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Wednesday, 09 April 2014 07:50

Don't Privatize and Reduce Public Transit, Make It Free and Expand It

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

anyttransit(Photo: Wikipedia)As BuzzFlash at Truthout has been beating the drum about the gloomy imminence of the disastrous impact of climate change, it is worth noting that among the larger contributors to global warming are gas-powered vehicles (think cars and trucks). 

It's not just the carbon dioxide emitted by automobiles, it's the fossil fuel nightmare that has been created by expanding urban areas to exurban locations located at great distances from city centers.  This, in turn, requires more inefficient use of energy (most of it still fossil fuel based) and more car use through the building of more expressways.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Passenger cars and light trucks represent the lion’s share of US transportation emissions and collectively produce almost one-fifth of the nation’s total global warming pollution. 

All together, transportation generates nearly 30 percent of America’s global warming emissions, including more than one-third of all US carbon dioxide emissions.

The remaining transportation-related emissions come from medium and heavy-duty vehicles (primarily freight trucks and buses), plus aircraft, shipping, rail, military, and other uses.

Remember, as we just noted, that automobiles actually contribute a greater percentage to climate change, due to the creation of an inefficient energy disbursement structure (housing, office parks, shopping) that the car makes possible.

With that in mind, it appears eco-suicidal to not only be cutting back on public transportation in the United States (as driven, in particular, by a Republican Congress that is anti-science), but increasing fares in most of the country.

Furthermore, there are efforts to extend the neoliberal privatization juggernaut into public transportation.  This will, of course, end up costing taxpayers more as contractors factor significant profits into their bids, or end up reducing public transportation service due to high contracting fees exceeding legislatively authorized expenditures.

The animus, particularly on the right-wing, to public buses and trains that serve the community is an extension of the shamelessly selfish concept that there should be no subsidies for anyone who cannot afford a car and its associated costs (unless they are, of course, a bank too big to fail or the mega-billion dollar fossil fuel industry - then subsidies are fine).

This is a specious self-serving argument because public transportation should be one means - and a big one - to reducing global warming.  In addition, the use of buses and trains on a daily basis is actually a subsidy to employers, particularly in urban areas, who otherwise would not be able to have a mobile workforce to draw from.  Thus, public transportation is another hidden taxpayer gift to corporations; otherwise they might have to pay for private transportation systems to bring many of their staff to work.

The bottom line, however, is that the developed world economy built on the automobile (especially in the United States and Canada) cannot continue (in its gas-powered form) without virtually ensuring ecological disaster in the coming years.

What the United States and Canada (where the infamous Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has cut down mass transit projects) should be doing is expanding mass transit at the fastest effective possible rate - and charging nothing (or under a dollar) for use of trains and buses in urban areas.  This may violate the philosophical credo of the neoliberal anti-science forces who are leading the planet into doom, but squashing public transportation with privatzation and higher fares - as well as cutting back on it - is a recipe for a toxic Earth.

Furthermore, if we cut back on the Pentagon's budget (the US military is the world's largest consumer of fossil fuel), it might force a reduction of Department of Defense carbon dioxide emissions.  Then the US government can use the money saved to allocate it to developing and expanding renewable mass transit, and eliminating or dramatically reducing fares.

That's the kind of vision we need to save the Earth.

Of course, with a mindset from the White House on down to frack away - and boast about how the US is now the number one nation in the world in the production of natural gas and oil - the noxious wind of atmospheric destruction is blowing in our direction.

The least we can do is protest at every turn the dire policies of Congress, the states and many cities against developing a sustainable and affordable public transportation system.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission. 

Afternote: Ironically, Washington DC has a modern commuter train service (the Metro), but it is one of the exceptions to the general trend of "austerity" for mass transit.