Rapid Transit and Land Values

Unsigned Editorial

[Reprinted from The Standard, 21 May, 1890]

The Real estate exchange has grown excited over the failure of the legislature to agree on any rapid transit bill, and it has petitioned the governor for an extra session to consider this highly important subject. The governor ha refused this application, and there does not seem to be any good reason why hi should have granted it. If the legislature could not agree at the last session there is no certainty at all that it would agree at an extra session. Rapid transit is greatly needed by the people of New York, in order that those who are compelled to live at a great distance from their places of work or business shall be able to pass rapidly to and from their homes without spending a large portion of their life on slow moving trains or street cars. It would be easy enough to understand why a popular demonstration in behalf of rapid transit might be made, but wherein does it concern the real estate men any more than the butchers, the bakers or candlestick makers?

The answer is obvious, but thousands will make it without any comprehension of its real significance. The real estate men want rapid transit in order that they may be able to sell city lots at higher prices. This demonstrates to any one who will stop to think that the effect of a great public improvement is not to confer a benefit on the mass of the people, but on that small number of people who, under an unwise system of taxation and land tenure, are allowed to appropriate to themselves the full benefit of ail activity, public or private, that has in view the diffusion of population over a broader surface, or through any other means facilitating the acquisition of homes by human beings.

If the city of New York were to build live viaducts from the Battery to Yonkers, running on each both rapid transit and local trains, and carry passengers free, rents would not thereby be materially lowered in the long run. Temporarily such a result might be reached, but eventually the full advantages conferred on our people by such an act of munificence would be taken by the holders of the land in the new districts thus made easy of access to New Yorkers. This has already happened in Harlem, and it will happen just as surely whether the unproved means of transit are owned by the public and run for nothing or whether they are owned by existing corporations and run at a profit. The corporation monopolizing the transportation will, in the latter event, get profits on its investment, and something more if it has a monopoly, but the landlord will get all that remains. On the other hand, if the people were carried for nothing, the landlord would get the whole benefit. There is but one remedy for this, and that is to make the people the practical owners of the land through the safe, convenient and conservative method of establishing the single tax.