Thursday, July 15, 2010

The most critical tipping point

Are you scratching your head over public transit funding? With oil spewing into the ocean, heat waves cooking the cities, floods destroying communities, drought wrecking farms, traffic congestion sapping life--with polls continually showing that people want their taxes used to fund public transit, one would think that the U.S. Congress could muster support for more than a token investment in public transit.

There seem to be unlimited billions for energy wars, storm cleanup, and road building. But when it comes to an "energy" bill, no one seems to get that a bus carries up to 40 people and works up to 18 hours a day, while a private auto carries 1.02 people and works about 3.5 hours a day. Tremendous savings are waiting to be had for a very modest investment.

Why the disconnect? You might reasonably ask.

Ok. Here is why.

Mass human transport is a system. A large system. It is thoroughly integrated with all of the economy. Transport has different modes. The dominant mode is the private auto, laughably, a consumer product. Unfortunately, the auto mode is extremely difficult to integrate with other modes--just try parking at the airport, for example. Because of this awkward interface, either the auto or other modes have to be dominant. Other modes have to compete with the auto for dominance. The auto is less efficient, but is kept dominant by heavy taxpayer subsidy and deferred subsidy [aka externalities].

The beneficiaries of the billions in autosprawl subsidy own enough congress members to stop any progress of public transit toward this tipping point. Hence, only token transit funding.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Laughably, the auto is a consumer product, but tragically, it is an outright extravagance rendered a practical necessity, and a real albatross for people who really can't afford it. Auto-dominance has cruel social as well as environmental consequences.