Mass Transit

One of the "solutions" that I have heard thrown around to combat the high cost of transportation is either building or improving an existing mass transit system.  This all sounds well and good, but there are a few caveats.

From the technological standpoint, there are several mass transit systems already in existence that prove that this is technically feasible.  I have ridden on trains in Japan, New York, and currently in Germany.  One thing they all share is a huge infrastructure.  Let’s take Germany since my memories of the other two are somewhat dated.

The mass transit system in Germany consists of buses and trains.  Buses are local, usually traveling through various neighborhoods along main streets, and will deliver passengers to the local train station.  The local train is the U-Bahn, similar to the subway or El systems in New York and Chicago.  Longer range trains are the S-Bahn, and are usually in the larger cities like Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, and so on.  The next step up are the Regional Bahn & Intercity trains, which travel between towns and cities with the Intercity trains usually traveling only between major cities.  The fastest of these are the Intercity Express (ICE) trains which can reach speeds of up to 300 kph (186 mph).

Traveling from my hotel to work usually takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on when I can catch the connecting trains.  My journey begins by walking to and taking a bus from my hotel in Stuttgart to the train station.  From the train station, I take a train to the main station, and there catch a connecting train to Ludwigsburg.  There is a 10 minute walk from the station to the plant.  The trains and buses are not always on time – they can be late or early.  But if I were to drive, the times would be slightly shorter – the traffic here is pretty bad.

So in this case, mass transit works, providing you are willing to walk and give up the flexibility of a personal vehicle.  So this is the first caveat.

How many of the readers out there use public transportation on a regular basis?  How about once in your life?  I’m willing to bet (and I’m not a gambler) that most of you have not.  And one of the reasons that you don’t is convenience.

I will admit that it is extremely convenient of having a vehicle to run those little errands and trips to the store.  Driving to the supermarket and loading up the trunk with bags of groceries is extremely appealing and time efficient.  And many of us just cannot bear the thought of being inconvenienced.

The second caveat is cost.  Quite frankly, it is a real steal for me to use the system.  For the average citizen, it is personally expensive.  Why?  Because this system is subsidized through the government.  Yes, in addition to the costs of the tickets one must purchase, the German citizen pays their taxes to subsidize the mass transit system whether they use it or not.  [And by the way, they pay around 50% of their gross income through sales taxes (19%), income taxes, tariffs, and so on to support transportation, health care, and so on.]

And so would be the case for any large-scale system in the United States.  If I remember correctly, to drive a car across the bridges in Manhattan, there is a fee which goes to help fund the mass transit system (and also used to encourage the use of the system).  There will be subsidies to support the system.  Why?  Refer to the first caveat listed above – there must be participation to offset the cost, and the preference is to use individual methods of transportation (cars).  The less participation, the greater the subsidy.

Which brings us to the third caveat – Government.  I’ve stated this before in posts and comments – when has government done anything on time and on budget.  Answer – never!

I know for a fact that Detroit was offered $100 Million by the Federal Government to help implement a mass transit system – specifically, light rail.  The Detroit government officials stalled, bickered, and tried to get their buddies in on this apparent windfall for so long the Federal Government withdrew the funds.  I also look at other large scale projects such as the disastrous Big Dig in Boston, and I know that government is not equipped in any way, shape, or form to handle a project like this.  Perhaps in the past this was not the case, but present day?  Pfffft!!

The last would be our attitudes.  We are too wedded to our cars – this is a characteristic of our culture.  The car represents freedom in our psyche – what teenager doesn’t lust for his driver’s license (and what parent doesn’t dread it)?  There would need to be a massive shift in attitudes before the majority of the population would switch from the liberty that a personal vehicle represents to the restrictive schedule that would be a transit system.

And attitudes are probably the most difficult things to change.


About Tom Roland

EE for 25 Years, Two Patents - now a certified PMP. Married twice, burned once. One son with Asperger's Syndrome. Two cats. Conservative leaning to the Right. NRA Life Member.
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7 Responses to Mass Transit

  1. Gayle says:

    I’ve lived in Germany, Tom. We were there for seven years. I loved the trains and I loved riding on them. I think if gas continued to rise the way it has been, people would rethink their attachment to their cars. Well, many of them would. You make a good point about America’s love affair with their cars. I love watching old movies, especially westerns, just to see the trains. 🙂

  2. Actually, I myself prefer to use the Metro subway system here in the D.C. area to go downtown. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I visited the Smithsonian any other way; even so, weekdays are impossible because there are not enough parking spaces at the Metro station nearest to me.

