Monday, March 28, 2005

Mass Transit

Andy at The Inspector just started his blog. He's warm, earnest and a fellow Mac user, and we find him quite charming. Andy feels strongly that mass transit is a good thing. In his blog about it, he linked to our previous post on the subject and left a friendly comment. Our comment on his blog ran a bit long, so we decided to reproduce it here for posterity:
Certain things are required for mass transit to be practical; the first of which is high population density. The NE corridor from DC to Boston is the only place in the country where intercity rail is close to viable. Even Chicago - NYC is impractical by train, and going anywhere from my town (Lincoln, NE) is a joke.

I commuted from Norwalk, CT, to Stamford, CT, for 15 years on I-95, and it was a bad drive on the good days. As bad as that 25 mile roundtrip was, MetroNorth was worse. It would take twice as long most days to get to the station and park, wait for the train, get to Stanford, get to work from the station and do the same in reverse in the evening. Not flexible, not cheap, not convenient, not practical.

Major metropolitan areas, e.g. Boston, NYC, San Fran, etc. may be able to attract a significant number of riders for local systems, particularly where owning/operating a car is almost impossible. Bad roads, no parking, high insurance are enough to persuade some to ride the trains and forego a car.

Even in these, most favorable cases, the systems are not able to take in enough from fares to cover operating expenses, let alone capital costs (track, cars, repairs). If they were private companies that had to make money, it might be different, but most fervent advocates of mass transit don't believe privatization can work. Inevitably, it comes down to calling for non-riders (local or national) to subsidize riders. I have yet to hear a convincing argument that this is either fair or needed.

Why is mass transit widely used in Europe and Japan? Answers: very dense population in the cities; short distances between cities; terrible city roads and traffic; extremely high car and gas prices; large expenditures of tax money to subsidize the systems.

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