Kossacks Under 35 is a weekly diary series designed to create a community within DailyKos that focuses on young people. Our overall goals are to work on increasing young voters' Democratic majority, and to raise awareness about issues that particularly affect young people, with a potential eye to policy solutions. Kossacks of all ages are welcome to participate (and do!), but the overall framework of each diary will likely be on or from a younger person's perspective. If you would like more information or want to contribute a diary, please email kath25 at kossacksunder35 (at) gmail dot com
While everybody benefits from a mass transit system, it's a more pressing issue for young people.
Of course, that's not to say that even younger Americans use mass transit regularly; in 2006, only 5% of Americans got to work using mass transit.
There are several reasons so few Americans use mass transit.
The biggest reason, though, is that we haven't built it.
While bus service of some sort exists in any city of significant size, many people are highly averse to taking the bus anywhere.
Buses are, after all, slow. They run in traffic, stop not just at scheduled stops but whenever a passenger wants to get off, whenever traffic gets stalled, and at every light. Add that to having to wait for a transfer once or even twice and some amount of walking, and buses can easily take as much as 5 times as long. So-called "bus rapid transit" can help speed things up some, but not close to enough.
While your hands and mind are free from driving, that's really daunting for anyone who's been able to even sort of afford a car and gas. Of course, if there were more bus lines, you wouldn't have to transfer, but that can't happen unless more people rode the bus. That's what happened to me when I worked in Ewing at the Educational Testing Service (I still don't have a driver's license, and I really don't want to have to pay for car insurance when I'm in DC most of the year and can often get around without a car in New Jersey).
However, I think another reason people are unwilling to ride buses is the way buses are viewed. I believe that most people view buses as "for poor people." Moreover, I think they view them as for non-white (black or Hispanic, or in some places [i.e. Chinatown buses] for Asians) poor people. It's somewhat ironic given that a little over 50 years ago, blacks in the South were regularly required to give up their seats on the bus for white people.
The answer, of course, is to have transit anchored in some sort of rail system.
However, rail is pretty lacking in the United States.
Of the 52 metro areas with over 1,000,000 people (I'm assuming the Tucson metro area has gotten there), only 27 have even a single line of light (mostly ground level, usually on its own right of way with street crossings minimized) or heavy rail (either elevated like in Chicago, or underground like other places) or commuter rail
This includes 6 metro areas with more than 2 million people Detroit, Phoenix, San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario, Cincinnati, Orlando, and San Antonio; of those with less than 2 million people, only San Jose, Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, Buffalo, Albuquerque, New Orleans and Salt Lake City have even a single line).
Only Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have more than 2 mostly separate lines.
Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Dallas, Cleveland and a few other cities have 2.
Most have only 1 light rail line.
Of course, New Systems are being built in Austin, Phoenix, and Hampton Roads (Norfolk/Newport News/Virginia Beach).
And many other cities have plans to build or expand their rail transit system, from New York City, which is in the process of adding the Second Avenue Subway to make the already great transit in the 4 boroughs even better, to adding a line to Staten Island (those running to succeed Libido Vito should remind Islanders that Republicans are terribly anti-transit) all the way down to Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Such plans have been kicking around for a while, but they rarely ever go from planning all the way to operation.
Why? Because they can't get federal funding.
Rejected applications for Federal funding have sunk new rail systems in
- A line to Dulles International Airport in DC
and many others.
And many don't even bother filing grant applications because they are certain to be rejected, like:
Places like Madison are preparing to submit applications to the Federal Transit Administration but will likely be rejected.
Of course, even when the Federal Transit Administration is willing to pay 50% of the costs, like in Orlando, it is often sunk by legislatures. It seems like the Florida legislature will sink it.
Why are new systems and system expansions having so much trouble getting funding?
The same reason that our roads are falling apart and bridges have been collapsing.
The gas tax has remained entirely insufficient to fund our roads, and since it also pays for transit subsidies and construction, it's remained insufficient for that. It's an absolute flat rate of 18.4 cents rather than, say, a 5% tax, so it doesn't keep up with price inflation.
That's why an 8 Republican 4 Democratic member "bipartisan" commission came out in favor of raising the gas tax earlier this year, the opposite of the direction that Hillary Clinton and John McCain seem to want to be going.
One of the commission members is Paul Weyrich, who is most famous for having founded the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the Free Congress Foundation, cited as worrisome by the anti-Defamation League.
However, aside from those very severe laws, Mr. Weyrich is a rail nut. I'm confident that the man has a model railroad in his basement. His organization funds the New New Electric Railway Journal, he's served on Amtrak's board and has been tireless in pushing Republicans to be more pro-transit. In fact, he said he'd vote third party in a race between John McCain and Hillary Clinton. While this was partly due to such things as McCain's failure to be a culture warrior, McCain's staunch opposition to mass transit was also a major factor. Should Barack Obama decide he has to include a real hardcore Republican in his cabinet (as opposed to, say, making Lincoln Chafee Secretary of the Interior or something), he should try to get Mr. Weyrich to serve as Secretary of Transportation.
