Pre-emption Wins (No, NOT that pre-emption)
One of the nice things about the libertarian transit critics, aka, the anti-transit troubadours, is that they make the same arguments wherever they go. Paul Weyrich and I answered their criticisms some years ago in a chapter of our book, Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation, “Twelve Anti-transit Myths.” Their arguments have changed little over the years and our replies are still relevant.
But cities that want to expand rail transit need to do more than reply when the anti-transit troubadours come to town. If they want to win, they need to pre-empt! Over and over, I have advised cities facing transit referenda to get out in front of the critics. Because they always say the same things, that is easy to do. Tell the voters, “Here is what these guys are going to say and here’s why it’s wrong” before they get there. Then, they run into abuzz-saw from the local press. If you wait until they have come and gone, your replies never catch up to the charges and they can you a lot of damage.
The transit authority in Charlotte, North Carolina, has recently found a creative and effective way to pre-empt the critics. According to a piece in The Atlantic Cities, “Charlotte Fights Its Anti-Transit Foes . . With Infographics,”
the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has taken the libertarian’s arguments, answered them, and turned the answers into simple graphics people can easily read and understand. Now, it is finding ways to draw attention to the graphics, which so far have been just been used on line and in flyers. According to The Atlantic Cities, the city may soon start placing the graphics on the exterior ad spaces on its buses. They are easy enough to grasp that someone can do so as a bus goes by.
This is exactly the sort of thing other cities that want more rail transit need to be doing. It is an excellent way to pre-empt the critics, to answer their flawed arguments even before they can make them. In politics as in medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
William S. Lind serves as Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation