Energy Policy — Mass Transit

A government that does not learn from its mistakes is sure to make the people pay more for them. The Bush Administration is doing just that because Bush, and Reagan before him, refused to continue the energy conservation policies of their predecessors, Ford and Carter. As a result, the auto companies began to go into reverse in recent years, and wasted more energy. The nation’s dependence on imported oil is now at a record 50 percent of total U.S. oil consumption.

Gas guzzlers from Detroit can have geopolitical consequences as evidenced by the Persian Gulf conflict. Dependence on foreign oil induces U.S. politicians to ignore George Washington’s historic warning about getting involved in foreign entanglements. This lesson should have been learned in the mid-Seventies during that oil crisis. Instead, Reagan-Bush just did what the oil-auto­-highway lobby wanted done, which was to scrap the energy conservation programs and incentives that were starting to work well.

Low on the government priority list for a decade has been the expansion of mass transit systems in the choked, congested major metropolitan areas. Modern mass transit technology is something far beyond commuter buses or even electrified rail or trolley systems. The engineers have not been asleep; they have developed personal rapid transit systems suspended from overhead steel monorails that can beat highway travel in overall cost, safety, energy efficiency and time.

Pathfinder Systems Co. (1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza, Seattle, WA 98154) has developed a technology claimed to be “low initial cost and low operating cost” which uses vehicles that “can carry two adults and two children automatically and nonstop between stations in a network of guideways.” The network consists of numerous ground level stations with available vehicles. You get in a vehicle, select your destination and you are taken there in the shortest time non-stop. Someone else then uses the vehicle you alighted from for their destination

Pathfinders is ready to demonstrate 24 hour service, all weather operation, no traffic jams, no offensive fumes or noise, complete privacy and respect for environmental needs of the community.

Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is in the planning stages for an experimental line featuring automated, small personal rapid transit vehicles. If the test is successful, the RTA hopes to expand the system throughout the metropolitan area, running along expressway median strips or over unused rail lines that used to connect suburbs with one another. Chicago’s suburbs now have nearly 60 percent of all jobs in the metropolitan region. Only 15 percent of the suburban job holders commute to Chicago; the rest commute within or between suburbs.

Vehicle congestion, smog, delay and manifold costs in many directions are alarming mega-urban officials. Los Angeles County officials have issued a stringent crackdown on motor vehicle pollution in the coming years, even to the point of limiting travel. People are starting to move out of southern California because of all the bother in getting around on the ground. Property values are being adversely affected.

The needs and the technical alternatives abound, but neither the governmental willpower nor the funding seem to be available. Mass transit will not come in this country from the top down; it will come with rising public expectations and growing community organizing around this issue. Funding can come from existing gasoline taxes and from assessments on commercial property for savings received and benefits absorbed.

When the full costs of the present day motor vehicle transport system are publicized, mass transit will look like more than just a relief valve to clogged and polluted arteries. It will look like a rational society bent on saving its precious time, health, pocketbook and land.

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