Daily Archives: July 23, 2007

Free public transit?

Stay behind the yellow line!Andrew Sullivan, the thoughtful Anglo-American libertarian, thinks free public transit is a good idea.

Here’s a great idea: no fares for buses in major cities. It speeds things up, gets more people out of cars, opens up parking spaces, helps the enivronment… How to afford it? Tax cars some more, or enact the London-style traffic tolls.

His link goes to The Tyee, the B.C.-based online magazine, which has a full treatment.

I’m careful, when writing about the subject, not to assume that mass transit has to be public transit. In theory, I can’t think why the private sector couldn’t do the same job with intracity transit as it does with transit between cities, particularly using buses. It always strikes me that the problem with transit now is that it’s monolithic and lowest-common-denominator; maybe we’d have better luck getting people out of cars if they had more options and could, if they wanted, choose to pay extra for luxury service.

From a purely urban-planning perspective, though, it’s a no-brainer that free transit would be better, and that would obviously have to be paid for out of the public purse. Yet even running a free transit service would surely be cheaper than all the roads and other infrastructure a city wouldn’t have to build.

(Photo credit: “Stay behind the yellow line!“, Flickr/Marios Tziortzis.)

Long-term adjustments

Tim Haab of Environmental Economics notes a data point suggesting people are beginning to make some significant life- and work-style adjustments to cope with higher gas prices. Telecommuting is on the rise, encouraged by bosses.

There’s been a lot of public-opinion research and economic forecasting trying to figure out at what point gas prices would really make people reduce their driving (more from Haab on this point, and some less-learned commentary from me), but it’s difficult to make accurate predictions about things as “sticky” as what kinds of cars commuters driver and where they choose to live in relation to where they choose to work.

Haab:

I’m not sure how long large-scale adjustments take, but I’m sure it is longer than 3 months. My guess is that we are just starting to see the beginnings of adjustments and over the next six months or so, as long as gas hovers around $3/gallon, we’ll see more and more stories like this one

This is something to keep in mind when reading apocalyptic predictions like some of Jim Kunstler’s, for instance, about our inability to adapt:

Mostly, we don’t want to face the tragic misinvestments we’ve made in the infrastructure of happy motoring, and we don’t want to face the inconvenient truth that there really isn’t any combination of alt.fuels that will permit us to keep running all the cars the way we like to run them. Either we keep getting the oil or say goodbye to the American Dream Version 2.K.

The public has now decided that this nation’s primary mission is to find some magic way to keep the cars running on a fuel other than gasoline …

There will be shocks and there will be adjustments and some of them will be hard and some of them will take a long time, and a combination of peak oil (which is coming eventually, whether that’s sooner or later) and climate change will hurt. But we are an adaptable species and we’ll figure some things out. The goal is to make the process as painless as possible, and not to mindlessly dump the problems prosperity has created onto people who haven’t enjoyed any of it.