Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You know, the T really ain't that bad

The T--the MBTA, Boston's public transportation system--is, like politicians, an easy target. Commuting is rarely fun or comfortable, and so you don't have to scratch too deeply to find something to criticize. Whether it's late-running trains or the lack of shelter on outside platforms during Boston's brutal winters, there's always something that you can improve.

And let me say I'm one of the first to always take a potshot.

But while Sue and I were away in Arizona, we talked about the advantages we have with the T. We talked about this a lot when we were standing on street corners in Phoenix for an hour waiting for a bus on which we would then spend maybe another half hour just to get a few miles.

When you think about it, there really are only three cities in the United States with decent public transportation systems that you can pretty much rely on: New York, Washington, DC, and good old Boston. For two bucks, you can pretty much get wherever you have to go, and do it in a relatively timely fashion. Sometimes you have to work within the T's schedule--weekend or holiday schedules when the trains don't run as often--but that's just something you factor into urban living. And for fifty-nine bucks, you get a monthly pass that pretty much gives you free rein throughout the city.

The thing is, there are factors--let's even call them wolves--that have been coming to the forefront of our country's consciousness, and have arrived. Yes, the wolf is at the door. The economy, jobs, our dependency on foreign oil, the decline of American industry, the environment.

You see where I'm heading, don't you? Large-scale public transportation is the answer to all those issues. But it's going to take some real visionaries to see and implement them. People are going to have to be convinced. They don't want to give up their cars. But if you had asked people back in 1984 what they wanted in a computer, no one would have said I want this little thing I can push around on my desk so I can point at pictures on the computer screen. The visionaries at Apple, though, could see it, and made it work. Visionaries are going to have to make this work, and show people what they're missing when it comes to saving time and changing their commute.

In short: public transportation projects will address and solve the economic and environmental issues facing our country:

Jobs. Somebody's got to plan, oversee, build, and run transportation systems. You cover the bases from the system architects to the IT people to the conductors, hiring all skill sets and levels of education. Somebody's got to build the trains and tracks. During WW II the automakers retooled and built cars and trucks and fighting armor for the war effort. Times change. Why can't the automakers make their hybrid cars, but branch off into other forms of transportation, too? This is war; we are fighting for our survival when it comes to the economy. We're all going to have to take a new look at how we live and operate.

Dependency on foreign oil. This is obvious. Less cars on the road. Most trains run on electricity, which will come from other green industries like wind farms and solar power.

The decline of American industry? There should be a mandate that stipulates that these projects be American-built, that everything from the locomotives to the bolts holding the tracks together be American-made.

The environment. Again, this is obvious. Less cars on the road means less air and water pollution. (We forget that cars leak oil and wear rubber on the roads, which all washes into our water supply.)

The Big Dig in Boston was one of the biggest pork barrel projects ever, on the same grand scale as the credit crisis. We simply spent billions of dollars to keep people employed hiding a traffic jam underground.

If years ago, we had had visionaries running this state, we could have taken all of those billions and made a world-class public transportation system that would have been a model for projects today that would lead us out of our economic crisis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a California native who moved here in 1975, I was amazed and thrilled at the whole notion of public transportation. We lived on Beacon Street, across from Fenway Park, and I could get anywhere I wanted to go on the T. Even out here in the outer 'burbs, I have access to the train, if I want to structure my trip with time constraints...

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