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Why Drivers Should Support Mass Transit

We Americans are always ready to subsidize roads. The irony is that, compared to our heavily subsidized highways, European roads generally have little traffic. English highways are often two lanes, with real speeds of 80 mph or more. Our nation, with its emphasis on cars and driving, cannot boast that in many areas. To intensify the irony, English cars are generally small; we Americans, with our many V-8 trucks and V-6 sedans, guzzling fuel, usually cannot achieve the speeds of a lowly Fiat Punto (65 hp) on an English road!

One of the funny things in life is that, often, when you do something you think should result in more A, you get less A. When you try to cut costs at a company, you often end up increasing costs. When you try to make life easier for drivers, you end up with heavy traffic and bad roads. Why not try the clever, sophisticated approach instead?

  • To reduce congestion, don't build highways. Build rails.
  • To raise highway speeds, don't add lanes. Add buses. 
  • To make your drive more satisfying, don't support road building, new bridges, or bypasses. Support mass transit, trolleys, buses, and trains.
  • To make gasoline cheaper, don't ask for cuts in the gas tax or more foreign aid to Saudi Arabia (or hikes in the military budget). Ask for car-pooling lanes, reduced tolls for car pools and buses, and mass transit.

In short, if you want a more satisfying driving experience - support mass transit and car pooling. Anything else leads to a dead end.

Economic and social issues

Highways cost more than rail or buses in the long term. They must be maintained and repaired regularly. Rail is the cheapest way to move people, once you have put down the tracks. Yet, we have removed many of the tracks that once criss-crossed our land and let us ride from place to place. While our Federal government pours billions into highways and airports, Amtrak is supposed to pay its own way; thus, it is cheaper to drive (or fly) most places than to take the train.

In New York City, where I work, we have three area airports: one in Elizabeth, New Jersey, one in Flushing, and one out beyond Flushing. Guess how many you can take a train or subway to? If you counted "0", you win the prize. The irony is that both New York airports are near subway lines, and the New Jersey airport is near both commuter rail (NJ Transit) and light rail (PATH) lines.

The New Jersey airport, incidentally, recently added an incredibly expensive monorail, which, though it is very close to both PATH and NJ Transit lines, is incompatible with both. This probably is irrelevant since the monorail does not go out to the PATH or NJ Transit stations, despite their being so close.

The past five decades have seen growth in the need for mass transit in New York City - and a decline in the number of subway lines. The past three decades have seen almost no expansion of the subway system. Even when they changed the system to allow more than one ride per swipe (replacing the tokens), they did not add trains to carry the extra load.

When we compare the United States to European nations, we find a major difference in attitude. Here, where everyone is an individualist with freedom of choice, we usually cannot "choose" to live without a car. In Europe, where gasoline is unsubsidized (or less subsidized), there are more options. Most people can live without a car; the buses run frequently, there are more options for paying fares, and there are trains heading out to rural areas. Many more people feel free to have no car.

The result is that a car is required of most Americans, which puts the working poor at a great disadvantage. Older cars tend to break down more often (though not when compared to my wife's Escort), and above the cost of running a car comes insurance, which, in my area, seems to average about a thousand dollars per year for basic policies. A thousand dollars a year may not be much to some people, but for those who live on the edge of (or in) poverty, it's a massive sum.

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