Imagine this: You live in Washington, DC and you’re waiting patiently for the next Metro train to arrive at the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU station, which was the most-delayed station in the area in 2016. You think to yourself, “This isn’t so bad. There are only about 7 more minutes until the next train comes. I’ll get to work on time.” Seven minutes pass. Then eight. You start to become impatient. The train finally arrives 10 minutes later. You board. Then in between this station and the next, among the sounds of moaning, gibberish from passengers, the blasting of music and the faint smell of vomit, you hear an enormous thumping sound underneath the car. Over the intercom, you’re informed that because of a deficiency on board, you must disembark at the next station. At the next station, you curse at the sky, shaking your fists in vain, hoping that God will smite you where you stand rather than having to deal with another Metro train.
These types of frustrations are commonplace and not only in Washington, DC. Not only is the public transportation system inconvenient, expensive, and inefficient, but it is also declining, rather than growing and improving.
A recent real-world example of the unacceptable inefficiency of the transportation system: a Washington, DC Metro train on the red line derailed on January 15th because of a broken rail that apparently passed all scheduled inspections previously. This happened despite Metro’s “SafeTrack” program that was intended to renew and revitalize the Metro system. Consistent delays and events like this show that the program has failed. This isn’t solely a District problem. According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) , there are billions of dollars in deferred maintenance throughout the country.
What is causing this problem? Urban sprawl? Political gridlock? The use of the automobile? I’d argue that it’s all of the above. In addition, Joseph Stromberg argues, “European […] cities treat [public transportation] as a vital public utility. Most American policymakers— and voters— view it as a social welfare program.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. I believe that we should model our public transportation programs after those found in Europe. We should be able to convince the American public that it’s not a social welfare program, but an essential public good that should be provided with exceptional efficiency and service.
The disparity in the way European cities operate public transportation and the way the United States operates public transportation is staggering to say the least. Better service, a higher rate of service, superior maintenance and technology are all staples of European transit. As a result of this fantastic system, European citizens can go their entire lives without owning or learning how to drive a vehicle.
Need to make it from Madrid to Evreux, France sans car? Not a problem. Walk to your nearest Metro station, take it to the main rail hub in the city, and take the train to Evreux via Irun and Paris, on board France’s national railway. Don’t live near Madrid’s Metro system? Again, not an issue. Walk to the local train station and take a short train ride into downtown Madrid. The train ride from Madrid to Evreux will take you about the same time it would to drive there. Compare that to trying to get to Daytona Beach, FL, which is about the same distance from Washington, DC as Madrid is to Evreux. You cannot take a train there. You have to take a Greyhound bus, which is operated by a private company until you get to Daytona Beach.
We must follow Europe’s example in order to get out of the cycle of wasteful spending and terrible service in this country, which is a tragedy. My solution would be to bring in a panel of top European transportation analysts to study and give recommendations to each major transportation hub in the United States: Washington, DC, New York, Boston, Miami, etc. We can advocate and lobby for better transportation policies and funding. We can also begin the process of convincing the American voter that arguing for better public transportation isn’t some socialist, left-leaning tendency, but rooted in the idea that a higher quality infrastructure will not only help the daily commuter, but in the long term can potentially help our economy and save Americans money.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.