Boondoggles: Way less funny than they sound

As if U.S. taxpayers needed another reason to doubt whether their taxes were being spent well. Yesterday, USA Today reported on the Essential Air Service program: “Each day, about 3,000 passengers enjoy mostly empty, heavily subsidized flights, financed by a 30-year-old program that requires the government to guarantee commercial air service to scores of small communities that can’t support it themselves.”

The Department of Transportation apparently pays about $110-million dollars a year to a couple small airlines, ostensibly to keep citizens of rural communities a cheap flight away from an urban hub. What the program has actually done, according to its critics, is to keep small airlines artificially profitable and “waste money by providing what amounts to luxury travel to people within driving distance of a larger airport.”

To get an idea of the effect of the program, the article provides a number of examples. Here’s one: “[A] round-trip in Montana from Miles City to Billings – a two-hour drive away – costs passengers just $88 with a 30-day advance purchase on Big Sky Airlines because the government kicks in $779.”

Still more on this boondoggle:

“In October, the DOT agreed to one of the program’s largest subsidies ever – $2 million a year to Atlantic Southeast Airlines. That pays 60% of ASA’s cost to fly two round-trips a day between Macon, Ga., and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, 81 miles away.

The airline projects that passengers will pay an average of $78 for a one-way ticket – and that flights, typically on planes with fewer than 70 seats, will run 83% empty. That means the DOT will pay $145 per passenger for the 19-minute flight.

“That’s a tremendous waste of money,” aviation consultant Michael Boyd says, noting that Macon residents can easily drive or take a bus to Atlanta. Groome Transportation, for example, runs hourly vans from Macon to the Atlanta airport. Cost: $31 a ticket.”

Whole thing here, via Marginal Revolution.

[Note: Not paying your taxes, while being a surefire moneysaver in the short term, is actually not a wise strategy to cure your money woes.]