Friday, May 30, 2008

Mass Transit: A Concept That Has Finally Come of Age

I remember the first Earth Day back in 1970. Back in 1970 gasoline was selling for around 33 cents a gallon but you could get it for 28 cents at the cheap discount stations. Back in 1970 people were worried about air pollution, and gasoline engine emissions were the principal contributors.

No one was concerned with global warming. No one was concerned with depletion of an abundant and cheap natural resource.

No one.

Still, arguments were made even way back then about the need for mass transit systems in the future. Expensive mass transit systems. Very few metropolitan areas bought into building them, fewer actually went and did it. Some cities, like Houston came in late and bail-wired a light rail system that is limited in extent, and used by very few commuters. San Francisco already had a surface electric car system that was augmented by an underground system they labeled BART. Los Angeles came on later with its largely surface and freeway-following Metro system, an extensive system that links one side of the greater Los Angeles area with another. Even Singapore, that tiny island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula has an extensive and well-used underground system called the MRT.

[The MRT, by the way, is why it is illegal to buy or possess chewing gum in Singapore. Patrons of the MRT would stick their used gum wads in the railcar doors fouling the sensors that sensed whether the doors were closed]

What is my point? My point is with the exception of a few of the newly established underground systems, mass transit has been poorly used, and, if you will, used only by the poor. The LA Metro system is famous locally for being an exclusive haunt of the poor, the young and carless, and people who hear voices and talk to themselves. Commuters have, by and large, stuck to their automobiles, the freeway system, and dependence on gasoline.

Times seem to be changing, however. Gasoline prices have started to become an actual factor in the everyday lives, and budgets, of middle class Americans. A factor that now causes them to rethink their lifestyles and maybe adopt alternative transportation. I spotted this Chon article today that makes a good read.

Middle class Americans are discovering the viability, usefulness, and economy of mass transit. It took $4 gasoline to do it, but I guess with every dark cloud there is a silver lining. If more Americans keep their cars parked in their driveways, or at commuter parking lots, everyone benefits.

Now that this trend is reality, now maybe it’s time for metropolitan areas to adopt mass transit plans, or expand the ones they already have.

The writing is on the wall. It has taken 38 years from the first Earth Day, when mass transit was lauded as a clean alternative to air polluting auto transit systems, to finally being seen as viable and useful by people who already own and operate cars. How long is it going to take for cities, counties, and metropolitan areas to read this writing and put some plans in place that link the suburbs to each other and to the city centers?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or at least, how long until the US Dollar finally regains strength, and buys more gas.