Expanded transit can lead to energy independence
While the Republicans were busy chanting “drill, baby, drill” at their convention, they ignored a much better alternative: riding on buses and trains. As Diane Carman put it in The Rocky Mountain News:
The irony was almost creepy. Thousands of Republicans were gleefully chanting “Drill, baby, drill” inside a convention hall in St. Paul, Minn., some 43 years nearly to the day after the infamous Watts riots when the original chant, “Burn, baby, burn” was coined by mobs determined to incinerate Los Angeles in a fit of rage.
The delegates’ apparent appetite for destruction is similarly insatiable, only unlike the burning of city buildings in 1965, the damage from rampant oil drilling and continued runaway consumption of fossil fuels now would be permanent.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, transit usage has been skyrocketing, and Andy Darrell of Environmental Defense Fund presented testimony to the Senate [PDF] about the ability of public transit to cut our dependence on foreign oil:
The transportation sector accounts for 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and in many large metropolitan areas, over 70% of the added air cancer risk comes from traffic … More than 30 peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm that exposure to traffic pollution is linked to a wide range of disease, from asthma attacks to heart disease, stunted childhood lung development, cancer, and even lowered IQ in children …
Expanding transit is essential to reducing dependence on foreign oil. Two-thirds of oil in the United States goes to transportation, with the largest share consumed by cars and trucks. Overall, the typical public transit rider consumes on average one half of the oil consumed by an automobile rider, mainly because they can integrate transit use into their daily routine. Nationwide, public transportation saves our country over four billion gallons of fuel each year, which translates into billions of dollars in avoided gasoline costs.
Expanding transit is also a wise economic investment. It brings jobs, from construction to installation, equipment manufacturing and operation. And it relieves congestion on the streets, making for a better business climate
And if Obama is elected, we’ll have someone in the White House who has a long standing commitment to Amtrak, at least — and I’m not talking about the top of the ticket who’s transportation policy paper [PDF] barely mentions public transit — Joe Biden uses Amtrak almost everyday and is a strong supporter of Amtrak.
However, most of the households in the United States don’t even have access to public transit; according to Table 962 [PDF] in the Statistical Abstract. Out of over 108 million households in the U.S. in 2005, only about 59 million have access, and of those that have access, 40 million don’t even use transit. In fact, only about 11 million, or about 10 percent of all households, use public transit at least once a week.
A plan to increase energy independence will require three real actions: electrifying cars, fossil-fuel-based buses, and trains; increasing the numbers of riders among households that have access by increasing the quality and quantity of service; and increasing access to public transit by building new rail and bus lines.
Obama is not making this a major part of his platform now because it would require too much education of the voting public. It’s a shame, because a program of “ride, ride, ride” would also be a way to improve the economy by rebuilding the manufacturing sector and creating millions of good jobs. It would also counter the cynical idea of “drill, drill, drill.”