What happens when America fails to invest in its public transportation and commuter rail systems?
If you guessed Zombiepocalypse, you aren’t far off.
Just check out last week’s New York Times article “New Jersey Transit, a Cautionary Tale of Neglect,” which connects the dots between failing to invest in public transportation (and the infrastructure needed to support it) and regional economic decline.
While the Times story focuses on budgetary deficits and financial crisis faced by the nation’s third-busiest commuter railroad, the problems created when public transportation is consistently short-changed are not unique. Not the fare hikes paired with cuts to service at a time when agencies are experiencing record ridership. Not the safety or maintenance issues. Not even the shocking tale of a college librarian with two master’s degree who is considering taking a retail job closer to home because her commute has become so dreadful.
For years, we have seen an orchestrated attempt by extremists to demonize the public sector as inefficient and to paint public providers of transportation as poor stewards of taxpayer dollars. The result is predictable: Funding for commuter rail, city transit and other forms of transportation that working Americans rely on gets placed on the chopping block. The most recent example of this is in the GOP platform, which calls for an end to federal funding for mass transit programs.
There are serious flaws with this way of thinking.
When we starve our public transportation systems of the funds they need to operate, it isn’t just frontline transportation workers and passengers who suffer. The effects are felt by millions, ranging from school students who can’t make it to class on time to business owners who rely on public transportation to bring them both employees and customers. That’s because these systems don’t just take people from point A to point B. They prop up entire economies.
Cutting funding to public transit and commuter rail systems might be billed as a cost-savings measure, but the consequences are eerily similar to unleashing a deadly zombie virus. The damage spreads quickly and creates a ripple effect that can take decades to repair.