Sunday, April 5, 2009

What is Transportation for All?

Transportation for All is one of your Cap'n's top goals, along with reducing pollution, increasing efficiency, improving social structure, and cutting down on carnage (not pictured):

The spectrum of possible transit subsidies runs from absurdly over-subsidized commutes from Tristan da Cunha to Irkutsk - to absurdly under-subsidized arrangements that charge pedestrians to use the sidewalk. Transportation for all means finding that reasonable middle ground. Everybody should be able to get to their jobs, and to shop, and to play, and to community board meetings, regardless of their ability to pay.

The challenge is determining what constitutes a reasonable commute, what constitutes reasonable shopping, reasonable playing and reasonable government participation. The current global economic crisis was triggered by the fundamental unsustainability of exurban travel patterns. So we know we can't subsidize any and all travel.

My feeling is that government should subsidize travel for everyone from a home that provides a reasonable minimum of shelter (but not any home, and not all homes) to a job that provides a reasonable minimum of income (but not any job, and not all jobs), a store that provides a reasonable minimum of food and other needs (you get the picture), a social gathering "third place," and a certain minimum set of political venues.

Believe it or not, there are places in this country where you can walk from either your home or your workplace to the store, third places and political venues - and even some places where you can walk from home to work as well. (New York is one such place, which is a major reason why it's so great to live here.) In those cases, all the government has to do is maintain the sidewalks.

It's true that there are relatively few such places, especially by comparison to the number fifty or a hundred years ago. There are a lot more places where you can walk from home to shopping, and take transit to work, socialize and participate in government. If you add bicycling to the mix, that increases the number.

If government provides this minimum - for everyone who wants or needs it - this is a basic safety net that can help sustain our country. This doesn't require the government to subsidize outlandish commutes: as long as for every person there exists a place to work that's a reasonable distance from a place to live, the government can subsidize that commute, and people who've chosen to live or work in unsustainable places can relocate or fend for themselves.

When I say "subsidize," I don't mean "provide for free." I mean, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," and all that other Commie stuff.


fpteditors said...

A subsidy is public support of private gain. In the U.S. public transport is publicly owned for the public benefit, so a more accurate term than subsidy would be investment . Now, giving tax incentives to buy cars, or handing billions of tax dollars that didn't come from fuel taxes to the auto companies, that is a subsidy.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks for your comment, Editors. That definition of "subsidy" is not the only one in the dictionary, and the wider sense involving money granted to an entity in the public interest is very well-used.

It may be true that "subsidy" is not the best frame to use, but as long as you make it clear that all forms of transportation are subsidized to some degree, I don't see a big problem.

In any case, "investment" is only appropriate when talking about capital spending. It's a big stretch to use it when discussing operating expenditures.