Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Paging John Kerry

According to this Grist interview with Maryland junior senator Ben Cardin, Cardin has been the leading proponent of federal transit funds during debate on climate change legislation. Why isn't the junior senator from the transit dollar-hungry Commonwealth leading the charge? (We'll give the recovering senior senator a pass.)

Here's Cardin's nearly pitch-perfect discussion of the importance of mass transit:

Grist: You authored the transit portion of the Climate Security Act. Clearly this is a priority issue for you. What role do you think transit policy should play in climate legislation?

Sen. Cardin: A huge part. [The transit portion called for] $171 billion over the life of the bill. That's big money. That can make a major impact. It can make a huge difference in the capacity for transit programs. We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We've got to have the facilities and we don't today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be "self-sufficient" or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don't do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons -- not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

I'm a big, big supporter of dramatic change in public transportation. It includes more than just the bus and rail systems in our urban areas. It includes a commuter rail and inner-city rail -- the whole gamut of services that get people out of their personal vehicles. I don't want people driving their personal vehicles the way they are today.

Grist: In addition to this kind of infrastructure improvement, what other actions should Congress be taking to encourage better mass transit and more use? You also mentioned that we have become a "car culture" -- how can we influence that on a federal level?

Sen. Cardin: It starts with service. You have to have economical, convenient, mass transit service. At the national level there are interstate areas that the federal government needs to do a much more effective job on Amtrak and passenger rail. We know about all the controversy surrounding that. Everybody looks at the bottom-line. We shouldn't be looking at the bottom-line. We should be looking at whether adequate passenger rail service in this country so people have alternatives to using their cars. We don't have that today.

I would make the Northeast corridor much more convenient, much better serviced, and more reasonable. There are people who literally can't afford to use the corridor because it's so expensive on a train, even though in reality it's less expensive then driving your car. But it still could be made more convenient to get people out of passenger cars. (Emphasis added.)

1 comment:

beachmom said...

Kerry is a major proponent of mass transit, and has always fought to keep Amtrak alive. I asked him about mass transit in 2007 (as it relates to where I live in Atlanta), and here is his answer:

Well, you're right. I've been down to Atlanta. Atlanta made a special effort, which we write about in the book, during the Olympics, and frankly, became a great case study for what you can do when you make an effort to get people out of their cars and off the roads, and the pollution went way down during that period of time.

I believe the federal government needs to take the lead and provide significant incentives to induce the kinds of behavior that we would like to see as a national goal. Historically, the great efforts of our country were achieved in partnership -- Dwight Eisenhower put huge sums of money behind the interstate highway system, because he saw it as a national security need, and we developed the railroads, we developed electricity in America because we decided it was important for every home to have electricity. So the government put about $5 billion into the infrastructure and guaranteed that every home was going to be reached, and we did, and that's how America developed.

I view this as a similar kind of challenge to the nation. Getting our air cleaner, reducing carbon is essential for the survival of the planet. That's not an exaggerated phrase. It's a real thing, and the science is increasingly alarming, and the scientists themselves are increasingly alarmed, because the things that they've predicted are happening faster, and happening to a greater degree than they even predicted. So when people see that kind of feedback coming from Mother Earth herself, you better stop and take notice. I think that the national leadership has got to put some money on the line as an inducement for people (at the local level) to be able to engage in certain kinds of projects.

For instance in Los Angeles, they are engaged in doing the beginnings of a subway system. That costs a lot of money. We ought to be doing a high speed rail system -- East Coast and West Coast, at least ... They are congested enough and it's critical enough that we should be doing it. Why should Shanghai, China have a Maglev train going from their airport to downtown Shanghai in twelve minutes, and we're struggling in the United States just to hold onto Amtrak, which is a curvial, twisted line that's never going to be modern. This is absurd.

And the absence of leadership in all of this is really damning.


Closer to home in Mass, Kerry grilled the transportation secretary in a Senate hearing: