Why Republicans Will Soon Need Transit

May 3, 2011 by
Filed under: Car Stop 

It is rumored that, on Mars, legislators make decisions based on what is good for the planet. On earth, they make decisions and take positions based on what is good for their careers. While it is useful to present Republican legislators with the facts about public transportation, they are likely to revise their opposition to transit and passenger trains only when doing so will get them more votes.

Thanks to the rise in gas prices, that situation is imminent. As gas hits four dollars a gallon, with five or even six in prospect, Republicans’ constituents (along with everybody else) are looking for ways to use less gas. If the disorder in the Middle East spreads to the Persian Gulf, we may find gas is unobtainable at any price (remember 1973 and 1979?). At that point, everyone will need to get around by some means other than driving. Unless we are going to learn to use pogo sticks, we will all need public transportation, both within and between cities.

When this happens, which could be this summer, imagine that you are a Republican legislator who has always opposed transit. You crusaded against both high speed rail and light rail. You voted to de-fund Amtrak. You have given speech after speech saying no one wants to ride trains or other transit. You call for all subsidies (except those to highways) to be eliminated. What are you going to say to all those people in your state or district who are screaming that they cannot get to work, to school, or even to the grocery store? Let them eat cake?

At present, fully half of the American people have no public transportation of any kind available to them. Of the half that do, only half even rate it as “satisfactory.” The relatively few passenger trains, commuter trains, light rail vehicles and streetcars we have, and even the buses, will be full to bursting. Do you think your opponent at the next election is going to overlook the gift you have given him? He is going to remind the voters in every speech that it was you who voted to leave them high and dry when the gas ran out or became unaffordable.

Wise Republicans might want to start thinking about the politics of this scenario now, before they face outraged voters. You don’t have to take “liberal” positions in order to support public transportation, including passenger rail. On this website and in the books I co-authored with Paul Weyrich, Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation and The Next Conservatism, we outline a conservative approach to public transportation. Instead of high speed rail, which the country cannot afford, we call for higher speed rail, trains running on existing tracks that go fast enough to compete with the journey time by automobile, not by airplane. We recommend using proven technologies, existing rights-of-way and simplicity to keep costs down when building streetcars or light rail lines. Conservatives have a very important role to play as cost-conscious advocates of rail transit; at present, cots control has almost no voice in the debate.

Infrastructure cannot be built overnight. If the country is going to have public transportation infrastructure it needs to maintain mobility when people cannot afford or cannot get gas, politicians need to approve and advance projects now. Those who do so will have a record they can point to when the crisis hits. Those who don’t will have a record their opponent can and will point to. Which of those situations would Republicans rather be in?


3 Responses to “Why Republicans Will Soon Need Transit”

  1. Robert says:

    I sincerely hope your version of events carry the day, but I doubt they will. Rather, I think Republicans will respond to the “what are you doing about the price of gas question” with Sarah Palin’s standard response: “Drill Baby Drill.” In fact, this is already happening. This morning I watched a segment on CNN International wherein former director of the CIA–James Woolsey–was advocating breaking our addiction to oil as way of making the country more secure. Naturally he was talking up electric cars, but that’s beside the point. Anyhow, the segment then showed a town hall meeting in Florida with Senator Rubio. A lady in the crowd said she would hire more people at her business if gas was cheaper, but she wasn’t going to a “darn” thing until “they” made gas cheaper. Senator Rubio responded with the typical Republican answer: “We need more domestic production. I want more drilling offshore and every other place.”

    Of course this answer will satisfy most of the public, because as James Kunstler points out on a regular basis, most people really believe there are three Saudi Arabias buried under Zap, North Dakota, and if it weren’t for those darn liberals in Washington, we could have dollar a gallon gas and diesel forever.

  2. Louis A. Jamail, Jr. says:

    Airports and airlines are also funded by government. I don’t remember hearing any opposition to airline bailouts when that came up. This is another area where most Republicans are phonies!

  3. Claude says:

    Actually, we can afford high speed rail and we should afford high speed rail.
    Yes, the basic spine of the system will be expensive. Both coast plus the Texas Eagle and Crescent corridors come to nearly 9,000 miles. But you don’t have to finish the whole thing at once.
    California and Texas have already started. California is doing it stupid, but it’s totally a Democratic project so it’s overbuilt.
    Other high density corridors are ready. Seattle to Portland. The Florida peninsula. Central Arizona. Start there and build fast express service running DEMU trains at 110 mph. As service picks up, start making the connections, along the I-5 corridor from Portland to Sacramento. LA to Palm Springs and Yuma, then up the Wellton cutoff to Phoenix. This will connect two of the top ten air routes in the U. S. (La-Oakland/LA-Phoenix).
    The east coast has four of the top ten domestic air routes in a straight line, with two more in the top 25. Plenty of passengers once the speeds make the trip practical.
    Speaking of which, currently there are three trains a week, each direction, between LA and San Antonio. It’s a 30 hour trip.
    If we ignore the question of why the train runs through Big Bend to San Antonio when all the passengers are on the Odessa-Dallas alignment; that’s a long time. To be usable, it should be daily and 20 hours. At top speeds of 125 mph it should be possible to make the LA-Dallas run in under 15 hours, maybe 12, which makes the train practical for vacation transportation. Then run the train to Little Rock and Memphis before reaching the eastern network at St Louis.
    Two trains a day each direction, at 12 hour intervals, would offer good service to all markets. 150 mph DEMUs would give quick and efficient service without the expense of catenary, so the line would be economical to develop and operate until traffic reached a level where electric traction becomes more economical.

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