My Gear: The Octopus Project

Supporters of transit investments point to research that shows that they reduce traffic, spur economic development and fight global warming by reducing emissions. Americans for Prosperity counters that public transit plans waste taxpayer money on unpopular, outdated technology like trains and buses just as the world is moving toward cleaner, driverless vehicles.

Most American cities do not have the population density to support mass transit, the group says. It also asserts that transit brings unwanted gentrification to some areas, while failing to reach others altogether.

Public transit, Americans for Prosperity says, goes against the liberties that Americans hold dear. “If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Ms. Venable said, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

“Stopping higher taxes is their rallying cry,” said Ashley Robbins, a researcher at Virginia Tech who follows transportation funding. “But at the end of the day, fuel consumption helps them.”

David Dziok, a Koch Industries spokesman, said the company did not control the activities of Americans for Prosperity in specific states and denied that the group’s anti-transit effort was linked to the company’s interests. That notion “runs counter to everything we stand for as a company,” he said.

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