Paul Krugman has a chart showing that 77 percent of American commuters drive to work alone, and less than 5 percent nationwide use public transportation. But because of sky-rocketing gas prices, mass transit ridership is up about 5 percent in large East Coast cities such as New York and Boston, and up as much as 10 to 15 percent in Southern and Western cities such as San Francisco, Nashville, Denver, Houston, and Salt Lake City.
I’ve just returned from a reporting trip to Phoenix, AZ, where Gov. Janet Napolitano is trying to convince voters to support a ballot initiative that would raise the sales tax by a penny in order to fund a transportation package that provides about $7 billion for mass transit, and would include a light rail line between Phoenix and Tuscon. Indeed, I was shocked and appalled by the rush hour conditions of the highways circling Phoenix — the traffic really does impose a "time tax," as Napolitano calls it. Nevertheless, her proposal is an incremental one; highway funding accounts for over $24 billion of the $42 billion package, almost three times what will be spent on trains and buses. Of course, had the plan been more progressive in terms of prioritizing mass transit, it’s unlikely Napolitano could have convinced Arizona’s powerful homebuilders to support it — which they did. After all, the continued exurbanization of America depends on the car.
I’ll have more on all this in an upcoming TAP print feature looking at Gov. Napolitano and the political and physical landscape of Arizona.
cross-posted at TAPPED