Wouldn’t Mass Transit Be Nice?

From the Financial Times:

While the world waits and waits for a resumption of serious oil supply growth, oil prices will only fall if we burn less oil. All the signs are that this is beginning to happen. Sales of gas-guzzling light trucks in the U.S. have plummeted and drivers seem to be curbing their mileage, too. Consumers are switching to tiny cars, bicycles and even (in Rajasthan, India) to camels. Once-marginal substitutes, such as wind power, start to look like profitable bets.

Here in Japan, people who used to drive to work are now riding their bicycles to nearby train stations for the daily commute. Some even invested in an extra bicycle to keep at the other train station. They can ride one bike from home to the station, and then another from the other station to work. Stations have bicycle garages where people can pay a monthly fee to store their bike under a roof and inside a fence for security.

Companies often subsidize or cover entirely the cost of a monthly commuter rail pass, making the savings over gassing up a car even more convincing. One person I know went from paying $450 per month to paying $0 (after buying a second bicycle for $200), thanks to her company’s willingness to cover the rail pass.

Unfortunately, for most Americans, the bicycle/train solution is not an option because basic infrastructure is lacking in the U.S.

That is very frustrating, especially when you know some of the history behind why. Do you think Los Angeles, for example, was always the gridlocked nightmare it is every morning and evening now? It wasn’t.

The neighbor living beside my rental home in Los Angeles is 80 years old and grew up there. He remembers that, as a high school student living in Pasadena, he could take an electric train — the red car — all the way to Santa Monica with his surfboard, spend the day on the beach, and return home on the same train that night for very little money.

What happened to the train?

According to the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California (ERHA):

The private operators demolished electric railways and held on to the coats of the highway lobby in its effort to frustrate rapid transit. The Pacific Electric and the Los Angeles railway had become ambivalent toward rail transit in the 1930s, although much of the rail network had remained intact, and was invaluable during World War II. But, with the coming of peace, there were major policy changes.

National City Lines, a bus-minded holding company, gained control of the Los Angeles railway and began a program of converting the streetcar system over to buses. The Pacific Electric then embarked on a series of large-scale rail conversions. In 1953, it sold its passenger routes to another bus company, Metropolitan Coach Lines, which started to administer a coup-de-grace on the remaining red cars.

So, those snappy red cars went away and today, along with $4 gas, people in Los Angeles get to deal with this every day.

Good job, L.A.

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