchanges you advocate where mutual trust exists. In the absence of trust, you inevitably get a "race to the bottom" as people defensively act to protect themselves against each other's potential treachery and then interpret each other's defensive preparation as gearing up for some kind of attack.

It progresses exactly the way an arms race progresses, and for pretty much the same reasons: mutual mistrust in the absence of a shared framework.

(That, incidentally, is why arms control agreements and trade agreements have been so successful in the past half-century or so at preventing violence between industrialized countries.)

Your wonderland of unregulated voluntary exchange would be a ghastly war of all against all in the absence of the physical, legal and cultural frameworks that allow people to trust each other: property laws, contract laws, public spaces, labour laws, workplace safety laws, consumer protection laws, disclosure laws, product safety regulations, etc., not to mention the physical media of exchange - roads, sidewalks, parks, plazas, transit, etc. - through which public life takes place.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2008 at 16:35:41

Ryan, markets exist whenever there is demand for a product or service.

In fact, markets exist even when the power of government go to great lengths to destroy said markets, namely prostitution, illegal drugs and human trafficking.

If drug dealers relied on the government for their livelihood, they would be out of business, but this is not the case. How do you explain this?

The fact is, human beings are extremely cooperative creatures when left to their own devices. However, because we have been told that we need leaders, we forget this.

In my estimation, all strong leadership has given us are weak followers. People who abdicate their own thinking in order to rally around some cause, which invariably is unrelated to the individual's life.

As to your assertion that arms agreements have reduced the amount of wars, I think you have forgotten about common sense. Nuclear weapons are killing machines and everybody knows that to use them would mean virtual extinction.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 19, 2008 at 10:29:47

A smith wrote:

Ryan, markets exist whenever there is demand for a product or service.

You're still reasoning tautologically. If that were true, how do you explain the success of light rail systems, which private investors haven't built but which become highly successful when the government builds and operates them?

If drug dealers relied on the government for their livelihood, they would be out of business, but this is not the case.

Actually, if not for government prohibition, the industry would be much different.

I don't think the drug trade should be illegal, but I do think it should be regulated like other industries. Thanks to prohibition, the drug trades are a) too risky for 'legitimate' investors, manufacturers and dealers to touch and b) unregulated aside from criminal investigations.

As a result, only criminals are willing to get into the business, and they establish their own codes of conduct through mandatory gang membership, enforced by the threat of violence.

For example, members of a gang are forbidden to rat each other out, even under the risk of prosecution, and the punishment for squealing is death. This gang policy framework resolves the common collective action problem popularly known as the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Also, the risks associated with possession create a strong incentive to make drugs more concentrated and hence easier to hide. Hence opium becomes heroin, cocaine becomes crack, marijuana becomes hash, benzadrine becomes crystal meth, and so on.

After shipping, the concentrated drugs are cut with other substances so they aren't immediately fatal for their users. Unfortunately, because there are no industry standards or consumer safety regulations, drugs are often cut with other unsafe and even harmful substances with no oversight and no transparency.

In addition to the lack of consumer protections, investors, dealers and buyers have no recourse under contract law if another party reneges on a promise. Likewise, workers have no recourse under labour law if they are required to do their jobs in dangerous conditions.

Ultimately, prohibition not only fails to stop drug use, but also forces the drug trade into criminality, increases the level of violence at every step of the process, and puts everyone at greater risk, all while criminalizing a large segment of the population and wasting police, court and prison resources for an unattainable moral goal.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 19, 2008 at 15:03:31

A Smith wrote:

As to your assertion that arms agreements have reduced the amount of wars, I think you have forgotten about common sense. Nuclear weapons are killing machines and everybody knows that to use them would mean virtual extinction.

Common sense is why the countries agreed to arms control talks. Establishing a framework for mutual trust is the only way to break out of the vicious cycle of a race to the bottom. Domestically, groups of people do this by establishing rules of interaction and mechanisms of dispute resolution (read: government). Internationally, national governments do this by negotiating and signing treaties.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 16:53:35

If government equals mutual trust, then how do you explain WWI, WWII, Stalin's mass killings, Khmer Rouge, etc.

