America's congestion conundrum and the true cost of driving

According to the Christian Science Monitor, there are now 134 million commuters hitting American streets during rush hour and we're responding to the traffic problem worse than ever. So says Alan Pisarski, the country's top commuter expert (I not sure how he got that title, but the CSM chooses to use it). From 1980 to 1990, commute times grew by less than one minute despite the number of single-occupancy vehicles rising by 22 million. From 1990 to 2000, there were just 13 million more single-driver commuters, yet commute times increased by over 3 minutes. If the idea is that we've hit some sort of capacity threshold when it comes to the nation's roads, the question then becomes do we spend more on increasing roadway capacity or for the development of public transportation?

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation says that the DOT understands the gravity of the problem and considers it their top priority. They're currently funding 18 light-rail projects and offer tax credits to companies that subsidize mass transit for their employees. The problem, however, is that the number of mass transit users has actually gone down since 1990. The director of a vanpool service puts it best, "The standard reaction to [building mass transit] is 'Great. Hopefully everybody else will do it so I can drive on uncongested roads.'"

One oft-suggested solution to getting people out of their cars and into buses and trains is to raise the overall cost of driving. We saw some of these effects when gas prices spiked this last summer, however, as we can't control the per-gallon cost of fuel, some say we should raise peak-time tolls among other things in an effort to raise the cost of car travel. The reasoning is based on the notion that the true cost of driving should include the price of building a viable public transportation system for the future. Is it too much to ask of drivers? If we don't pay for it now, who eventually will? And when?

[Source: Christian Science Monitor]

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