Incidentally, here in New Jersey, despite being a transit-heavy state, our Congresspeople have being terribly anti-gas tax. Senator Menendez co-sponsored Clinton's "holiday" from reality proposal.
However, Robert Andrews, who's running against progressive incumbent Frank Lautenberg, is even worse. Lautenberg has been the most progressive Senator this session, and one of the most progressive throughout his career. Moreover, he's twice saved the New Jersey Democratic Party from losing a Senate seat due to corruption. Harrison Williams was caught up in ABSCAM in 1980; Frank Lautenberg got in the race and beat popular moderate Republican Millicent Fenwick, and Bob Torricelli was taking bribes ("gifts", but let's not kid ourselves) in 2002; Lautenberg got in at the last minute and beat Doug Forrester.
Robert Andrews is 100% machine, but his record is not as good as our 100% machine junior Senator (Bob Menendez). Andrews voted for the war, voted for media consolidation, etc.
Moreover, we just got a disgusting mailer from him. Aside from the age-baiting (which is only okay if directed at Republicans), it contains things like "Meanwhile, New Jerseyans are forced to pay higher gas prices because he keeps voting to tax our gas" and "Senator Lautenberg has twice voted against cutting the gas tax-making it even harder for working families to make ends meet.
His other attack uses the right-wing Tax Foundation to point out that recently, New Jersey's been receiving less federal money per dollar of tax paid than any other state, and then attempts to pin this on Senator Lautenberg. First of all, Rob Andrews has been in Congress since 1990. He's just as responsible.
Second of all, Frank Lautenberg was highly successful at getting federal funding in a certain area-mass transit.
GOVERNOR OPENS REVOLUTIONARY RAIL TRANSFER STATION IN SECAUCUS
Station named in honor of U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg
SECAUCUS, NJ -- Arriving on a specially wrapped train, dozens of dignitaries and customers joined New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey today to launch weekend rail service at the new station, a revolutionary transportation hub linking 10 of 11 NJ TRANSIT rail lines that will transform rail travel in New Jersey and the surrounding region.
The ceremony included a commemorative tribute to U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). The building has been dedicated as the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station enacted by Public Law 106-346 for his vital leadership role in securing the federal funds necessary to construct the station. The former Secaucus Transfer Station will now be known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Station at Secaucus Junction.
By linking 10 regional rail lines, this station promises to be the economic engine that will drive smart growth development in the Meadowlands and the rest of the region, said Governor McGreevey. It will also greatly improve the quality of life for many New Jerseyans as it provides unprecedented access to new jobs, educational opportunities, medical facilities and entertainment and recreational destinations, and more time to spend at home with their families.
"Commuter rail service is a priority for the people of New Jersey, many of which ride the rails everyday to and from work," said Lautenberg "This station, once fully operational, will shorten travel times to and from midtown Manhattan by 15 to 20 minutes, saving a total of 13,500 days in annual travel time. For each individual commuter, this adds up to an extra week of time over the course of a year - time I hope commuters will be able to spend with their families."
"The Frank Lautenberg Station will provide New Jerseyans with a more convenient, accessible, and efficient way to get in and around all of New Jersey, New York City, and across the country all from this local station," said Congressman Steve Rothman, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation who represents Secaucus. "This transfer station will improve the quality of life for the people of New Jersey and help our economy for years and generations to come."
And mass transit is, in fact, one of the areas New Jersey makes out pretty well, but without the gas tax, that funding's gone. I gotta get to work to campaign for Lautenberg (and against Andrews).
One final interesting note:
Barack Obama had a rally yesterday in Tampa.
Today, this came up on the Hillsbourgh Area Rapid Transit (HARTline) web site:
RALLY ATTENDEES VOTE FOR TRANSIT
Nearly 10% Take HART Service to Obama Event
May 22, 2008 - Tampa, Florida - In the campaign to relieve traffic congestion in Tampa, many people voted for transit on Wednesday to access the Obama for President Rally at the St. Pete Times Forum.
About 3,000 rides were taken on the TECO Line Streetcar System and In-Town Trolley Purple Line during the event. That's equivalent to the number of streetcar rides normally taken for an entire Saturday, the system's busiest day of the week.
With about 1,500 round trips taken, HART estimates that public transit riders accounted for approximately 10% of the event's 15,000 attendees.
If we can get them to keep up this shameless Obamaganda till November, we'll win Florida easily.