Monday, April 24, 2006

Get Out of Your Excursion...

I received an interesting e-mail survey from my company today. It was a study of what how they could encourage more employees to use mass transit and/or car pools. With gas prices at an all-time high, it's a very timely issue. I would love to be able to sell my car, because for me a car is an annoying waste of money (all apologies to car lovers). There have always been two problems though;

1) I regularly have to attend meetings in other buildings, sometimes as far as 30 miles from my primary worksite.
2) My work hours and locations are far from regular.

Some of the initiatives on the board at my company are having a few Flex Cars available for use at lunch or for offsite meetings, subsidizing car pools (it costs the company less when they don't need as many parking spots), and lobbying local public officials for most frequencies in public transit. These initiatives are very exciting for me should the company follow through, as there would be nothing better in my life than to get rid of my car and all of the costs associated with it.

I really appreciate the efforts of my company, and believe it could be a big benefit to staying on with them. However, for many Americans, there is another piece to this puzzle. Federal, state, and local governments need to shift their spending emphasis from highways to mass transit. To do anything less would be impossibly short-sighted. Gas prices are not going to go back down. By some estimates, we'll reach the peak in worldwide oil production in the next few years. Prices will be astronomical once that happens and there is no increased production to meet increasing demand. Our current love affair with suburbia is not sustainable.

Admittedly, current ridership in most cities isn't high enough to justify spending money, but what happens when gas hits $4/gallon? $5/gallon? I don't think I'm alone in wanting to have a cheaper, easier, and more environmentally friendly means of getting to work. If public transportation could provide that, I think there ridership would be much, much higher. The catch 22 is that we've got to spend the money to increase frequencies and routes before ridership can increase significantly.

There a few cities in the U.S. that do an excellent job of public transport, mostly because of necessity. On the other hand, some U.S. cities, like Dallas and Phoenix, are already such suburban monstrosities that they aren't good candidates. There are also many places that would greatly benefit from improving their mass transit systems. I certainly think it would be a better investment than wider roads, which only exacerbate the problem.

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