Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thrown Under the Bus: Transit & the Election

Multiple issues should be taken into consideration when preparing to vote, particularly for Catholic Americans. Just because many issues, especially public transportation, do not get much coverage in the press does not mean that it is not a significant issue that requires careful examination.
Many Americans rely on buses, light rail, and subways as their only means of transportation. It is the way they get to their jobs, their houses of worship, and their medical treatments. For these Americans, and for us all, access to transportation is a basic human necessity. If people who rely on mass transit cannot get to jobs, it hinders their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
The fact that the riders of mass transit are disproportionately working class Americans and low-income earners adds another dimension to this crucial issue. Roman Catholics have an obligation to advocate a preferential option for those who are poor. Therefore, supporting public transit as a viable alternative to automobiles promotes a form of economic justice.
To some extent, mass transit is also an issue of environmental stewardship. Making public transit a viable alternative to automobiles means reducing the total number of cars on the road generally, and the intense concentrated emissions produced during rush hour traffic, specifically. Utilizing mass transit, then is an environmentally conscious action.
Finally, mass transportation is a means of building solidarity. Riding it is an action by which people engage their neighborhood and their neighbors. Those who choose to ride the bus are supporting the well-being of those who cannot choose. Mass transit, then, serves as a public space from which a more united population develops.
Neither candidate has been particularly vocal on the issue of mass transit. As a candidate trying to transcend "issue" politics, Barack Obama is hesitant to be publicly vocal about issues affecting urban life, which to many voters still conjure up images of big city bosses and political machines. Still, the Obama campaign has released a white paper on what it plans to do with America's transportation system, which can be found here. The plan is very ambitious, and covers a wide range of transportation-related issues. It's very possible that if Obama gets elected, the current economic crisis would hamper his ability to invest in public transportation. However, infrastructure spending has historically been a feature of countercyclical deficit spending of the type espoused by FDR's brain trust. Thus, a Democratic congress may indeed increase spending on transit projects.
As a matter of comparison, the Brookings Institution released a chart comparing Obama's policies to McCain's in regards to transportation, which can be found here. The McCain campaign has been largely silent on the issue of mass transit, but given McCain's statements about cutting out "pork-barrel" programs (which mass transit is often referred to as by its detractors), it would not be presumptuous to say that McCain would be likely be support of reductions in federal funding for mass transit.
A system of public transportation is a moral issue that should be a voting issue, especially because many income-poor and working class citizens depend on it for their livelihood.
Alex Pazuchanics

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