All of these events were initiated by leaders of governments, because government allows crazy individuals the power to harness huge economic resources.

If you can explain to me how giving vast economic resources to people who did nothing to create these resources, then I will agree that government is good. However, I doubt many people believe that handing power over to people whose only goal is to wield it is a wise decision.

Shrink government, allow those who create wealth to keep it (since they are obviously good at making investment decisions) and appeal to people's sense of charity to help their fellow man.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 19, 2008 at 20:53:44

A Smith wrote:

If government equals mutual trust, then how do you explain WWI, WWII, Stalin's mass killings, Khmer Rouge, etc.

Those were all due to breakdowns in democracy, liberty and the rule of law - in other words, breakdowns in mutual trust.

All of these events were initiated by leaders of governments, because government allows crazy individuals the power to harness huge economic resources.

No, they were allowed because the governments involved weren't following the three essential components of good government: recognizing civil liberties, obeying the rule of law, and representing the popular will.

If you can explain to me how giving vast economic resources to people who did nothing to create these resources

My employer gives significant economic resources to me despite the fact that I did nothing to create those resources. In exchange, my employer expects me to perform enough work to cover their expenses and generate additional value. I am accountable for how I work, and if I squander the resources that have been given to me, I will lose my job.

Similarly, good government is representative and accountable government. Taxpayers employ the government to establish and maintain the rule of law, resolve legal disputes, and provide essential services effectively, because these things are essential to creating the shared framework of mutual trust that allows both market and nonmarket exchanges among citizens to take place.

When the government doesn't do its job, the public is both entitled and obliged to replace the government with one that does. Good government systems allow effective means for the public to hold their governments accountable.

Where such means are absent and the government has become an agent of oppression, exploitation and abuse, citizens must somehow resist the oppression, overthrow the government and replace it with something more fair, representative and accountable.

History offers many examples of different strategies citizens have tried to do this, from armed rebellion (e.g. France and the USA) to gradual reform (e.g. Britain and Canada). There are arguments for and aginst the various strategies, though my sympathies generally lie with incremental reform (given that revolution often produces a new government as bad as, or even worse than, the old).

Shrink government

Government must be big enough to do what the citizens expect of it.

allow those who create wealth to keep it (since they are obviously good at making investment decisions)

This deserves a detailed response (and I'm working on a review of a new book that addresses just this argument), but the short answer is that most of the wealth our society produces depends on pre-existing knowledge and technique, and only a small fraction of it is due to individual new innovation. People in a position to make huge profits owe at least as much to luck and opportunity as they do to innate ability.

As Warren Buffet put it: "Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago." (James O'Loughlin, _The Real Warren Buffett_) Most of the wealth we enjoy today is the shade of trees planted long ago.

In a report on how he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, Buffett also said: "If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/money/t...

appeal to people's sense of charity to help their fellow man.

When people vote to pay for social programs, they are acting according to their sense of charity. They recognize that stable, predictable funding for social programs is far more effective than sporadic, unpredictable funding.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 21:46:02

a Smith wirtes: If government equals mutual trust, then how do you explain WWI, WWII, Stalin's mass killings, Khmer Rouge, etc.

But who actually did the funding of these wars? There is enough information out there that lays blame on the very central bankers that are causing the economic turmoil we are seeing today.

Maybe you should focus on the elements of the shadow government, those that are behind the scenes.

I agree with Ryan, that we have and are seeing a breakdown of mutual trust of our government system, as they seem to be ignoring the people. We have seen de-regulation across the board, we are seeing many struggle and we will see many more struggle. There has been and is a breakdown of the rule of law.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 00:05:22

Ryan, I trust my parents, my friends, and all those who act in ways I deem moral and good.

I definitely do not trust politicians, police officers and anyone else who claims authority over my life.

Furthermore, the elected officials definitely do not trust the people, otherwise why would they ban handguns? If the people are largely good, then there should be no concern if someone has the means to defend themselves.

If the government trusts the people, why do we criminalize failure to pay taxes? If most people are moral, then all government needs to do is appeal to our sense of justice and compassion, problem solved.

