No Mas Patience for Mass Transit

Mass transit detracters make much of this truth: ridership is consistently far below capacity in most cities.

They say this proves that mass transit is unwanted/unneeded/or unworkable.

They must not have gotten on mass transit in most cities — if they had, they would know that the real, important truth of today’s mass transit systems is that they are incomplete. And like any system, if it’s incomplete, it’s broke.

They are always too small, and thus run on too sparse a time table, with too few routes, making them unworkable at reliably getting folks to work, or to shop, or drop their kids off at daycare. And if you have to do all three of these every day, you are flat out of luck. The wonder is that cities continue to fund these clearly dysfunctional transit systems at all. Can only assume that as bad as they are, the only thing worse than a broken transit system is no transit system.

Very few cities and metropolis’ can adequately fund the equipment, vehicles, right-of-ways, and personnel that would make for truly functional transit. It’s an apparently insoluble problem, as much a product of city planning and design decisions over the past 80 years as it is of simple neglect.

Yet the need to do so, and in a hurry, is an inescapable fact for nearly every city.

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12 responses to “No Mas Patience for Mass Transit

  1. In many cities ridership is well above expectations and it’s so popular with the voters that they have approved tax hikes to fund and expand it. Denver, Salt Lake City, Dallas, just to name a few.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Eddie. Don’t get me wrong — I am very much a proponent of mass transit. I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly 30 years, and I saw the massive road building tear that Phoenix went on. But even that couldn’t keep up with exploding development on the outskirts, literally whole cities springing up from desert and farm fields. So now they are building a light rail line, an idea that the Phoenix political establishment used to express nothing but contempt for. But they are going about it so tentatively and timidly that I fear it will never fulfill the expectations people have for it. Mass transit is a system, and to build a whole system where there is none, or where there is just a vestigial system, calls for a lot of political will. I guess what I am saying is that I believe all cities are going to need functional mass transit in the very near future, and very few will have it unless they act now, and build mass transit with the same determination that they have been devoting to roads.

  3. I take a more optimistic POV. Sprawl is still a big problem but more and more land conservation measures are being passed. And once the border is secured and we have fewer illegals coming in, then urban growth will, without a doubt, slow down. Do you really think that most US growth comes from a high birth rate?

  4. Yes, I agree that more land conservation is taking place, and much of it saves open space around cities. Tucson has a hugely ambitious plan to preserve wildlife corridors and habitat from development, and nationally private land trusts are actually putting more land under protection than is being developed. Good news all around!

    I don’t know that illegal immigration is causing sprawl — most illegals take up residence in the poorer parts of cities, which are usually older, central parts of town, not the outskirts. In Arizona there has been a great influx of Californians who cashed out on their houses in L.A. and San Francisco to buy much cheaper new homes in the new developments, and that has fueled sprawl here. Probably not right to point fingers at Californians, as the truth is Arizona attracts people from all over because housing has been relatively cheap. Smaller towns and cities all over this country are emptying out, and the bigger cities are where the people go to.

    I do believe that the official estimates of illegals are way under the actual numbers. And there will be more and more, as Mexico is in the process of becoming a failed state, and the U.S. is too preoccupied with the failing Iraqi state to heed the warnings from south of the border. They just barely were able to get their new president sworn in, they hustled him into the capital under guard, and as the whole of the Mexican legislature was brawling and throwing chairs he took the oath of office in 3 minutes flat and was hustled back out of there. The indian territories in the south of Mexico have pretty much seceded — the country is crashing, and we will have a humanitarian crisis on our hands that will mean millions of refugees. Securing the border won’t help — I believe Mexico and all its people are going to end up dependent on the U.S. anyway. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

  5. Dan. I think they are fueling sprawl, granted they are not settling into classy suburban communities with country clubs or anything like that, but they are fueling white flight in many towns.
    I am more optimistic about Mexico than you are. They have a wealth of resources, a great work ethic, and already many reforms have been made. It’s better than it used to be. The guy you are referring to is AMLO, which stands for asshole machiavellian leftist oppressor, he is such a baby. But need not worry because his support is dwindling. Harvard educated Calderon’s party has more seats in Congress than Fox did.

