Forced Public Transit
Robert Reich, who admits that he used to commute by car rather than public transit because “I’ve never been able to organize myself around their schedules,” is delighted that people are now being forced to do what he wouldn’t by high gas prices.
For years, policymakers have wondered just how high gas prices would have to go before drivers switch to public transportation. The answer has been assumed to be very high because Americans supposedly are in love with our cars. Yet now we know there’s a tipping point, and it’s not quite as high as policymakers have guessed. It’s around $4 a gallon. We know that’s the tipping piont because suddenly millions of Americans are switching to buses, trains and subways to go to work.
Rather than bemoaning this remarkable turnaround we should be celebrating it because public transit not only reduces congestion but also reduces the nation’s energy needs and cuts carbon emissions that bring on global warming.
No. This is in the category of “every cloud has a silver lining” rather than a pleasant surprise. Poorer Americans are being stripped of their freedom and leisure time by economic forces outside their control. That’s mostly a bad thing even though there are side benefits.
Reich is right, though, in the main thrust of his essay.
Even though it’s a hundred times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.
This is nuts. If officials need more money to cover the extra fuel costs of public transit, they can raise ticket prices a bit without reducing demand; most of us would still find public transit cheaper than driving our cars. But officials shouldn’t stop there. They should add services and expand whole systems — more buses, more trains, more light rail. If they can’t finance this by floating bonds, they should go to Congress and ensure that public transportation is a major part of the next stimulus package.
This is obviously right. Public transit is impractical in much of the country, simply because of population density. But it’s silly that it’s difficult even for many of us who live in major metropolitan areas to use the system.