Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What do I think about public transportation?

I'm old enough to remember streetcar tracks on North Congress in Austin. I also remember riding trolleycars regularly, and the newfangled "trolley busses" that got their power from electric wires overhead in Dallas. There was "Interurban" electric rail travel between Dallas and Waco, and long distance train travel was a fairly normal means of transportation.

Kids normally rode busses in the larger cities. They did not have their own cars. I'm from a small town, where walking or bicycle was the way to get around if you were a kid.

Public transportation was a regular thing in my youth, but that was a long time ago. When I got my first car, I could drive to downtown Austin and park in front of the store I wanted to visit. If I had two stops to make downtown, I could drive between them, and expect to find a place to park.

When I was about fourteen, I rode the train with my cousin from Dallas, where he lived, to Houston, where our grandmother lived. The train was so filled on that day that we could only find seats in the anteroom next to the washroom. I wasn't smart enough to realize that these were not luxury accommodations (seemed like a stateroom to this small town boy).

Riding a train that ran regularly between Brownsville and Houston, was a frequent occurrence when making the trip from my home in Bay City to Houston. The family car was something that dad used to get to work, or sometimes, for work, so going to Houston without him was a train ride.

During my first semester at the University of Texas, I asked my dad if he could get me a bicycle to ride to school. My friend Norman had a bicycle. I had been riding the city busses, which were quite adequate, but I thought a bike would give me more flexibility to get from where I lived near Mueller Airport to the campus.

My dad thought a bicycle would not be practical in bad weather, and found me a fairly nice five year old Chevrolet for the extravagant price of $450. Because it was an exceptional car, it warranted a higher than normal price.

While public transportation was a fairly normal thing in the past, it has given in to "personal" transportation. At least in Texas it has.

Once, when I mentioned to my dad that I would use public transportation if it were available, he assured me that it would be "very inconvenient". I'm not so sure.

We have come to think of the automobile as a sane means of transportation, a status symbol, and even a sport. I read recently that only one percent of the energy required to move an automobile actually goes to moving the driver, who is most often alone in the car. The most frequent use of the automobile seems to be a single driver using a fairly large vehicle to move him from a block or so to thousands of miles, with or without anything else being moved by the vehicle.

For at least thirty years, it has been evident that the supply of fuel used to power the automobile will not last forever, yet very little has been done to provide a rational solution for the day when it's gone.

It's that old "human nature" at work. My dear mother once said, "I don't have to worry about it, I'll be dead and gone", while hugging a grandchild with each arm. We so often think that our meager experience is all we need, and what we're doing now is all there is.

People curse the traffic, while never considering that cars can be built much faster than roads, and new roads actually generate more traffic. The automobile is an extravagant use of resources.

So, in answer to the question, "Do you have any thoughts re mass transit?", my answer is, "Yes I do, but I'm too emotional about it to be coherent".

My thought is that, eventually, we'll need mass transit, and we won't be ready for it. A man who served as Governor of Texas from 1973 to 1976, as one of his very few campaign comments, said "We really need to so something about getting mass transit". I think he immediately forgot that after he got elected, but then, he made no further mention of "mass transit" in his six years, anyway. If you subtract 1973 from 2009, you get a number equivalent to just about half my lifetime. So, you can see, it's been a noticeable problem for a long time, but instead of moving toward it, we're moving away from it. We had a significant amount of mass transportation when I was growing up.

Renewable energy sources and public transportation will be essentials of the future, but, in order to achieve them, we'll have to overcome "human nature". A little common sense reflection while sitting in stalled traffic might be a good course of action for everybody.



rufism said...

You need a "Willism"...blog...

Willie C said...

I'd have to hire a writer.