The Star Tribune’s ‘fake news’ on transit

The Star Tribune recently carried an editorial critical of our new report ‘Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident‘.

The editorial board wrote that “Peer-reviewed academic research…has found that expanding freeways does not reduce congestion, but transit does”. The paper they cite for this claim is ‘The fundamental law of road congestion: Evidence from US cities’ by economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner. However, the Star Tribune’s presentation of it is a complete distortion.

Hang on a second…

Here is what Duranton and Turner actually say about transit in their paper;

“We conclude that an increased provision of roads or public transit is unlikely to relieve congestion” (Abstract)

“Unfortunately, there is currently little empirical basis for accepting or rejecting the claims of…the American Public Transit Association that without new investment in public transit, highways will become so congested that they “will no longer work”. (Page 1)

“For public transit as measured by the count of large buses in an (Metropolitan Statistical Area), the conclusion is the same as in panel A: the provision of buses does not affect total (Vehicle Kilometers Traveled) in the MSA” (Page 27)

“The resulting elasticity estimates of these two tables also support the conclusion that public transit does not affect traffic levels

Finally, we note that the finding that public transit does not reduce traffic levels should be of independent interest to policy makers. ” (Page 28)

“Not only do we provide direct evidence for this law, but also show find evidence that three implications of this law; near flat demand curve for VKT, convergence of traffic levels, and no effect of public transit on traffic levels” (Page 42)

“Importantly, our data provide little evidence that extensions of public transit will reduce traffic” (Also page 42)

“Second, we note that this research eliminates both capacity expansions and extensions to public transit as policies to combat traffic congestion” (Page 43)

It is hard to see how they could have been any clearer on this point. Yet the Star Tribune has them saying the exact opposite.

Did the Star Tribune editorial board actually read the article they cited? If not, why did they cite it? If they did, why did they misrepresent it so dishonestly?

Transport is one of the most important issues facing the Twin Cities. We need a debate. But that debate needs to be open and honest, and not riddled with these sorts of ‘alternative facts’.