All over this great land of ours public transportation services are being drastically curtailed. The "Great Recession" is cutting state & local revenue streams, which means cuts in public transit. It's hard to step back and see the true extent of the damage because these are local problems, which are reported on locally. But doing a Google search "public+transportation+cuts" reveals just how widespread this disaster is. You'll find one story after another detailing cuts in bus service in cities and townships all over the country.
There's a quote I like from a local resident in Pittsburgh, where I live—
Evelyn Nickel of Swissvale rides buses to work, shopping, doctor appointments and social engagements. She and her husband, John, are legally blind...
One after another, residents on Thursday warned of personal hardships and damage to the region that would occur if the Port Authority goes ahead with a plan to eliminate 35 percent of public transit service in January.
"In a struggling economy it would be suicidal for the city not to find a way to fund public transit," said Sydelle Pearle of Squirrel Hill, a rider who spoke at an all-day public hearing on the cuts at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. More than 200 people signed up to speak, and hundreds of others have submitted written comments.
"I want you to come with me and walk a mile in my shoes, because with the bus cuts, that will happen," Ms. Nickel told authority board members and staff.
Yes, try walking a mile in Evelyn's shoes. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) carried out a survey of local public transit agencies back in April. These graphics tell you what they found—
The Guardian—a British newspaper—recently contemplated the peculiar attitudes of Americans about public transportation. This quote is from Bus cuts drive Americans back to cars—
In most countries, one might expect fiscal collapse to lead to more people taking public transport. After all, while buses, trams, light rail, and underground systems are less convenient than private vehicle usage, and while using such systems oftentimes involves sharing one's environs with too many people and too many competing body odors, at least it's cheaper than filling up one's car with gas and driving miles each day. Utilizing public transport is a sensible, relatively painless way to penny pinch.
But, in America, at least in part because public transport has not, in recent years, won the hearts and minds of the politically influential classes in many regions of the country, these systems are peculiarly vulnerable to cuts during the down-times.
In fact, a poll released in early April by the Economist indicated that, faced with declining government revenues, more than twice as many Americans would want federal public transit subsidies cut versus reductions to highways expenditures. At a local level, too, many Americans' relationship to public transit systems is tendentious at best. And hence the tragic irony: as local governments continue to hemorrhage revenues, and thus have to look for evermore ways to tighten their belts, so public transit systems suffer.
Ass Backwards America! One might expect fiscal collapse to lead to more people taking public transport. That's the reasonable European perspective, where gasoline is expensive and the bus & train system is extensive. But, No!!! — that's not the way we do it in the Home of the Free. In cowboy America transit agencies are raising fares and cutting service. And those who can are forced to drive instead of being able to take the bus. But some passengers, like Evelyn Nickle quoted above, are not quite so Free as they used to be.
These public transit cuts will likely be permanent in almost all cases. The ongoing recession presented a unique opportunity to rebuild America's public transportation system. We tore down the one we used to have in the 1950s to build roads & highways. And we never stopped building roads & highways. And when it came time to "stimulate" the economy, we poured money into building roads & highways. We built roads & highways as though the oil would never run out, as though gasoline was just another Free Lunch. After all, we are Americans. We are entitled. We deserve that Free Lunch.
And what of the taxes we put on all that gasoline we burn? All the revenue goes toward building or repairing roads & highways. In fact, we've built so many roads & highways since the 1950s that the revenue from the gasoline tax is no longer sufficient to keep them in good repair.
Who said this isn't a Great Country?