Tuesday, June 24, 2008

21st Century Iron Horses

Psychodrilling - Matt Yglesias

This kind of post has become a regular feature for Yglesias' blog: the argument for more mass transit versus increased oil drilling. Now by no means am I in favor of pushing oil drilling into new areas of the American coast line just for the possibility of saving money on gas some time in the future. Still, this idea that mass transit is a cure-all to our energy problems, at least on the transport side of things, is rather ridiculous when you look at all the political, financial and technological hurdles you face just to get a transit program off the ground in a major U.S. city. Moreover, busing alone is not sufficient to get around the need for rail or subway lines. The city of Dallas had a working trolley system for decades until the mid 60s when the city council was convinced that buses were the way of the future. Fifty years later and Dallas is once again forced to admit that light rail and trolley lines are necessary to combat the ridiculous urban sprawl.
I agree that the U.S. needs a serious, nationwide program to implement mass transit in its major cities, but I just don't see that happening without a president expending a huge amount of political capitol to push through a bill that will naturally see billions of dollars in earmarks attached to it. And the cities themselves lack the will and funding.
Mass transit is a wonderful idea and one that I would love to see realized, but the political realities I fear are too great once you move a hundred miles inland from either coast. Until cities end the monopolies they typically give transit providers and the federal government ends its absurd propping up of passenger rail companies like Amtrak, I don't see the possibility of any rapid movement on mass transit. I wish the stance Yglesias takes was shared by more of our city, state and federal leaders, but for all the talk about expanding mass transit these politicians know well the slim chances of anything actually happening.