    Unfortunately, other of my favorite sites in D.C., such as the National Cathedral, don’t have subway stops. That lack is by design because the residents in that cushy section of D.C. didn’t want the subway anywhere near them! Using the bus adds two hours to the time to get to the Cathdral.

    Where I work in the outer suburbs has no access via any kind of mass transit. Zero! Okay, maybe, if I were physically able to do so with my back problems, I could take a bus to work; such a method would require that I walk over a mile from the bus stop to work – on a shoulder with no sidewalks and cars going by at 50+ mph. In any case, that commute via mass transit would take well over two hours, even if the buses are running on time. Instead, I drive the 5 miles in my own vehicle.

    The issue for me is not merely one of convenience, although that is certainly a factor.

    When it comes to the piano students I teach, there is no bus or any other public transportation to that area. Again, a ritzy area, and the residents lobbied against any bus stops whatsoever.

    Public transportation may be feasible for those living in a big city. But here in the suburbs 10 miles or more from D.C., public transportation has been a bust.

  3. Tom says:

    Unfortunately a car is the only mode of transportation that many people can use. Bus routes only go so far in cities like Detroit, and the schedules aren’t all that flexible. For instance, my son was offered a night job, but the bus schedule didn’t run the hours that he needed it (he doesn’t drive).

    Gayle – Hope you have popcorn watching those old movies with the steamers!

    AOW – Yes, there are problems. The city planners and the citizens weren’t all that forward thinking, and it’s just not in DC. And by the way, I forgot that I rode on the DC subway back in 1997.

  4. Shoprat says:

    On the downside, there is the problem of scheduling and convenience. Unless you live in a large city, mass transportation is not an option. I briefly depending on the local franchise of Greyhound to go 50 miles several times and you fit your schedule to the bus. Not good at all.

  5. Braden says:

    I am in agreement with Shoprat, the scheduling would really be bad for me as well, it’s just not feasible for me to take public transportation being I do not live in the same city where I work.

    I support public transportation greatly, though. I think we need more of it, but we definitely do not need government to provide it. The government has never gotten anything right, so how could they ever get public transportation right? The only way public transportation will ever succeed is through the means of the free market/capitalism. It’s amazing what a the human mind can think of, especially when given the freedoms, liberties, and resources.

    Many of my “liberal leaning” readers on my own site have suggested I move closer to work in order to get over the high gas price situation facing us. That is easier said than done, especially considering the high taxes associated with living in Allegheny County (PA), and let us not forget about the hideous public school systems when one gets closer to the city. (The kids I see coming out of the public school system today are precisely why my wife and I are sending our son to a private school this Fall, by the way).

    While public transportation is extremely convenient (and essential) for many, more of it won’t solve our woes in terms of high gas prices. The more people that use it, the more gas and fuel needed to power the additional public transportation vehicles as the load(s) increase; from buses to electric powered trains, the power has to come from somewhere.

    The solution here in the USA is to drill, something we should of done long ago. Bill Clinton vetoed a bill in 1995 to open up ANWR to drilling for oil. Why? He said we wouldn’t see that oil for at least 10-12 years. Interesting, especially considering the fact that we’d definitely be using that oil right now. One cannot help but wonder what the price at the pump would be if Clinton hadn’t vetoed that bill.

    While I am in total support and encourage the development of alternative energy/fuel technologies, it’s imperative that the United States drill for oil now, since oil is the current and only technology we have to work with right now.

    And that’s my two cents ….

  6. Seth says:

    Here in New York City, the transit system (subways and buses) are a must, unless one wants to be quagmired in slow moving traffic on a constant basis with the resulting excessive fuel consumption and pay thousands a year for guaranteed parking spaces (as opposed to spending a significant amount of time looking for spaces that might require a walk of several blocks back to ones destination).

    The transit system here is generally very good, though I have found that one difference between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the late Josef Stalin is that Stalin could at least make the trains run on time.

    This being a liberal dominated city, the MTA advertises itself as a means by which citizens can combat global warming, reducing their personal “carbon footprints” by riding buses and trains. Heh.

  7. Tom says:

    Mass transit is not the end all that some of the proponents would have you believe. As the commenters above have pointed out, routes, schedules, and even if the lines run on time are all factors in whether mass transit is successful.

    As far as reducing the carbon footprint, that would depend on if the buses are kept in good repair. Who hasn’t been near a bus that belched huge clouds of smoke?

    And moving closer to work? Not if it means crappier schools and losing huge sums of money on the real estate. Perhaps the Liberal friends would chip in out of their own pockets – not government’s pockets – to offset the losses (yeah, that will be the day!!)

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