In the interests of full disclosure, I should begin by pointing out that I live in New York City, where I am a regular and enthusiastic patron of the city's amazing public transportation system. I approach the train in much the same way that a cocker spaniel approaches car rides. If I could open the window, put my hands on the sill and let my tongue loll out of my mouth, I definitely would.
Right now, one of my biggest worries involves funding of the city's subway system. A little over ten years ago, the city and the state slashed funding. It would be prohibitively expensive to have an entirely rider-funded system, so the MTA began borrowing money. Lo and behold, a few years later, the subway is still underfunded, is seriously in debt, and is looking at massively raising fares while scaling back on service.
New York is only one of many cities currently experiencing problems with their public transportation systems. At the same time, these systems also offer one of the best solutions to the country's current gas crisis. America's subways, trams and buses conserve 4.2 billion gallons of gas per year. They reduce wear and tear on public roads, keep cars out of city centers, and allow citizens to cheaply move from place to place. In terms of pollution, each person who rides public transportation reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20 pounds per day. In New York, that works out to over 3 billion pounds per year.
However, unless a consistent, reliable funding source emerges, the sort of feast-or-famine situation that is plaguing New York and other cities will continue. With that in mind, it was particularly satisfying to discover HR 6052, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008. This bill would provide federal subsidies both to cities and to "non-urban areas" for the development and improvement of public transportation systems. It is designed to improve the public transportation grid while lowering fares for travelers. The bill has passed the House of Representatives and is currently working its way through Senate committees.
Between cheap public transit, fewer drivers clogging the highways, lowered petroleum dependency and reduced carbon emissions, HR 6052 seems like a great idea for pretty much everyone. Now if we can just get it passed...
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He even has favorite subway beggars: the current winner is the magician on the four line.