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Consider Alternatives to Mass Transit First

To the editor:

While I find some merit in the editors view (Commit to Mass Transit, August 14) that the government must act to create affordable, accessible alternatives, Id like to offer some additional views. 

First, being a social and political conservative, I do not believe that government is the crux of committing the general public to mass transit, as the aforementioned quote might suggest. I do, however, agree that there needs to be some government involvement.

Second, I think the impetus to improve mass transit across the country needs to be measured against how our culture differs from those of countries with very robust and well-travelled mass transit systems, for example, most of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, and I suspect, China. 

Lastly, beyond any scope of government involvement in mass transit and public transportation, as well as the cultural barriers, I think the private industry and the public have to be the driving force behind restructuring and redefining how Americans commute. I focus on commuting because thats the real issue at hand that I believe the editor espouses. My family of five driving in our minivan to Florida for vacation is hardly at the core of transportation issues.

To clarify my first point, pursuing affordable, accessible alternatives invariably requires tax dollars. If government involvement were limited to legislative actions that create a more accommodating political environment for mass transit carriers to conduct business, then I agree; the government must act.  But, I do not subscribe to any notion that the government role in improving mass transit should include massive taxes.

On my second point, I believe there is a cultural drive in America that every family should own a car, or even two or three, which contributes to a market catering to individual commuter transit. Consider the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on some of the local interstates; there are significantly more vehicles in standard lanes with one occupant than vehicles in the HOV lanes with three or more occupants. 

Americans, especially those working in suburban, urban and large metropolitan areas, want to have their own car; they want to be able to go where they want whenever they want and however they want.

In the regions I mentioned, that is almost completely possible through mass transit. The challenge is going to be changing this aspect of American culture to be more accepting of mass transit, not only for using it individually, but for the massive intrusion of its infrastructure into our neighborhoods.

As for my last point, I think the most important aspect of committing the American working public to use mass transit more is private industry competition and public participation. The government has a responsibility to ensure [that] public transportation routes are accessible, safe, reliable, and durable. Private industry has to drive competition among transportation providers to create a market that draws travelers. Likewise, the public has to continue to get onto get on the bus, the train, shuttle, ferry, or airplane. If the government paves the road, and local transportation companies put a bus on the road, the people have to get on, leave their weekend rider in the driveway, and help contribute to a better transportation network.

Franklin Barrett,
Alexandria, VA

College Presidents Call for Lowered Drinking Age:  Enlightened Thinking or No Thinking at All?

A coalition of 21 college presidents, including the heads of Johns Hopkins, Washington and Lee, Randolph Macon and Duke, have asked legislators to lower the drinking age for students.

The August 20 edition of The Washington Post reported that a Nationwide Insurance poll shows that 75 percent of adults support tougher enforcement of current drinking laws.

The argument in favor of lowering the age revolves around reducing binge drinking among 21-year-olds.  The main argument against the measure is that more teenagers die from alcohol-related accidents each year than all other illicit drugs combined.

What do you think? Readers are invited to send their responses to [email protected].

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