How ironic it is. The longer lines at bus, subways and commuter transit stops are a telling reminder of how fickle our consumer faith is. Seems the average middle class American is joining with the traditional working class and poor sectors (particularly on buses) and turning to mass rides as the solution to the gas price ills now confronting America. The once rock hard faith and love for the individual ride is losing its sacral glow and literally assuming pedestrian proportions.
It's amazing what the price of gasoline for the individual ride has done to improve the chances for mass transit success. All while the almost sacred quality of the individual ride has taken a direct hit and caused many individual ride worshippers to abandon their faith or at least to backslide --- at least momentarily until gas prices fall, (if ever).
For years the idea of promoting more and better mass transit systems in America has fallen victim to solidified understandings of American individualism and the individual consumer appetite for private transportation: meaning my own individual ride or several rides an individual family may own. The automobile industry, of course, had much to do with creating and maintaining the individual craving for the individual car.
Roads, highways, bridges and such were the individual ride related angels that helped in the creation of the outer suburbs of exurbia where the individual ride could reach in a matter of moments or hours depending on traffic patterns, rode conditions and whether it was rush hour or not. The attractiveness of exurbia fundamentally depending on the ability to come and go at will. Individualism unbound with no ties to external bus, train and mass commuter schedules was a common enough shibboleth, until yesterday's latest gas pump numbers struck fear and pain.
In such an atmosphere public transportation proponents could hardly muster the powerful arguments that would turn the average American eye towards mass transit. Even those mass transit arguments that sought to connect environmental ills with individual ride pollutants only had a limited effect. Private ride manufacturers are only slowly getting around to producing vehicles that are more environmentally friendly than in former gas guzzling times.
For years here in South Jersey --- where PATCO and the Regional Rail Line and NJ transit buses and trains are good, but limited modes of public transport --- there have been proposals to extend mass transit services deeper into areas not now served or not well served by public conveyance. Given the current gas price horrors maybe now the people of South Jersey will actually begin to witness the approval and construction of more mass transit extensions to outlying places that need a hook up. Or imaybe we'll see improved bus and transit services for working people to actually get closer to the many jobs and employment options that are available in outlying areas where they cannot afford to live because of the lack of low income housing.
Yet, there's irony here also. Mass transit also requires fuel and mass energy utilization. Gas prices contribute directly or indirectly to higher operating costs across the board. At a time when more and more average Americans are abandoning their exclusive faith in reliance on the individual ride, tax monies and state subsidies for public transport may also take a serious hit making the possibility of serious alternatives to the private ride an impossibility.
For the environment's sake and now for our increasingly small change pocketbooks, let's hope that maybe now public transportation alternatives will begin to make economic and political sense to both industry and our elected officials.
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