Public Transportation

Today in my newsfeed there was a link for a Facebook page for public transportation which I then shared on my own wall. It sparked some interesting conversation and I’d like to explore it a bit more here- I hope my friends who were chatting with me on FB don’t mind and will feel free to chime in here if they’d like.

I shared the link and engaged in the conversation because I believe a strong infrastructure of efficient, reliable and affordable public transportation could be one means of solving some complicated problems facing our nation. Of course it would be naive and simplistic to think it is THE answer, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. I simply think it could be an integral part of an overall plan to both strengthen the economy and reduce our carbon footprint.

A lot of time, money and energy is being poured into alternative energy for both economical and ecological reasons. We are also trying to find ways to keep jobs in America while creating new, relevant jobs for the millions who continue to be unemployed and underemployed. I think we need to stop waiting for a big breakthrough in energy technology sometime in the future that will then take even more time to implement- we need jobs and greener transportation choices NOW. Public transportation is a means to provide both.

I acknowledge there are obstacles to overcome and understand that I’m not an expert- just because I think it’s a good idea on paper doesn’t mean it will work when it’s fleshed out. However, the same is true of a lot of ideas being explored right now and I am genuinely confused as to why this one isn’t being explored further. Lets look at a few of the obstacles my friends and I discussed on Facebook.

Size of America

America is huge. And we have some sparsely populated areas across large areas in the Midwest.  It seems impossible to develop a system that would serve large portions of the country. And it would be impossible for one system to do it all. But if we think about  a public transit system as we do our highway and street systems it seems more plausible. We have interstate highways, state highways and city streets to travel with, all paid for, planned and maintained independent of each other. I see no reason public transit couldn’t follow a similar model.

So, just as we have interstate highways where people can travel in the fastest and most efficient manner, we could have the fastest, most efficient rail system connecting major cities among states. And just as we have state highways that are not as large and where we don’t travel as quickly, each state can develop a rail system that operates on a smaller scale between areas within that state. (I envision something similar to the eL trains that connect Chicago to the suburbs.) And finally, just as cities and towns maintain their own streets, so could they maintain some form of transit (such as buses).

Obviously this isn’t a completely fleshed out plan but you get the basic idea- being a large nation requires some creative problem solving but it doesn’t mean the problems are insurmountable.

Funding

Of course if we don’t have the money to pay for this infrastructure none of the rest really matters. But if we used some of the money currently being spent on alternative fuel (not all, this is important research but some), looked at the increased income tax revenue created by the jobs created as well as the possibility to have a nominal transit tax associated with ticket sales (which could decrease over time as the initial costs were paid down and we began to focus on maintenance instead of start-up costs). These ideas may not be comprehensive enough but they are certainly a starting point.

Attitudes of Americans regarding public transit

Many Americans are not familiar with quality public transportation.

Furthermore, it is often viewed as something that exists only for poor people.

There are also a lot of people who view it as unsafe.

These are big obstacles and I certainly don’t have all of the answers for solving them but I think there are things we can do. Satellite test programs in key areas along with marketing and a push for media coverage seems like a good place to start. Simply raising awareness to the boost we could create in our economy while simultaneously reducing our dependence on fossil fuels would also go a long way to garnering support.

I know we have big issues facing our nation and it may seem as if  being able to take a train into the city doesn’t matter much but I believe it matters a great deal. Public transportation is good for the economy, good for the earth and good for America.

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