Growing up in Marin County, CA, the concept of high-speed rail and well-organized, actually useful public transportation was a bit of a foreign concept to me, as for most of my childhood the only buses we have were the MarinTransit buses, and where I lived, out in the Valley, only one came, and it was hardly ever in hourly increments. I would take the bus into town, but often it was a hassle because of the timetable it ran on, and sometimes the bus wouldn’t come all the way out to my stop and I would have to walk a good deal further to catch it. When I was in about seventh grade, the construction on the train from Petaluma to San Rafael was finished, which I was very excited about because I went to school in Petaluma. However, because the line only went to San Rafael and buses from San Rafael to my house, at the opposite end of Marin, were few and far between, it didn’t actually prove to be any help and the few times I did take the train lengthened my trip to and from school greatly.
If you take a step over just a county away, you’d see yourself in San Francisco, the public transport system of which is definitely much better than Marin’s. SF has buses that run on a much tighter schedule, and is connected to B.A.R.T. that allows you to go virtually all over the Bay Area from SF to the East Bay. Similarly, New York city has an extremely successful subway system that virtually all New Yorkers use regularly, and both the EU and Japan are great examples of countries that have for the last half century continually put an effort into connected rail lines and efficient public transportation. To circle back to Marin County, one of the richest counties in California and in the top 5 of most expensive places to live in the United States, why is good public transportation such an issue, when clearly big metropolitan areas and multiple developed nations elsewhere have been able to achieve it?
The answer essentially can be boiled down to two main concepts: one is that in the mid-1900s, when many European nations were focusing on building their public transport infrastructure, the U.S. was destroying theirs in favor of the auto manufacturing market, and building roads and infrastructure that would support that. The second reason is that American culture has a long held fear of and resistance to public amenities and social welfare programs, which unlike in Europe and Japan, public transportation is seen as. So how can we make changes? Many states and cities have plenty of money should they wish to allocate it for public transport, and although there are some geological features that provide slight challenges for transcontinental trains, as you might have learned in American history that particular challenge has been overcome before. The main answer is to change the public’s perspective of public transport so that people see it as something to be used by everybody rather than something just for poor people, and to get investors more interested in it over private companies like Ford or General Motors. Creating a functional and streamlined public transport system for the US would be a huge step in stopping climate change and providing support for marginalized communities. Private corporations have never had the interests of the people at heart, and it’s high time that we change that. Although it might take a big push at first, this switch to a socialized public transport system is certainly something that the United States can do.
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