The Washington Post reports that there was a 6.5% jump in mass transit ridership in the third quarter of 2008 compared to 2007. This increase, which was the biggest quarterly jump in 25 years, is somewhat surprising news considering that the price of gas continued to fall nationwide. Importantly, there were increases on every mode of transit – heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail and busses – and virtually every transit agency around the nation saw improved ridership statistics.
This says two things: 1. That the recession is going directly to peoples’ wallets in a way that even the price of gas couldn’t; and 2. That once people have tried mass transit, they’re willing to keep using it. We were expecting something of a drop-off after this summer’s highs, but that doesn’t appear to have happened. This is not the time to be considering decreases in services or increases in fares.
UPDATE: Several other blogs are mentioning the fact that these ridership numbers are for the period before the downfall in gas prices. As a result, our positive analyzes above may be a bit unfair.
Meanwhile, China continues to push ahead in all things advanced. The 1350-km high-speed rail line between Shanghai and Beijing is 91% completed. This line will allow trains to travel between the cities in five hours. Important point of comparison – Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York City, which is America’s fastest train route, is a 720-km long route that takes the Acela Express train seven hours to complete. That’s an average of 270-kph vs. 100-kph. As we’ve stated on this blog again and again, we’re falling further and further behind.
But there’s hope that there’s going to be a change in philosophy in the manner in which American politicians approach our lack of investment in infrastructure. Today’s Post also included an op-ed by former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Emil Henry. This conservative argued that it was time for this nation’s right wing to abandon its historical opposition to government involvement in investment.
He argues somewhat implausibly that “investment in key infrastructure is consistent with Reagan principles,” a comment whose validity can be faulted considering the Reagan Administration’s hostile approach towards funding infrastructure, part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. In fact, the United States’ right wing’s complete absence of responsibility in preventing the degrading of our trains and roads is quite evident and should be remembered. After all, the conservative parties of other countries are not nearly has anti-investment: in France, for instance, Nicholas Sarkozy’s government signed into law this year a plan for 2,000 new km of high-speed rail lines by 2020. The Republican Party has allowed the country to be sacked in the last eight years, and we have the right to demand accountability.
That said, many Republicans remain in power, and statements like that of Mr. Henry may help bring more votes in the House and Senate for infrastructure funding bills. Democrats will need them if their plans are to stand a serious chance of passage.