Thursday, May 12 2011 @ 05:14 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
By Laura Barrett
The pain of watching the Total screen on the gas pump speed past the price of subway fare, then bus fare, then Amtrak fare, and finally settle somewhere around budget airline fare, is enough to get anybody thinking about “alternative transportation.”
But there’s one thing wrong in the portrayal the average American as mindlessly car-obsessed, and interested in “alternatives” only at times when gas prices pinch. It’s not true. It was April 2010—more than a year ago—when 82% of Americans polled said they wanted expanded transportation options, “such as trains and buses,” and 79% of rural voters said the same. They didn’t say so because of sticker shock at the gas pump. Average gas prices were below $3 a gallon in April 2010. They’re around $4 now.
In fact, in 2010 as a whole, American voters approved 43 out of 56 public transportation ballot initiatives, at a rate of 77 percent, for a total of more than $1 billion of funding. To be clear, that’s 77% approval of higher taxes for public transportation. In an ongoing economic crisis. During a nationwide frenzy of budget-slashing. Before gas prices spiked.
Need more historical perspective? From 1995 through 2009, while gas prices went up and down, public transportation ridership increased by 31%—more than the 15% increase in U.S. population and the 21% increase in highway use over the same period. There’s something deeper going on here, and any policymaker who even pretends to follow the will of the people should be paying attention.
Eighty-two percent of Americans say they want expanded transportation options because, to start with, the average working American spends 396 hours a year behind the wheel—roughly 10 work weeks. And most of that time isn’t fun. Especially when more of that time than ever is spent in traffic. The average household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, 94% of which goes to buying, maintaining, and operating cars. Households that are likely to use public transportation on a given day save over $9,000 every year. That matters especially now, with millions of ordinary people still struggling to make do.
But it matters all the time, whatever gas prices are. And its just one of many, many public transportation benefits that have changed the minds of millions of Americans. We’re listening. We’re working with them. And we’re not the only ones.