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George Hart

Great post as always.

Readers might enjoy the recent book "Waiting for a Train" by John McCommons. Great explanation of the where and why of Amtrak, set against a background of what can only be called 'factors of decline'.

Also saw last night another 'factors of decline' film--Harry Shearer's 'The Big Uneasy' about the Army Corps and its handiwork in New Orleans.

There is a cycle of decline connected to complexity, available energy, venality, limited rationality and genetics; we are caught up in it.

Bill Hicks

As a resident of the DC area, I can definately confirm this. The DC Metro system has hiked fares FOUR times in the past six years after not raising them for a decade. Meanwhile the service just gets worse and worse. Train collisions, derailments, track fires, electrical problems, doors that won't shut, broken escalators, long delays, etc, etc, etc. Meanwhile, Metro budgets are being cut while at the same time stimulus money is being used to build new highways all around the area.

It's a disgrace.

John Mack

The emphasis on cars is not surprising since it creates an array of supporting businesses -- auto insurance, auto parts, auto repair, auto maintenance, and road construction. Even the electronics industry is into autos big-time (radio, CD players, navigation systems, etc). And then, of course, there is the oil industry which wouldn't be what is today without the automobile.

The only way there will be a fundamental shift away from autos is when people realize life is no longer about economic growth. Life now is about surviving the imminent decline of oil production.

Matt K

What amazes me is when gas prices spike, there's not an uproar about fuel-efficiency or public transportation or building walkable communities - it's about getting rid of taxes on gas and drill, baby, drill. Our complete dependence on oil and flat out refusal to do anything to reduce it is what's going to do us in.


How about this for backwards: Gov. McDonnell of VA wants to sell the Commonweath's ABC stores and spend the one time cash payment on highways! I'd go along with selling the brick and mortar stores if the money would be spent on train service /rail expansion. Errr.


The problem is, transit is, by law, a government monopoly. And the Port Authority (of Pittsburgh) is horribly mis-managed, and consequently, over-priced. Allow private companies to compete in the transit sphere, and watch ridership increase, costs go down, and expect a general improvement in service (and attitude !) on the part of the workforce.

Contra that, it is argued that for-profit transit will only serve those routes where they can make a profit. Agreed. Fine. Do you want to promote transit, or not ? I agree, no company in their right mind would serve those communities whose residents (at least some of the young and stupid ones) so routinely vandalize the rolling stock as to make the riding experience system-wide.. less than a joy. Yeah, and the profit-seekers would probably concentrate their efforts on commuters during rush hour - maybe lay on special runs for Steelers home games. Again, what is wrong with that ? Do you want mass transit, or do you want government (Union) jobs ?

Insanity is doing the same failed thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome this time. Public transport rarely works as a paying proposition, in the US, if it ever has. Let's try the private variety, and let's stop whining about more funds from government.

We the People cannot afford governmental insanity, as defined above.

John Mack

I don't think public transit's viability or attractiveness is purely a private versus public issue. The problem with a completely free-market approach can be seen in the early American experience with railroads. Duplicate lines were constructed over the same routes and railroads went routinely bankrupt because of the high upfront capital costs. The situation was so bad that even a stout capitalist like Pierpont Morgan felt that it was in everyone's best interest that competition in railroads be limited so they wouldn't cannibalize each other.

It's possible to have private ownership of railroads but it would have to be like utilities in the USA -- privately owned but regulated. The current quasi-publicly run railroads in the Northeast, such as Metro-North, work very well.

But again, until people see a compelling NEED to abandon autos, they won't.

Matt K

@ mutant_dog -
To make it a level playing field, we should also privatize the roads if we're going to privatize public transportation - otherwise the competition to the public transportation is "free" driving on the roads(at least it seems). The system could work quite well - each car would have a GPS tracker installed which monitors where and how far you drive, and then sends you a bill each week/month (which would then be divided up between the various companies that own each stretch of road you were on). We could even do away with gas taxes then! Sound good?

Mark Robinowitz

Ironically, we are also at "Peak Traffic" for Vehicle Miles Traveled on the highway system.

Obama wants to DOUBLE highway spending in the new highway bill (now delayed, probably to 2011) vs. the previous mega highway bill of GW Bush in 2005. Peak Oil? Limits to Growth? No such thing. Let's build dozens of new interstate highways instead and throw a few dollars toward Amtrak along with nice speeches about high speed rail (which we will not be able to build).

At this late date, the shifts are going to be forced by economic contraction and fuel shortages, not because our society suddenly recognizes physical reality. It will be interesting to see who gets made scapegoats for the crash. Denial is bipartisan.

Peak Traffic: Planning NAFTA Superhighways at the End of the Age of Oil
Troubled Bridges Over Water: Time for Transportation Triage

Mark Robinowitz

And regarding the GPS tracker, the voyeurs of the National Insecurity State would be delighted to force everyone to travel with a government sponsored tracking device. Such technology wasn't even envisioned in George Orwell's "1984." It's for your own protection, of course.

A simpler, less intrusive way would be to raise the cost of gasoline to pay for mitigating the impacts of highways, maintenance, free public transit, etc. but that makes too much sense to be enacted in the Declining Oil Empire.


One of the reasons why the US economy is suffering particularly bad in this current economic downturn is the lack of good public transportation in most cities and towns. Europeans are not suffering as badly due to the fact that they have a means to get to work or wherever. One requirement to be able to work in America is to have transportation, if you don't own a car in most places with the exception of a few you are stuffed. I live in California, CA is suffering particularly more than the rest of the country, and much of it is due to the state's dependence on autos. If you do not own a car you are going nowhere. I live in the Bay Area and its particularly hard on the wallet being forced to drive to get to work. This coming January I move to Sydney, Australia, what is remarkable about Sydney is that the city is designed in a way that makes public transportation the sensible way to get around, buses and trains pretty much can take you anywhere in the Sydney region. I have no idea why America does not emphasize this, its pretty sad.
Aussies love their cars too, but unlike the US, they seem to have decent transport for people to get around. Incidentally they are not suffering nowhere near as badly as those of us in the United States, actually their economy continues on a strong growth path. Yes, its true, America is going downhill and losing its edge. I am kind of sad to leave but I realize things here are not going well, so why suffer with the masses.

Ryan Allen


"I have no idea why America does not emphasize this, its pretty sad."

Maybe the problem is the America "emphasizes" (that is, subsidizes) the alternatives, such as public roads.

In a free market private roads would compete with private light rail or buses, and consumers could decide what works best for them.

A Spallato

Lets face it Mass Transportation is dead in the U.S. because the oil companies, the road construction companies,the cement manufacturing companies, the auto industry,manufacturersof heavy road building equipment,and Wall Street won't let it happen. Money buys politicians and they are all for sale.

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