Maryland Senator Ben Cardin: America Needs Transit, Now

cardin.jpgThe $1.7 billion in public transportation funding promised by the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act would be a step in the right direction, but it pales in comparison to what might have been. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act — the cap-and-trade bill that died in the Senate last month — would have brought 100 times that much in federal transit investment, thanks in large part to Senator Ben Cardin. In a recent interview with Grist, the Maryland Democrat offers a refreshing perspective on the future of US transportation policy.

We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We’ve got to have the facilities and we don’t today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be "self-sufficient" or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don’t do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons — not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

I’m a big, big supporter of dramatic change in public transportation. It includes more than just the bus and rail systems in our urban areas. It includes a commuter rail and inner-city rail — the whole gamut of services that get people out of their personal vehicles. I don’t want people driving their personal vehicles the way they are today.

Even in the era of $4/gal gasoline, not many elected officials would go on record with such heresies. But that may be changing. Gas tax "holiday" talk has all but evaporated over the past few weeks as pols promote transit as an answer to higher gas prices. And a column in today’s Boston Globe predicts that Senator John McCain’s dogged and sustained effort to undermine Amtrak could create an opening for  transit-friendly Barack Obama heading into November.

  • This is the very definition of leadership. Are you listening, Schumer and Clinton? Don’t take our votes for granted. You’ve done precious little to earn them lately.

  • Cardin for VP?

    Probably a non-starter because his name “sounds French” (even though he’s not). *sigh*

  • “Some try to say that it should be “self-sufficient” or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don’t do that on our roads”

    So, why not start doing it with the roads? Like in Paris, you need to remove parking and install bus lanes anyway. Stop employers from providing free parking to employees. Stop expanding the road nework. Stop requiring parking from those applying for building permits. Put in congestion charging. There are lots of smart ways of curbing auto use, saving money, and encouraging walking, cycling and public transit all at the same time.

    The “more of everything” approach will create as many problems as it solves.

  • Ian Turner

    Erik: Exactly. The government fascination with subsidizing transportation is mind-boggling.

    Although transportation infrastructure is a natural monopoly best managed by the government, there is no reason not to tax transportation users equal to their use of said system. That is doubly true now that revenue collection is so easy to automate.

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