Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Transit Fratricide

If anyone wants to know why, even as younger people move to more transit-friendly towns and are shunning noplaces that don't offer buses, light rail or commuter trains, little new transit infrastructure is actually getting built, by all means, read this New York Times article from Hiroko Tabuchi about how the Koch brothers, Chuck and Dave (sister Vera remains at large), are making sure it doesn't happen!
Numerous transit projects have been proposed all across the nation, with the backing of local politicians and local businesses, but in cities and towns where the people get to vote on transit referendums, the Kochs' group Americans For Prosperity is working to get voters to defeat them via grass-roots organizing - with considerable success.  The reason for this hostility to public transportation is clear when you remember that Chuck and Dave refine oil for a living - more transit means fewer cars (especially gas-guzzling SUVs), which means less of a demand for gasoline, which means less profit for petroleum refineries. Also, there's their hatred for big government.  The need to increase revenues to fund buses, light rail, and commuter trains means higher taxes and more government-created jobs - which means more growth for unions representing public-sector workers.
Tabuchi's article notes how the Kochs are fighting mass transit in growing populations centers in the South and the West, but so-called liberal areas are also targeted - they've fought transit proposals in places like the metropolitan Detroit area, and they ran ads against a gas tax increase in New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy is making a herculean effort to rebuild a statewide transit authority whose service has deteriorated over the years.  Chuck and Dave offer the usual simple, simpleminded arguments against mass transit.  Americans For Prosperity argues that it forces you to follow a timetable, whereas automobiles allow you to go where you want, when you want (again - most people use their cars to go where they have to, when they have to, like their workplaces!)  Also,  Uber and Lyft are much more flexible than mass transit (not to mention much more expensive).  And of course, mass transit is expensive and has to be subsidized by the taxpayers (like highways, which move fewer people for more money than mass transit).
Having gotten all of those sentences with parenthesized clauses at the end out of the way, I need only point out that the Kochs obviously don't just go after specific transit projects. They've been very good at helping anti-transit politicians elected to public office to ensure that transit projects never see the light of day or don't even get proposed.  Perhaps the greatest victim of their anti-transit activism is Wisconsin, where, in 2010, they got Scott Walker elected governor, prompting outgoing Democratic governor James Doyle to cancel the state's high-speed rail project before Walker - already infamous then for decimating bus service in Milwaukee County as that county's executive - could have the sadistic pleasure of doing it himself.  As governor, Walker has starved mass transit, widened Interstate 94 between Madison and Milwaukee despite declining usage of the highway, and waged war on . . . bicycle paths.  And although Walker is pretty much a "road warrior," it turns out he isn't good at delivering on even that; Wisconsin's roads are the second-worst in the nation.
Oh yeah, dig this.  As he prepared to leave office as governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley pushed for two light-rail lines to be built in the Baltimore area; Larry Hogan, his Republican successor - and a builder of car-friendly suburban development - canceled one of them. Chuck and Dave are now working to get Hogan re-elected governor of Maryland.
One of the reasons I supported O'Malley for President in 2016 and hope to do so again in 2020 is because he supports building more mass transit as well as high-speed rail, and an O'Malley administration could certainly provide a shot in the arm for public transportation projects nationwide.  But not without a sympathetic Congress or sympathetic state governors and legislatures. President Obama learned too late that support among elected officials for his ambitious high-speed rail proposal was practically non-existent, and so it fell by the wayside.  Obama never built consensus for his goals, and, of course, Democrats  - who would have been more sympathetic to funding all forms of public transportation - dropped the ball in getting more of their own elected to state and local office during his two terms.  (Though, to be fair, some Republicans do support public transportation - just not that many.)  Advocates of public transportation have to get involved now by seeking out pro-transit candidates for office on the state and local level, back them, and get them elected in and in advance of 2020 - in congressional elections, in state legislative elections this year and next (the 2019 Assembly midterms in New Jersey, for example) and in state gubernatorial elections this year and next.  We have to win back our states so we can win back our transit.
Oh yeah, Chuck and Dave are so disgusted with Trump's break from orthodox conservatism, they've intimated that they could support Democrats this year if they feel that any Democratic candidates support the Koch agenda.  Which makes sense, considering the Republican-lite faction in the Democratic Party.
And, sadly, they'll find many Democrats who agree with them on refusing to increase the gas tax.  Like Nancy Pelosi. 

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