Invest in Free Public Transportation, Not Electric Cars

According to me in the Pittsburgh City Paper:  “An electric car is “still a multi-ton vehicle that requires a lot of money and resources from all over the world to produce,” notes Lolly Walsh. Walsh, a staffer for advocacy group BikePittsburgh, speaks as part of the loose-knit international Car Free Network. “If we just develop a different type of car … it’s just going to push back any change that we need to make.”

Land use is one of the major problems with structuring our transportation system around cars — electric or otherwise.

Though not printed in the feature story about Carnegie Mellon’s electric car, I also noted that land use is one of the major problems with continually structuring our transportation system around cars — electric or otherwise. If we just redevelop the car so now we plug it in to an outlet powered by dirty mountain-stripping coal, we’re not improving much. We still allow cars on nearly every single street no matter if the residents of that street are young children, elderly, deaf, or blind.

Why isn’t an electric car the magic solution that everyone wants?
An electric car is still dangerous to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers.
An electric car requires a tremendous amount of land to rest and operate.
An electric car depends on coal-powered electricity in most situations.
An electric car will not alleviate congestion.
An electric car will not level the mobility playing field.

A different type of car is not the answer, cars are not the answer. We need to fully fund public transportation and eliminate user fees to get people to use it widely.
Fully funding public transportation is the ONLY way we can give every single person the means to get to work, to school, to fun, to appointments, to recreation.

As I’ve said before, we should invest in excellent public transportation that is:

  1. Fast
  2. Free (to the user)
  3. Predictable (schedules available at all stops and on phones)
  4. Attractive / Beautiful
  5. Clean
  6. Frequent (always less than a ten minute wait)
  7. Everywhere (less than a ten minute walk from most locations)
  8. Efficient (Local and Express)
  9. Resourceful (should maximize options of local terrain. Pittsburgh for example could use streetcars, along side ferries and the incline to take advantage of our rivers and hills)
  10. and has the right of way against all other modes of travel.
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14 Comments

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  1. So true! Unfortunately, I don’t think even half the time or money that’s put into developing newer and “better” car technology will ever be put into public transportation. And with electric cars, I think it’s probably going to get worse, as people can just buy them to assuage their guilt of contributing to pollution, etc. and due to the amount they save just on gas, will simply drive even more, crating more congestion. I already see this with drivers of hybrid vehicles, and know people who would much rather buy a hybrid to enable them to continue commuting 70+ miles per day with less expense (other than the fact they paid much more for the hybrid – they seem to forget to factor that in!) rather than lobbying for public transportation.

    • Hybrid vehicles are one of the worst guilt-assuagers. In Northern Virginia you can get into the HOV lanes if you have three passengers during rush hour but if you drive a hybrid you can get in the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes ALONE if you drive a hybrid. This is a major flaw and one constantly sees hybrid drivers cruising alone. So that puts three hybrid cars on the road with single passengers instead of one non-hybrid vehicle with three passengers. Which is better?

      Three cars instead of one increases congestion and makes traditional vehicles sit in traffic and spew fumes longer. Same with electric cars. If they get the same privilege as hybrid cars we’ll just be increasing the number of vehicles on the road… and increasing the demand for dirty coal to power a fleet of electric cars.

      • Yes, GA considered allowing single occupant hybrids in the HOV lanes also, but thank goodness they didn’t!!

        Have you seen this op-ed article? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/30/opinion/30neidermeyer.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=electric%20volt&st=cse
        It makes my blood boil that taxpayers are subsidizing things like these ridiculous electric cars rather than better public transportation. I don’t understand how anyone could think that simply because a vehicle is electric (or hybrid) it is somehow wonderful, even if it leads to more traffic and congestion. And like you said, there will still be pollution with all the other cars stuck in traffic.

        Aside from pollution and traffic, the US has a major issue with obesity, so it is beyond me why more emphasis wouldn’t be placed on solutions for that. For example, simply putting more dollars into biking infrastructure would be less expensive and give them much greater gains – pollution, traffic congestion, and obesity could all be reduced! But from a political standpoint, I suppose pouring money into electric vehicles is going to be the wave of the future for the US.

  2. Traci, that is why we need free public transit. It won’t affect the suburbanites at first, but gradually as more and more urbanites use it, the playing field will change. The subsidies supporting the auto will become more exposed–and more disliked.
    Lolly, another great post. Here is an article by Alex Steffen that goes more deeply in this subject of how cars are anti-environment regardless of how they are powered. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007800.html

  3. Thank you for this, Laura!
    People are not aware that electric cars still use resources too precious to be wasted. no ass is so precious to be spoiled in a big tin box for each of us.

  4. Interestingly just freeing up the land now used for cars for other more profitable purposes alone might fund transportation fully.

    I think I linked here, before to MTR of Hong Kong which makes huge amounts of cash as a land developer near the stations of the lines it runs.

    Yes, it does charge money, but fares are pretty low. It makes the real cash in real estate, which is only fair since all this value was made possible by their transit lines.

    • We don’t charge for libraries, we don’t charge for schools, we shouldn’t charge for the method of getting to places.

      Another HUGE benefit of free as opposed to cheap public transportation is saving time. If bus drivers or other transit operators could eliminate the fare collection step, passengers could board at either the front or the back, seamlessly boarding and exiting, and the bus could keep moving efficiently on the road. As the buses are able to move faster, they will become more desirable means of transportation rather than the slow, meandering, unreliable, and expensive transit we now have across this country.

      • Lolly, in case you haven’t noticed it, we as a nation are pretty broke.

        Anyway, my point wasn’t so more about the way better use of land might easily free up the money for free or lower transit fares, while creating a truely economically sustainable situation all around. After all, property owners are usually forced (by zoning laws) to pay for or set aside land for parking today.

        If one is really going to make progress, one will have to engage business people and fiscal conservatives to show them how all of this may be very practical.

        Pittsburgh’s poor financial situation is very much a result of poor land use.

        • We spend $720 million dollars a day on the war in Iraq alone. We are not broke, we have broken priorities.

          • Like subsidizing the auto system. There must be a lot of money in that, too, those could be used to the public transportation. But do most people want this?

          • amen to that sister

          • Amen, totally agree. The hard part is convincing people who would shout “Socialism! Pay for your own ride freeloader!” It’s not going to be pretty.

  5. We are broke. Estimates are that the government is already in the hole for aroud 70 trillion in unfunded promises.

    And that does not include the cost of fixing and repairing road infrastructure or the pile of garbage parking garages. It also doesn’t include what the states and cities have promised.

    So far, people (foreign investors) have been lending us money so they can sell us more junk @Walmart. Once they realise, the jig and we are not good for the cash is up we will be in deep trouble.

  6. Thanks Laura, the amount of resources spent on individual vehicles is staggering, public transit infrastructure needs some work but could be the answer. The hard part will be changing peoples habits.

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