Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Public transportation and economic stimulus

Local public transportation projects need federal assistance, if they’re able to continue offering services to area communities.

Take for instance the city of Lewiston. One of only a handful of communities in Maine that has anything resembling a public transit system, it remains an ongoing struggle to update its fleet, and do what’s necessary to remain viable.

There are significant philosophical divisions between many Democrats and others that favor more mass transit, and conservatives that oppose public transit, as well as almost anything else it seems, except tax cuts for the wealthy.

One of the elements in the original House version of the stimulus package was transportation, and in particular, light rail. That element, among many others, is in danger of being removed, or significantly reduced.

Communities in rural states, like Maine, have a much greater reliance on one person/one car models of transportation. This mode of transportation puts lower income residents at a significant disadvantage in the job market, particularly during economic downturns like the current one, even if they are able to improve their employability skills. Two of the biggest obstacles to moving someone from welfare, back to work are transportation, as well as child care, or the lack of affordable options.

Derrick Z. Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe wrote that, “The stimulus package should boldly be stimulating public transportation. Based on the American Automobile Association estimates of driving costs, the American Public Transportation Association calculates that Americans who rely on public transportation can save $8,368 a year. Boston leads the United States in calculated annual savings, at $12,285.”

The Progressive has a fairly provocative article on the "The Myth of the Efficient Car,” a myth that liberals enjoy trotting out when they talk about a “green” economy.

While states like Maine lack the infrastructure, and population density to adopt large scale models of public transit, light rail, particularly a commuter line from Portland to Brunswick, and even Lewiston might work, particularly when and if we see $4/gallon gasoline again.

I like my car as much as anyone, and rely upon it for my job. However, the 21st century is about "learning, unlearning, and relearning," to paraphrase Toffler. It's time that we relearn some new models of moving Americans from point A, to point B.


Anonymous said...

For public transportation to work here in Maine, it has to be reliable and reasonably convenient. The Brunswick to Portland corridor could take tremendous pressure off of the clogged and dangerous two lanes of I295 north.

For this model to be proven by improvemens, the case needs to be made for the southern communities traveling into Portland on the already existing and improved tracks, aka the Northeas'ah.

Back to ME. It would work for me if, twenty minutes drive time to a Freeport connection, twenty minutes travel time to Portland, then twenty final minutes travel time to my work location. All smooth with no interruptions or wait delays. Even this wistful time line is longer than my already too long 50-minute commute to my dream job. But, I could be reading a book instead of glaring at the speedsters.

Jim said...

I commuted regularly into Portland (Unum, on outer Congress St.) until 2004. At that time, I-295 was a bitch, particularly after 8:00 am. I know it's only gotten worse the few times I've had to travel south on a weekday.

Those from away don't realize that Maine, particularly the greater-Portland area has some real issues with traffic (occasionally highlighted via our second rate media), so, yes, some kind of reliable alternative could work for the Brunswick to Portland corridor.

David said...

Light rail between Lewiston and Brunswick would make a lot of sense if/when Amtrak finally comes to Brunswick. The track is already there.