In the wake of the Metro-North train that derailed just outside of New York City this past weekend there will be many words written about America’s beleaguered mass transit system. But sometimes in government (as is life) the problem is pretty simple. So credit this week goes to Alex Pareene at Salon.com whose analysis on why mass transit is doomed cuts right to the heart of the matter. (Pending media confirmation, the Metro-North accident is very likely to be related to a degraded transit system or conductor error. Regardless, America’s transit system needs to be reinvigorated desperately).
Which is why Pareene’s article is so important. Politicians don’t use mass transit and they don’t know anyone who does. The result is that public policy is skewed in the direction of cars and their drivers. The effect is very regressive, most of the people who use mass transit have no other option. Of course some middle class professional people use mass transit in big cities. You can tell who they are. When the Subway in New York or the Metro in Washington or the T in Boston stops in a station and doesn’t move for ten or fifteen minutes, certain people get off the stalled train and head for the stairs where they will, presumably, hail a cab. Most of the others can’t afford the cab fare and they have no option but to put up with whatever is ailing the system at the time. Mass transit’s problems are so severe that, as Pareene points out, they even affect very liberal Democratic cities like New York and Minneapolis. If mass transit can’t dominate the agenda in those places it appears to be, as Pareene writes, “doomed,” and that’s not good for any of us.