Don't you get it? We are supposed to hate public transportation, and for one good reason: if you are in a bus or train, then you are not in a car. It is that simple. Every ride you take on a bus or train appears on the left-hand side (debit side) of the auto industry's big book of gains and losses. Car manufactures have expended an enormous amount of human brain-power to make the most irrational mode of transportation as comfortable as possible. It is indeed a living room on four wheels. The development of all other forms of transportation, however, has been arrested or neglected. Some of our sidewalks are being reclaimed by nature. Our bike networks are primitive. If the deepest pockets dominate a society, and the auto makers and dealers have a good number of such pockets, then very little effort is needed to understand why the experience of riding public trains and buses is often a major "pain in the ass."
As we well know in Seattle, the budgets of bus operations are repeatedly threatened with cuts. It takes ages to make progress and improvements on light rail infrastructure. And because these rational forms of transportation are cheaper, they are used by the poorest members of our society. But many do not blame American poverty on an economic system that cruelly imposes scarcity on goods, services, and money. They lazily blame public transportation. The car promises to seal them from the inconvenient facts of capitalism.
And so, at the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference in Long Beach, California, celebrated entrepreneur, futurist, and electric car manufacturer Elon Musk (he is almost my countryman) said exactly what our society wants all Americans to say about public transportation:
I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time... It’s a pain in the ass... That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.
I use light rail almost everyday in Seattle. One of its stations is a 5-minute walk from my house in Columbia City. Another of its stations is a 5-minute walk to my office in Capitol Hill. Another station is in the heart of downtown, where I shop. Another station will soon be right next to one of my favorite bars, College Pub Inn (but is currently only a 10-minute walk from the current station). I love all of this walking. Without it, my health would be a complete mess. It's also a very cheap way of getting around (just below $100 a month to use the train and bus network). An app gives me pretty accurate information about the location of Metro buses. If it's too late and I'm too drunk, there is always car sharing.
Last month, my car sharing bill totaled $75. My bike sharing total was $12. My ORCA card cost $95. These systems required no insurance, no car repairs, no tabs, no tickets, no worries about the price of gas or the lack of parking. I got all of these benefits for under $200.
Now for cars. For very obvious reasons, they are loved by serial killers:
Bundy removed the passenger seat in order to lay his victims flat and better conceal them after luring them to the car. On August 15, 1975, Bundy fled police attempting to pull him over, who then searched his VW Beetle. They found suspicious objects, such as a crowbar, a box of large green plastic garbage bags, an ice pick, flashlight, gloves, torn strips of sheeting, knit ski mask, handcuffs, and a strange mask made from panty hose. They also noticed that the passenger seat had been removed and placed in the back seat.Only the dimmest among us would feel safer sitting next to a serial killer in a car than in a packed bus.
Also, I have never seen anything like the emotional explosions of frustrated drivers on the bus or train. And "37 percent of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm." And a third of the ghosts I know became so because of cars. And there is not day that ends without reports of vehicles crashing into each other or into people or things. As if all of this were not bad enough, cars spend most of their time doing nothing at all. They just wait and wait and wait. Surely a forward-thinking, visionary capitalist like Musk must see this as a highly inefficient system. We make cars mostly to wait on us. This waiting is nothing but waste. Every economics student is taught that free markets are excellent at finding and eliminating waste, yet American consumers spend a considerable part of their shrinking incomes on the extravagant waste of waiting cars.
Before closing this post, I want to comment on this line: "[T]here’s like a bunch of random strangers [on the train]..." But there are a bunch of random strangers on the plane. Indeed, this is our forte as humans: we can chill for very long periods of time with a bunch of strangers. Humans are not good at sprinting, or swarming; but no other mammal can endure a crowded place or space like we can.
This is something that even our cousins, the chimps, can't do. Put them in a Link train or a plane? "They would be lucky to disembark with all 10 fingers and toes still attached, with the babies still breathing and unmaimed. Bloody earlobes and other appendages would litter the aisles. Compressing so many highly impulsive strangers into a tight space would be a recipe for mayhem" (Sarah Hrdy, Mothers and Other). Chimpanzees were made for cars. This is also why chimps will never reach the stars. Musk's SpaceX dreams could not be realized if humans were an animal that's incapable of tolerating closed spaces crowded with strangers.