spending priorities have favored driving
November 14, 2011, 5:08 pm
Filed under: betaCITY, economy, Energy, Transit | Tags: , , , ,

Our government funds transportation systems that are inefficient.  Much of the funding patterns are deeply embedded in budgets that have remained intransigent for several generations.  Furthermore these government spending patterns have produced a deeply unsustainable – economically and environmentally – transportation system.

Today we are being told that our preferred systems of transport – euphemism for the car – need to get more efficient in order for us to achieve new sustainability standards.  But this isn’t true as is made eminently clear in the passage below.

Increased gas efficiencies are a superficial fix, which often lead to more consumption, not less and ultimately lead to a perpetuation of the expensive and unsustainable transport networks that we have built over the past 50 years.  To achieve real change, we would need to change the systems at their root and reduce how much we drive.

The problem is that our driving habits have been heavily incentivized through generations old public subsidies that flow away from public options for transport and toward private systems, at a ration of 20 to 80.   Today we have a veritable welfare system for cars and drivers and roads and parking lots.  The only significant way of making our transportation systems sustainable again is to reverse how we incentivize development.

Here is the excerpt from the Nation:

Transportation accounts for 27 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions and 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s not just because we drive gas guzzlers; it’s because we drive so much. Almost 90 percent of trips in the United States are made by private vehicle, compared with 58 percent in Britain. Even if average fuel efficiency increases to thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020, as mandated by law, the corresponding reduction in emissions could be easily wiped out by the increase in vehicle miles traveled. To reduce our contributions to climate change, we must also reduce our driving.

Government regulations and spending priorities have favored driving as the means of moving people and products since the Eisenhower administration and the advent of the Interstate Highway System. More than 80 percent of transit money from gas taxes supports highways and bridges, with the remainder, less than 20 percent, allocated for mass transit. Moreover, federal contributions to highway projects often cover more than 80 percent of the total construction costs, compared with only 50 percent of the typical cost for a transit system. Rail freight, which uses one-third as much energy per mile as trucking to ship a pound of cargo, has no federal funding at all. There is no rail freight across the Hudson River into New York City; virtually all goods have to enter by truck.

Ticket to Ride, Ben Adler, The Nation


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