  6. Eddie, as to illegals fueling white flight, I can only speak for what I have seen in southwest cities — and that is that neighborhoods change in two ways — gentrification of old, run-down neighborhoods (yuppie arrival!!!), or deterioration as homeowners are supplanted by renters. Homeowners don’t run when immigrants (legal or illegal) move in, they run when landlords move in.

    Calderon was on the border today, in Nogales, Sonora. I was hoping he had a message of hope, something like: “Come back home, my countrymen. Mexico needs your labor, your children, and we will rebuild this country.”

    No such luck — he was there to tell illegals that Mexico would pay for their lawyers when they are arrested here. And I can understand why — money sent by illegals to family still in Mexico is Mexico’s biggest source of income, and the country desperately needs that money. Calderon, as you say, went to Harvard and he’s no fool. He also has another huge problem — 30 years ago Mexico was largely agrarian, but today because of NAFTA and corporatization, all those farmers are out of business, and it is those farmers who make up most of the illegals. If they couldn’t come here, they’d be in Mexico City burning down the government buildings. We are Mexico’s, and Calderon’s, safety valve. So don’t look to Calderon to fix anything — we are his fix.

  7. Do you have a news article where Calderon says this?

  8. Eddie,
    here’s one —
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061220/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/mexico_returning_migrants

    I heard about it on the radio… but all the newspapers carried this AP report. Oh — and he was in Nogales yesterday, not today.

  9. The link I posted above doesn’t want to work — here’s another one:
    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=105&sid=1011607

  10. Thanks. However I still prefer to remain optimistic. It’s also important for the US to change it’s immigration policy and develop a good guest worker program.

  11. Yes, I agree, a good guest worker program is key, but maybe we could go a step further. Bush is catching some flak right now for his proposal to break down most all border barriers to Mexico and Canada. This should be a really big deal, but the media barely mention it as Iraq is sucking up all the oxygen right now.

    Now this is a corporatist idea, the opening of borders to virtually unregulated flows of capital and trade, and I have great skepticism for corporate economic agendas. Just think back on all the great claims made for NAFTA, and the dismal results.

    But, NAFTA is a fact, not likely to change appreciably as it HAS been good for offshoring American companies, and these expatriate companies seem to have the whip hand in Washington with both parties. And I do believe that illegal immigration will only get worse as long as Mexico clings to its corrupt, banana republic ways.

    So it might be better to meld these three countries into something like the E.U., except with less emphasis on national identity. Both Canada and Mexico would probably have citizen revolts on their hands if the U.S. were seen as the dominant partner, so maybe we could take this just a step further and break up the U.S. a little bit, semi-autonomy for “West America,” or everything west of the Mississippi, say, and then come up with a common governance charter that would put all three (or four, with West America) countries on an even field. Canada has recent experience in handling this kind of thing, with their successful placating of Quebec.

    This could be good all around, renewing representative democracy in Canada and the U.S., and bringing Mexico into the first world and 21st century governance. Hopefully, this will revive Mexico’s moribund economy, and with its wealth of resources the flow of people across the border might actually reverse, and Mexico become the new sunbelt.

    Just my thoughts this Saturday afternoon — could change my mind by tomorrow, but one thing I am sure of: the U.S. needs to involve itself proactively with Mexico, because it needs a stabilizing influence right now. Bush came into office intending to do just that, I think, but 9/11 and now Iraq are all-consuming. A bigger danger than a failed state in the oil patch, however, is having a failed state on our doorstep.

  12. I have been told that NAFTA has had mixed, but mostly positive results for Mexico. The negative results felt in the agriculture sector.

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