Gas costs have skyrocketed, and with them, the cost of flying. This greenie isn’t 100% upset: with the cost of fuel increasing exponentially in the past few years, people are examining their transportation patterns and needs and trying to find cost- and fuel-effective methods of getting from Point A to Point B. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars are selling well, and ridership on public transit is up. But for many Americans, particularly those in smaller cities and towns, public transit is non-existent. For those living anywhere but the East Coast, Amtrak is slow, unreliable, or non-existent. We’re a country for whom the cost of cheap fuel has promoted individual car use to the detriment of other forms of transportation.
Here in the Midwest, it’s incredibly frustrating how limited rail and bus is. I frequently travel between St Louis and Minneapolis, and unless I have the luxury of a few days to travel, rail and bus are extremely inconvenient. Don’t get me started about trying to get to Des Moines, where my parents live, from St Louis–it’s basically fly or drive. Flying has become extremely expensive and unthinkably uncomfortable. I find myself wedged in a coach seat longing for the relative space and comfort of Amtrak but knowing that my options from St Louis are limited.
Fortunately, change is bubbling. Talk of expanding mass transit is everywhere. California just greenlighted a high-speed bullet-style train from LA to San Francisco that will make the almost 400-mile trip in less than three hours. Democratic Party Vice-Presidential Nominee Joe Biden is an Amtrak enthusiast who has used the rail system religiously during his time on Capitol Hill, and he and Barack Obama pledge to expand mass transit if elected. Public transportation is experiencing record ridership as people abandon their cars for the cost-saving (and often time- and peace of mind-saving) bus or light rail in their cities.
I made a list in my head of the traits my dream transit system would embody. It would include efficient, extensive bus systems like in Curitiba, Brazil. It would include high-speed, intercity rail systems like those in Japan, and those systems would connect every state and all major cities. Rail systems would offer sweet weekend deals for leisure travelers, like when I lived in Germany and five people could travel anywhere on Deutsche Bahn for 28€ total. There would be an expansion of bike lanes and bike paths for two-wheeled transportation. And, all these things would pay for themselves through fuel taxes or carbon taxes, and citizens would view transit as an efficient system that truly served them. Car ownership would truly become an option for most Americans.
So what’s your dream for transit in America?
How can we implement infrastructures that will not only encourage mass transit, but make it affordable, convenient, reliable, and environmentally-friendly? What models can we look to when planning? What experiences abroad have you had that you wish we could have here? Do you think these dreams can or will become a reality? What obstacles are stopping us from extensive, efficient, affordable mass transit?