Biz Beat [Opinion]: The Case for Public Transit
With the initial shock of the Washington Metro crash behind us, it's time to figure out how we can prevent it from happening again.
In 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board warned Metro that it needed to eliminate or upgrade 25 percent of its fleet, including the train that caused Monday's crash. That train consisted of 1000 Series cars, in service since the transit system began in 1976. A Metro spokesperson has said these cars have outlived their “useful life cycle.”
People are blaming Metro for this apparent disregard for the safety of passengers. I don't. I've spent time reporting on the Metro system in St. Louis, which ran into a terrible budget shortfall last year and slashed routes. Republicans and Democrats agreed there wasn't much the system could do to avoid the crisis.
So, those quick to blame Washington Metro for Monday's crash need to dig a little deeper, or they won't help solve the problem.
Metro had two options after receiving the NTSB warning. They could pull 25 percent of their fleet off the tracks, slowing down morning commutes and angering everyone using the system. Or, they could buy new trains. However, this takes money, money the transit system didn't (and still doesn't) have.
They've called on Congress to fund billions of dollars in upgrades so these disasters don't become commonplace. This makes sense because 40 percent of riders are federal employees. So far, Congress has balked at paying more than a small percentage of what's needed. Why?
Public transit is the only choice for the elderly to get around the city and those who can't afford cars to get to work. In St. Louis, after the system cut routes, complaints rained in mostly from the elderly and the poor. Bus drivers on mainline routes had to pass by waiting customers because their buses were already overcrowded.
There's an unspoken side effect to this – the local economy suffers. If a large percentage of the population can't get to work or to the store, it spells trouble.
Congestion in major cities is bad. Not even eight-lane highways help. Yet if buses and trains became “cool” for all workers, the lasting effect would clearly be fewer cars on the road.
Don't look now, but long-distance bus travel is already getting a makeover. While planes and trains have seen nearly a 10 percent drop in passengers over the past year because of rising prices, bus ridership has spiked. Thanks to free Wi-Fi, comfortable seats, and rock-bottom prices, Greyhound and others are starting to lose their dingy image.
Of course, the environmental impact cannot be ignored. While the global warming hysteria is far-fetched, conserving our resources and keeping our country clean for future generations is simply responsible. Fuel-efficient buses and electric trains help.
Public transportation isn't like the $600 million “hidden ice” moon mission NASA is conducting. It doesn't spend taxpayer money to make sure turtles in Florida cross the road safely. It's not $1 trillion to fund a public healthcare plan that begs more questions than answers. And it's certainly not a bridge to nowhere. These things have all gotten funding. But public transit hasn't.