Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Conservative's Argument for Transit

I'm a small government fiscal conservative who comes from rather rural roots... and that's exactly why I'm an urbanist.

A sales pitch to those who identify with that first part but are confounded by the second part…

Strong Cities mean Strong Towns
The structure of our country favors the rural regions, with the large tax bases in cities helping to finance the rural areas around them, just as envisioned by Jefferson with his dream of a nation of citizen-farmers.  Improved city transit helps support that tax base, further growing its capability to support the schools, roads and rails serving the villages in the countryside.

Strong cities are also strong markets for rurally-produced goods, including both food and craft.  A strong and vibrant city core helps preserve the countryside from runaway development, helping our family members' farms remain in the family as well as profitable.

Regional transport helps move our goods to market and also enables us to more readily travel to and from the city, either with our products or at our own leisure.  Our small towns, by their smaller scale, rarely have quite the same recreational or entertainment amenities as cities can provide, and transit helps us easily travel into the cities to learn at universities or museums, wander through parks and monuments, or enjoy the nightlife of theaters, clubs, and other destinations.

Freedom of Movement; Freedom of Choice
Transit does not replace our roads; it complements them.  Transit grants us greater freedom of movement and freedom of choice, letting us choose our own paths, our own schedules, and enjoy more of our own time as we wish.

Those who wish to take transit may enjoy time to distract themselves without worrying about attention to the roads, and those who prefer to drive may travel on roads with that much fewer other cars on them.  I absolutely love a weekend drive: the freedom of the road and the power of man and machine; but I love commuting by train: more time to rest or to work on the tasks that busy my day.

A Small Home Budget and a Small Government
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a good transit system is also small government at its finest.  Sure, it serves a social good – it benefits lots of people even if it may not *directly* appear to benefit you; but it serves these people at lower cost.  It's expensive for every person to own, maintain, and operate their own vehicle; and it's expensive for all of us to provide the necessary roads... it's cheaper if you carpool with a friend, and transit is that extension: lots of people using only one vehicle, needing only a few "roads" to move many more people.

Some can hear "efficiency" and "socialism" and think of some Orwellian world.  But in some cases -- particularly when dealing with infrastructure -- efficiency means we're using less of our taxpayer dollars; each dollar is being stretched further, doing more, and getting more people where they need to go.

Your car takes up about 10%-15% of your annual budget… what if you could get where you need to go without your car?  Imagine getting a 15% raise: what would you spend that money on?

Serving Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street
Transit works in partnership with business – both Wall Street and Main Street.  Both are important: Wall Street invests in our factories and sometimes even our farms; Main Street is what keeps our villages, towns, and cities interesting, vibrant, and serving our daily needs.  Transit caters to what businessowners already know: customers arrive into their stores on two feet, not on four wheels; and transportation investment, in general, recognizes that our goods and produce travel by engines, not by our hands.

Transportation in all its forms supports our cities as much as it supports our countryside, providing jobs, getting people to their jobs, and ensuring that they’ll continue to have jobs well into the future.  It affects absolutely every aspect of our society, from our education to our health to our environment.  Transportation is infrastructure; the backbone of our society; running behind-the-scenes to keep our civilization going.

Take Action!
There is always room for discussion on what projects are most appropriate for where, but there is simply no good basis for partisanship in transportation.  Transportation of all modes benefits each and every one of us, even if we never use it.  Republican President Eisenhower contributed to great strides in transportation, and President Reagan likewise played an important role in supporting transit.  There is a strong tradition of Republican leadership in supporting transportation.

There are two starkly different transportation bills before Congress right now – a bipartisan bill in the Senate (MAP-21) with strong funding for transportation; and a partisan bill in the House (H.R. 7) with severe cuts.  There are good traits to both as well as bad, but I will admit that of the two I find the Senate’s bill to be the most appealing.  I strongly encourage you to take an interest and share your opinions with your elected representatives, regardless of what your support or opposition may be.