Friday, March 10, 2006

The Oil Commissars Own Us, Lock Stock and oil barrel, or Why There Is No Hope, Installment 2

I originally wrote this as a comment to a posting on WFMU's Beware of the Blog:

Last spring, someone in an SUV (who may have been talking on a cell phone) rear-ended me as I waited at an intersection to merge onto a main street. My car, a compact, had its rear end flattened. The other driver's car, a massive SUV, wasn't even scratched. WHY do people drive these overpriced, elephantine porkmobiles? In the mid-1960's, gas-hungry "muscle cars" with massive engines were the rage. Even so, they had far better styling and handling. A Ford Mustang Shelby, an Oldsmobile Delta 88 or a Dodge Charger had the kind of style and class that these boxy, butt-ugly excuses for vehicles never will.

The problem with automotive transport is that, for most Americans there is simply no viable alternative. In a place like New York City, you can hop a subway and (usually) get where you need to go in rapid order. Here in upstate NY, public transportation sucks, plain and simple. A trip that takes 15 minutes by car takes a whopping 45 minutes or even longer by bus. That's because underfunded public transit systems have to make do with an inadequate number of buses, which must cover large swaths of populated areas, following routes along traffic-light-ridden main streets, or following labyrinthine paths through residential areas. Smaller buses or "jitneys" could speed things up in residential areas, but no legislature will allot ther money for them or take the necessary steps to put them on the road. More buses would permit more express runs to common destrinations like shopping malls, but again, the government's will and wallet just aren't there. And if you happen to live in the country (because housing costs in town are just too damn high), there's one or maybe two buses a day, if you're lucky.

And don't even talk to me about Greyhound. As the late singer/songwriter Harry Chapin once sang, "It's a dog of a way to go". They run their buses when they want to, not necessarily when you need them. If they don't see any profit in running buses to your home town, you're out of luck. Their prices are exorbitant for the mediocre level of serivce which they deliver, and they never let you forget that you're a captive audience.

One local transit bus driver said to me, about 15 years ago, that when the price of gas goes to $5.99 a gallon, then and only then will Americans start thinking seriously about public transport. I believe that the current status quo will only change when the oil commisars, their overpaid lobbyists and their bought-and-paid-for allies on capitol hill get booted out of the halls of government.

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