Your belief system is based on the notion that humans are cannibalistic at heart and without government, we would all resort to rape and plunder.

I personally take that as an insult, because I know many people, myself included, that have put themselves at great risk in order to help complete strangers.

Many people have been blessed with caring hearts and love of their fellow man, it's a part of what makes us human. Yes, there are always those who feel it's easier to steal than to earn one's income, but I don't believe that is the majority.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2008 at 08:27:52

Furthermore, the elected officials definitely do not trust the people, otherwise why would they ban handguns?

First, elected officials have not banned handguns, though their ownership, storage and use are regulated.

Second, handguns are regulated not because the government fears armed uprising (please!) but because the public wants them regulated. In countries where weapons are regulated - i.e. most of the industrialized world - murder-by-handgun rates are orders of magnitude lower than in countries where they are unregulated - i.e. the US, which is caught in the same grip of Second Amendment fundamentalism that seems to have gripped you.

If the government trusts the people, why do we criminalize failure to pay taxes?

Failure to pay taxes is a form of free-riding - enjoying the benefits of living in a modern industrial society without paying one's share. Allowing some people to free-ride is profundly unfair, and a fundamental principle of the rule of law is fairness.

Again, you see the government as some kind of foreign power when it is actually the means through which citizens establish rules of conduct and mechanisms of dispute settlement.

If you took away government tomorrow, citizens would have to figure out rules of conduct, means of enforcement, and ways to settle disputes. In other words, citizens would have to form a system of governance. That's what government is.

Your belief system is based on the notion that humans are cannibalistic at heart and without government, we would all resort to rape and plunder.

Absolutely not. I believe humans are basically reasonable and fair at heart, and that we establish governments to ensure that society operates fairly. Further, I believe strongly that western civilization is becoming progressively more civil, humane, tolerant, and peaceful over time. Steven Pinker explores this in his lecture "A brief history of violence": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1U...

The dynamics of escalating violence are not due, as some people have argued, to some intrinsic malevolence at the heart of human nature. Rather, it's what happens when shared trust doesn't exist between people.

All it takes is one aggressive, greedy person (and even the most idealistic humanist must concede that such people exist) to start a race to the bottom as even nonviolent people participate in the arms race defensively.

Again, think of the analogy to countries in an arms race: it's the same dynamic writ large, and not some megalomaniacal death wish as, say, Stanley Kubrick argued in his otherwise-magnificent "Dr Strangelove".

The only way to break the vicious cycle is to establish a shared framework of trust through a fair system of rules to which everyone commits and under which everyone is accountable.

Yes, there are always those who feel it's easier to steal than to earn one's income, but I don't believe that is the majority.

I agree, which is why the majority are willing to establish and enforce rules to ensure fairness.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 10:09:55

Absolutely not. I believe humans are basically reasonable and fair at heart, and that we establish governments to ensure that society operates fairly. Further, I believe strongly that western civilization is becoming progressively more civil, humane, tolerant, and peaceful over time. Steven Pinker explores this in his lecture "A brief history of violence": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1U...

Ghandi once famously said about Western Civilization, that he thought it would be a good idea. I wish he were around today to give us a report card.

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By Clodhopper (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 11:11:29

Talk about topic drift, from Transit funding to Western Civilization in just 23 comments..... :o

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 21:51:44

Ryan, if the rich pay millions of dollars in taxes to the government, how is that free riding?

I think a perfect example of a free rider is a person that stays on welfare for more than a couple of months.

If you believe free riding is a crime worthy of jail time, then staying true to your logic, we should start locking up poor people.

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2008 at 04:25:13

My question is for A Smith; "Are you a rael person".

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2008 at 04:27:39

Repeat to undo error, my question is for A Smith;
"Are you a real person?"

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 00:57:10

Councilwatch, what makes you think otherwise?

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By Councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 15:28:18

A Smith; the antediluvian content under the name.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2008 at 02:21:02

Councilwatch, I take it you disagree with my position on government. What in particular do you take issue with, perhaps I can help you understand my thinking.

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