Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Our Transportation: What Do We Need?

It is interesting to reflect upon what the automobile means to us. For my family and I, it is probably 99% convenience and at most 1% necessity. Could we do without it? Yes, I believe so. Will we? Probably not unless we absolutely have to.

Why is this so? Why don't we need it? The primary reason is that we live on the Eastern Seaboard where public transport is pretty good. There are local buses that service the train to NYC (or New Haven if we need to go that way). I work out of the house, and my wife works about 12 miles from the house. The public transportation, while incredibly inconvenient, would suffice for commuting if it came to that.

Of course the Eastern Seaboard isn't the only place with good public transportation. Many places have it, but the culture clearly in the USA is automobile focused, and that is true also on the East Coast. I'm also guessing that most Americans (i.e. over half) are in a similar situation where the automobile represents an incredible time saver and convenient mode of transportation.

What about needed trips, say to the grocery store and such? The closest store to us is about a mile away. We could do that by bike, although dealing with the traffic is a major deterrent. Our daily habits would have to change considerably if for some reason gasoline became scarce, but it is clear we could cut our consumption by 1/2 and still have a decent lifestyle, but it would be, to borrow a word from our former Vice President, inconvenient.

So there is the contradiction. We use the auto because we can. We burn the gasoline, originating primarily from foreign sources, because it makes live easier. We would like to reduce or eliminate this connection, but, frankly, it isn't going to be easy. Sure, we could go "cold turkey", I'd rather spend time and effort figuring out a different way.

Many vocal critics of the US energy policy attack the automobile, saying it makes sense to invest in public transportation. I don't disagree with a good public transportation system. If I need to go into Manhattan, I take the train probably 90% of the time. That is because it is more convenient to do so. If it is Queens, though, I drive. The extra hour each way for the public transportation is just too much to take--especially with kids.

Yeah, we could give up the cars, but we won't. Looking back to times before the automobile, there also was public and private transportation. You could take the stage coach or you could ride your horse or your personal carriage or wagon. Take away gasoline, and I'm willing to bet you would still see the remnants of what we see now: some public, some private modes of transportation. It has always been that way. Why should it change now?


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