Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Green publications should promote public transit

Screen capture: Voting break-down from Mother Earth News poll results

An email from Utne Reader this week invited me to take a “green vehicle” survey that was hosted by Mother Earth News. The first few questions had to be left blank because they involved the answerer’s primary vehicle and “public transit” wasn’t an option.

Via Twitter, I asked why “public transit” wasn’t listed as a choice for primary vehicle.

The administrator of @MotherEarthNews indicated the purpose of the survey was to gather driving data but that my message would be passed along.

The survey asked how interested I would be in various types of articles about green vehicles. None of the proposed subjects involved public transportation.

Public transportation made a dismal showing among polling options on the Mother Earth News website in response to “What’s your main means of going places?” Any option that didn’t involve personal auto use gained only minute percentages.

The breakdown in a screen capture I took at roughly noon on Tuesday was car: 43.21 percent (105 votes), truck: 23.87 percent (58 votes), SUV or crossover: 16.46 percent (40 votes) and van: 8.23 percent (20 votes). Among those options that didn’t involve the use of a personal vehicle, the vote spread was bike: 2.06 percent (five votes), feet: 2.88 percent (seven votes) and public transportation: 3.29 percent (eight votes). A total of 243 votes had been cast.

In response to my observation that auto dependence dominates in the Mother Earth News poll, its Twitter account administrator indicated, “I guess this shows that green cars are a good way to get people involved, some areas have terrible/no public transit.

This point may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that “green” personal-use vehicles are the only way to go. I think that if we’re serious about our society’s sustainability, we need to invest in public transit infrastructure. “Green” publications such as Mother Earth News should take the lead in ensuring this is so.

Any carbon footprint that a person’s auto travel makes will be dramatically reduced if he or she shares a commute with many other people.

According to an executive summary for the first half of the fiscal year, 2011/12 for Lake Transit Authority, Lake Transit recorded more than 200,000 passenger boardings from July to December. “This is a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2010/11.”

Individual route productivity included Route 4A along Soda Bay Road with an increase of 72.8 percent, Route 2, which travels over Cobb between Kit’s Corner and Middletown had a 44.6 percent and the Route 8 loop around Lakeport increased ridership by 42 percent.

The Routes 3, 4 and 7 “intercity backbone” between Calistoga in Napa County through Middletown, Clearlake, Kelseyville, Lakeport and Upper Lake to Ukiah in Mendocino County added nearly 15,000 passengers for a 45-percent increase in use.

So as a commuter who daily rides the bus, that puts me in good company.

I ride the bus because it makes my commute affordable. I pay $40 per month for a rider’s pass that gives me unlimited use of in-county routes. Two days before payday, I don’t have to worry about whether I can put gas in the tank.

With gas prices what they are, I couldn’t afford to live and work at nearly opposite ends of Lake County if I had to commute by car. I am blessed with a work schedule that compliments the times when Lake Transit buses operate.

I don’t need a car when I’m at work and I rarely need a car when I’m at home. Much of what I need is within walking distance of my family’s apartment.

Before I travel by auto, I try to determine first if I could make the trip by public transit. That doesn’t mean I never use a car but it does mean I do so consciously.

I really think our society needs to move in a direction where public transit is the norm.

Emergency responders and news reporters need to travel by car to respond near-instantly to happenings and society should license them to do so. They serve vital roles of public safety and information. But the majority of people do not likewise need to instantly be out and about.

We already buy in to the notion that driving is a privilege and not a right by requiring motorists to be licensed and vehicles registered with the DMV.

It wouldn’t take much more to instigate a system where auto use is based upon the purpose it serves for the benefit of society.

Massive investment in public transit to get people where they need to go when they need to get there is a logical first step toward reducing dependence on personal vehicle use. All the better if public transportation is powered through “green” technology.

Online and print publications such as Mother Earth News are in a position to help shape public opinion about the worthiness of such a venture.

I hope they use this position wisely.

Published Feb. 21, 2012 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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