Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When security makes us less secure

In my last post, I described how the current "airport security" system fails to provide any significant level of security beyond what existed before 2001. In particular, the system of requiring photo identification to get on a plane is pointless and easily circumvented from a passenger safety standpoint. Trains and buses are also very different from airplanes, with different security requirements, and applying airline security measures unmodified to trains and buses is idiotic.

Beyond this, the concept of "making trains as safe as planes" is even more counterproductive. "Safety" measures like seat belts can wind up making us less safe by encouraging people to drive or fly instead of take the bus. In the same way, these "security" measures can make us less secure by encouraging people to drive or fly instead of taking buses and trains.

The long lines, intrusive bag and body checks, idiotic limits on liquids and utensils, and depersonalizing identity checks have discouraged many from flying. I personally did not fly for almost five years after the September 11 attacks, partly for unrelated reasons, but also in part because I knew it would infuriate me to have to take my shoes off. I don't think I'm the only one. The beneficiaries of this bureaucratic incompetence have been Amtrak and the intercity bus companies. Although they instituted their own moronic identification requirements in 2002, at least you don't have to put your bag through an X-ray to get on a bus.

Senator Schumer seems determined to change that. The Senator from JetBlue loves to tell the story of how he put up with crappy plane service to upstate during his 2000 campaign, and promised that if elected, he would improve it. Did he improve it with an efficient, sustainable high-speed rail network? No, he poured massive subsidies into airports and airlines to serve them, and with the price of jet fuel rising and travel budgets falling, the system just demands more and more subsidies.

It could be that Schumer saw that all the security theater was making airlines uncompetitive and decided to saddle trains and buses with the same shit. But I'm going to apply Hanlon's Razor here and assume that Schumer really wants to do something nice for trains and buses, and he's enough of a moron to think that the security theater will save transit riders from a horrible September 11th-style fate.

Of course, the result will be that people will choose to drive instead of taking trains and buses. Whatever profits Amtrak is making on the Northeast Corridor will disappear, along with the minor profits that intercity bus operators are earning. This will lead to cuts in service, which will lead to drops in ridership and further service cuts.

The worst part of it all is that if people shift from a more efficient mode like trains and buses to a less efficient mode like private cars or airplanes, that increases their fuel consumption per mile and per trip. Increased fuel consumption means more oil imported from the Middle East, which means more oil wars to secure our supply, which means more motivation for terrorists to attack the United States. It's a fake security that only winds up making us less secure.


Sean Robertson said...

Where's the source for this? I can't find anything on his web site and being a recent arrival to NYC, I'd really like to give him a drubbing for this.

Yokota Fritz said...

3,000 traffic fatalities monthly (i.e. more than a 9/11's worth of deaths each and every month), and Schumer wants to *add* to this toll? He obviously hates America and Americans.