Public transportation is a utility for all | News, Sports, Jobs

Public transportation is a utility for all | News, Sports, Jobs

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, DC with two of my best friends. One got a full-time job downtown, so I gladly offered to help pack, transport, and unpack all his stuff. After loading up the big Penske van he had rented and securing his cat in place, we hit the road with the intention of driving through the night.

I’m a big fan of driving, so driving for 19 hours straight seemed like such a fun time to me (and it was). But, after pushing 70 mph down the Pennsylvania Turnpike while driving a large van full of my friend’s belongings, to say I was tired of getting behind the wheel would be an understatement.

But despite little to no sleep, an abundance of caffeine, and One Direction’s first studio album on repeat, we arrived at our destination unscathed and in good spirits.

After unpacking and placing our things in his small one-bedroom apartment, we happily say goodbye to the Penske van. But when we returned the vehicle to a local hardware store, we were suddenly left without any means of transportation – at least in my Midwestern understanding.

Apart from walking or cycling, the only other everyday mode of transport I was familiar with was a personal vehicle. Sure, passenger planes can fit into this category. But depending on where you’re traveling, it’s often a luxury that requires a good amount of money and a general understanding of the airport system to use successfully.

My life revolves around my use of a vehicle: I use it to get to and from work, from Marquette to Gladstone, and to shop. Even when I need to clear my head, my Subaru Forester is the first thing I turn to because it’s reliable, I own it, and it has heated seats.

So while I sat nervously at the hardware store mentally calculating how long it would take us to walk the several kilometers back to the apartment, my friends were busy finding the nearest subway station.

For those who don’t know, the Metro is a form of rapid transportation via heavy rail that can transport masses of people. They usually run underground and charge a small fee, depending on your pick-up and drop-off location. In DC and the surrounding areas, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority handles the scheduling and maintenance of these trains.

Considering the car-dominated landscape we live in, it can be hard to imagine why anyone would choose to take the train over driving themselves. For those of us who have the privilege of owning a car, we don’t have to worry about bus schedules, clean seats, or unexpected train maintenance when we get ready to leave home.

And I understand this sentiment, because I felt the same way. However, several advantages of public transport far outweigh the disadvantages, and they will hopefully make you wonder why we have decided to stigmatize the use of mass transport in our society.

For starters, public transport is astronomically safer than private. According to a study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), any form of public transportation reduces the risk of accidents by more than 90% compared to driving a personal vehicle. Additionally, the US Department of Transportation has reported an increase in traffic-related deaths on highways and interstates in the recent past, which is due in part to congested and deteriorating roads.

Not only is public transport incredibly safe, but it’s also much better for the environment. The widespread use of personal vehicles in urban areas, coupled with our continued burning of fossil fuels, has caused air pollution levels to skyrocket. Air pollution in the form of greenhouse gases is the main cause of global warming, which has led to drastic changes in climate across the country.

Public transport is a much more sustainable option. If more people use any form of mass transit, the number of pollutants released into the atmosphere will decrease. UCLA Transportation found that choosing to take the bus instead of driving a personal vehicle can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45%—with each vehicle currently on the road emitting one pound of CO2 per mile driven.

The only major downside to public transport is accessibility.

Travel is a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, which reads “everyone has the right to liberty of movement and residence within the borders of every state.” However, our car-oriented society has made walking/biking unfeasible in most places – especially in areas where interstate highway systems cut through underdeveloped urban areas.

As a result, public transport should not be treated as a consumer product. Instead, buses, trains and trolleys were created solely for public benefit and use. Refer back to my article on equality, equity and justice: Although the pay-per-ride fee is minimal, it is still not feasible for some people. Since everyone is entitled to the right to travel, transport funded by and for the people should be accessible to everyone.

To conclude, I love the Metro and the efficiency of public transport. These public utilities, offered to us every day, remove the potential stress of downtown traffic, unreliable navigation systems, and gas prices. No one should be ashamed to use any form of public transport, be it high speed rail, trolley or bus.

Public transport was built by us and works for us, so why not use it if and when you can?

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Andie Balenger is a native of Gladstone and currently attends Northern Michigan University. Her column focuses on university life and is presented in the Daily Press on Thursdays.

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