Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mass Transit: Outmoded & Counterproductive

Living anywhere near an even moderately sized burg, the bleating of the brainwashed elitists of the "it's for your own good, you poor beknighted dear" set on the topic of mass transit is hard to escape.

They claim that the world will come to a screeching halt in a transit Armageddon if vast transit operations aren't put into place, that the poor will be unable to find a way to get around, and that the pollution from those damned individual vehicles will kill us all - and that cramming folks onto hugely subsidized trains and buses (that can never, ever, be owned or operated by private individuals or organizations) is the one true path to urban (and which, on principal, must be inflicted on rural and suburban residents at great cost and inefficiency for largely "moral" purposes).

The usual red flags of shenanigans in progress are typically in full flight and easy to pick out in such discussions - "European cities are doing it", "it's for the children", "you want to be a world-class city, don't you?". On observing such phrases, one should immediately don chest waders as truth, logic, and sanity are likely to be departing shortly in the face of a deluge of cattle by-products.

We seldom see serious discussion that not only that the car isn't the enemy (more on that later), but that mass transit typically either introduces or intensifies a number of environmental, economic, and social problems at vast cost to the involuntary taxpayer - and are normally run as a bottomless money-losing entitlement, a semi-permanent drain of the public purse.

The myth of the "private vehicle as the tool of evil" seems to have begun in the smog-ridden cities of Southern California in the initial days of the environmental movement and been perpetrated by the surviving hoary old dinosaurs of the founding days of that movement and their semi-religious disciples.

Combustion supported vehicles do, indeed, pollute. What the transit proponent fails to consider is that trading a bunch of what, today, are comparatively clean-burning gas vehicles for filth-spewing multi-passenger diesel and bunker-oil driven rigs is not precisely a screaming victory for the environment.

As subways, trains, and buses around the world have shown us - each mode of mass transit, even as it moves people inflexibly and inefficiently according to bureaucratic schedules and rules rather than convenience and efficiency, concentrates large(ish) groups of people in confined spaces for extended periods with no convenient method of egress and minimal to wholly inadequate security, ventilation, and but the dampest of sops thrown at comfort.

Even at the victim loading stations, one sees enhanced criminal activity as we observe potential victims waiting about to be abused and molested by the local criminal element that is drawn like a fly to honey. Yet, the muggings and beatings and fun that typically continue unencumbered by transit operators virtually immune from liability for their own facilities don't stop at the bus or train door - they just become less escapable when the door closes, securing potential victims in an enclosed environment with their predators, prevented from degenerating into a full-out "feeding time at the zoo" environment only by the fundamental cunning of said predators in realizing that even the most foolish and ideologically blinded prey will eventually figure out a situation is bad and stop showing up to be abused if one goes too far.

Yet amidst the enhanced risk of victimization by the two-legged critters, passengers are immersed in a seldom-cleaned rolling petri dish of every variety of contagious crud currently extant in the population being coughed, hacked, sneezed, and spat into a potpourri of stagnant humid air and cramped quarters no better than a 19th century hospital ward before sanitation became a popular concept.

Even as these smoke-spewing, crime-ridden, engines of infectious disease and victimization roll down the road or rail they add yet another benefit - they are great big massive beasties, slow to stop, and when they fail to stop, likely to inflict far more severe damage and injury on persons and property when they squash said persons and property like insignificant bugs - which, to a vehicle of that mass, they pretty much are.

As a bonus to all of the considerations above, by the very nature of their existence, the various forms of mass transit are locked into inflexible lowest common denominator shackles of politically driven schedules and routes with efficiency and convenience of the passenger (or their employer) running a distant second or third to the political drivers of the agency in question.

That very inflexibility makes mass transit less than optimal for a free society that wants a nimble and adaptive economy resistant to the boom/bust cycle - slow-moving bureaucracies adapt poorly to employers changing hours and and days to meet service and production needs on a daily basis - creating costly delay and complication for employees.

When any other reasonable option exists, these mobile boondoggles typically see minimal usage by persons with any other option (unless said person has some ideological axe to grind "it's GREEN!" - maybe if you catch the smoke and particulates in *just* the right light...), leading to campaigns to coerce potential victims into using the unpleasant and inconvenient behemoths - reducing parking availability, reducing traffic lanes for private vehicles, refusing to build or maintain roads, and punitive taxation of private vehicles.

These bullying proponents of crime and disease, even if forgiven on the grounds that they are "just trying to reduce pollution" fail to consider that increasingly (Coda, Volt, Wheego, BYD, Tesla, etc) freeway speed and neighborhood electric vehicles are not only available - but offer at far greater efficiency a cleaner solution than the smog-generating road-whales. And, as far as I can tell, more cheaply.

The individual zero emissions vehicle gets folks where they want or need to be smog-free*, on the individuals schedule, with greater safety for not only the individual but everyone in their vicinity (if something goes wrong and there's a crash, it's a SMALLER crash), and at hugely lower cost to the taxpayer than the mobile boondoggles - preserving and promoting the flexible mobility that has long been not only a hallmark but an engine of the uniquely American economy.

Subsidizing, as Oklahoma has, the purchase of Zero Emissions Vehicles (particularly for the economically challenged folks who are often forced to drive ancient smoke-spewing hulks in ill repair, thus garnering more environmental bang for buck by retiring said hulks) is a cheaper and healthier solution than buying more buses. Restoring general parking and providing parking with charging stations for electric vehicles begins to repair the damage that the anti-parking nazi's have done to the downtown business cores of our cities (Umm...go to mall w/ free parking? Or go downtown and be hassled by parking enforcement, pay obscene amounts for inconvenient parking, etc?) and begin reducing ONE reason for urban sprawl (suburbs - less hassle for folks doing *what they want*, owning and operating their private and convenient vehicle).

In Western Washington the siren song of mass transit has lured in sufficient dollars, infrastructure, and inertia that progress to repair the damage will be slow - even in a region uniquely unsuited for practical mass transit. If naught else, too many folks have publicly imbibed the kool-aid and are loathe to publicly admit the possibility of error.

But in a time of economic depression, when governmental agencies are running huge deficits at all levels, perhaps this is one sinkhole where the losses can be somewhat stanched, incrementally, over time by de-funding and privatizing transit - allowing routes and systems to stand or fail on their own, driven by demand, without taxpayer subsidy and charging riders something approaching actual operational costs per mile. And ending at least this one form of bullying and bully-ragging propaganda.


Old NFO said...

And one can only wonder WHY NTSB has FOUR open investigations on the Metro in DC, three for fatalities and one for a wreck in the yards... Just say NO to mass transit!!!

B_L said...

Heh. Tell us how you really feel.

I actually have a great affection for Chicago's elevated trains. I rode the screeching things multiple times daily, through all parts of the city, for about a decade and have no criminal activity to report. Somebody jumped in front of a train and got all decapitated one time, but they posed no danger to anyone else. Maybe it's the ruthless criminal penalties for criminal acts on public transit. Maybe the criminals know people with money for the robbin' drive cars. But either way, it is incredibly safe and gets you where you need to go.

It does lose money, though. They are always begging for handouts to keep the rickety 19th century infrastructure from falling on people.

Strikes and gutters. Sometimes you eat the baar, sometimes the baar eats you. But it is a great way to get around a congested area.