Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wasn't I just talking about trains?

Yes, I was, although I must admit I was inspired by the Amtrak op-ed in the NY Post. Wednesday's WSJ has P.J. O'Rourke tackling the issue. I excerpted more than usual since it's a subscriber article, but not all of it. To read the rest, try going here. Yeeks- I've got to learn that link thing.,,SB111093850317180759,00.html%3Fmod%3Dopinion%26ojcontent%3Dotep

But here's the stuff that most interested and amused me.

Mass transit helps preserve nature in places like Yellowstone Park, the Everglades and the Arctic wilderness, because mass transit doesn't go there. Mass transit curtails urban sprawl. When you get to the end of the trolley tracks, you may want to move farther out into the suburbs, but you're going to need a lot of rails and ties and Irishmen with pickaxes. Plus there's something romantic about mass transit. Think Tony Bennett singing "Where little cable cars / Climb halfway to the stars." (And people say mass transit doesn't provide flexibility in travel plans!) Or the Kingston Trio and their impassioned protest of the five-cent Boston "T" fare increase, "The Man Who Never Returned." No doubt some lovely songs will be written about the Washington County, Ore., Wilsonville-to-Beaverton commuter rail line to be funded by the new transportation bill.

There are just two problems with mass transit. Nobody uses it, and it costs like hell. Only 4% of Americans take public transportation to work. Even in cities they don't do it. Less than 25% of commuters in the New York metropolitan area use public transportation. Elsewhere it's far less -- 9.5% in San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, 1.8% in Dallas-Fort Worth. As for total travel in urban parts of America -- all the comings and goings for work, school, shopping, etc. -- 1.7 % of those trips are made on mass transit...

The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides."

P.J. suggests with the $19 spent per trip on the Hiawatha, we could lease the passengers BMWs. He also suggests turning the trains into thrill rides through even shoddier maintenance and regressing to 1970s subway policing standards. And of course, he notes we could employ the catch all for municiapl finding shortfalls: slot machines on the buses.

I didn't know that not a single, stinking one pays for itself. If that's true, it makes the train just another public works sinkhole, which disappoints me. But the number of NY commuters who use the train seems low at 25%, of course including the outer boroughs, maybe it's understandable. However, that still makes at least a million people on NY Public Transit. Nobody can make that turn a profit, or use some fancy numbers to justify how the added commerce in Snapple and newspapers sold near the train floods dollars into the local economy? What about the social savings from private charity extended toward bongo players and M&M shills who won't sell their last box?

Is it so wrong to want trains? If Florida can waste federal dough on "golf awareness" programs, why can't I have trains? Choo-Choo. It's a bittersweet choo as I face the fact$.

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