In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, advocates for public transportation have questioned the Bush administrations’ priorities in federal budget allocation for highways, increased automobile fuel efficiency, and research into ethanol based fuel rather than what appears to be an obvious alternative: public transportation.
The article points out some very interesting factors which make this debate all the more convincing on behalf of those who see the future of ridding the country’s dependency on the automobile (and all its associated costs) in public transit. Though most Americans enjoy the extended individuality and independence offered by automobiles, trends have shown increases in use of public transportation and decreases in the demand for gasoline. This, alongside the other benefits offered through mass transit, should indicate to those in Washington that perhaps the public doesn’t desire more funding for highways, but more efficient and accessible means for public transit.
Statistics demonstrate the environmental benefits that public transportation offers over automobile use. According to the article, in 2006 public transportation cut the annual use of gasoline by 3.4 billion gallons and thus reduced emissions responsible for global warming by 26 million tons1. However, this statistic alone may prove difficult in convincing Congress or state legislatures in allocating more funding towards public transportation. The best means for appealing at the highest level is to know where the constituency stands, and in America this is rested in public opinion. The public may be fickle in what it thinks is in its own best interest, though it can always be counted on to try and act in ways in which it maximizes its own rewards. The obvious move for public transportation advocates is to find the appropriate means for demonstrating the overall utility offered in lieu of the apparent shortcomings.
Close analysis reveals some of the most common complaints regarding automobile use: relatively high gas prices; urban traffic congestion makes for increased stress and undue delays; dependency on oil has defined the relationships between not only the U.S. and its foreign providers, but also between consumers and capital which marks a great amount of their annual earnings in fueling their personal automobiles. While public transportation is not for everyone, it does offer a viable alternative to these problems for many millions of Americans.
Some of these alternatives include available means from getting across long distances while saving the expenses of travel by automobile. Public transit systems connecting major cities throughout the state (such as San Francisco to Los Angeles) would provide alternatives to driving or flight. The recent trend has indicated a decrease in the average American’s consumption of gas due to increasing prices at the pump, coupled with a decrease in the amount of recreational trips. Alternative means of travel by way of public transit could give many American vacationers the opportunity to avoid the escalating price gouges while at the same time get the most of their invaluable leisure time. Increasing access to the alternative benefits of public transit are key in maximizing its utility for the public. Ultimately it comes down to the issue of budget allocation. Increasing funding towards highways does little in the way of solving the average American’s problem of both expense and environmental output; conversely, allocating less on highway development and more towards more efficient and more accessible modes of public transportation seem the obvious answer to the major environmental and economic concerns of the people.
1 Campoy, Ana, Calling Ralph Kamden: Is Mass Transit the Answer? (Wall Street Journal, 2008).