Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Transit cuts drive Americans back to cars

It couldn't come at a worse time, yet governments are slashing budgets for public transportation:

Just at the moment when the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill has generated two months of non-stop headlines about the dangers of oil dependency and the federal government in America finally has something of a platform to call for Americans to wean themselves off oil dependency, cities, counties and states across the US are decimating their public transit systems and forcing people, willy-nilly, to return to their cars.

In most countries, one might expect fiscal collapse to lead to more people taking public transport. After all, while buses, trams, light rail, and underground systems are less convenient than private vehicle usage, and while using such systems oftentimes involves sharing one's environs with too many people and too many competing body odours, at least it's cheaper than filling up one's car with gas and driving miles each day. Utilising public transport is a sensible, relatively painless way to penny pinch.

But, in America, at least in part because public transport has not, in recent years, won the hearts and minds of the politically influential classes in many regions of the country, these systems are peculiarly vulnerable to cuts during the down-times. In fact, a poll released in early April by the Economist indicated that, faced with declining government revenues, more than twice as many Americans would want federal public transit subsidies cut versus reductions to highways expenditures. At a local level, too, many Americans' relationship to public transit systems is tendentious at best. And hence the tragic irony: as local governments continue to haemorrhage revenues, and thus have to look for evermore ways to tighten their belts, so public transit systems suffer.

From the Guardian. I suppose this may change as gas prices increase, but it's remarkable how resistant Americans seem to be to this sort of change.

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