What’s more, cutting off this cascade of federal dollars to the most profitable 1% of American industry would be popular. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found that three quarters of respondents favored"eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries" – a.k.a. cutting them off from the federal trough.
Every year, our gas-dependent highways turns more into parking lots, with increasing commute times as Americans drive 2.9 trillion miles. That astounding number comes from Randy Salzman, a transportation demand researcher and author of the upcoming “Yes We Can: Getting Americans to Back Away from the Steering Wheel.”
So why not make a clear dent in this dismal swamp by allowing mass transit riders to ride for free, eliminating countless car trips? The price of imported oil would drop significantly, saving more dollars to grow our national economy. Fewer tailpipe emissions means our air would be cleaner, taking a bite out of global warming and health concerns. Working blue collars just scraping by could more easily go to work – and students to school - without first investing thousands in a car and insurance and repairs. We would have fewer traffic jams – and lessen our need for Xanax. Thus, our nation would be stronger, less dependent on imported oil, and healthier.
But instead of talking about this, we are debating whether the President is responsible for the increasing price of gas, and how a President Newt Gingrich fantasizes about driving down the price of gas to $2.50 a gallon (Given rising third world demand, especially China and India, this is a pipe dream). So, what’s wrong with this picture?
Days ago, anonymous New York Occupiers put this question to the forefront. Wearing masks and gloves to hide their identities, they chained open emergency gates at numerous subway stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They also taped over Metro Card readers, rendering them inoperable.
Meanwhile, an official-looking sign at one station read “Free Entry, No Fares Collected System Wide, All Times. Please Enter Through the Service Gate.” Thus, “tens of thousands” of riders rode for free, as Priscilla Grimm, 38, publicist for this action, told me in a phone interview.
For sure, breaking the law is not the proper way to make a point. Nor was the proper way for “Indians” to invade British ships in Boston Harbor, throwing British-taxed tea overboard. Oh wait, those “Indians” are now considered patriots whose Boston Tea Party helped launch the American Revolution. Could Occupiers likewise be onto something big?
Last November, news coverage of Occupy activities peaked at 14%, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Since the Zuccotti Park eviction, however, coverage has fallen to under 1%, even as Occupy’s theme of income inequality has taken center stage in the national dialogue. The movement is struggling to reassert itself, and pushing a clear cause like this could be a game changer.
“Like you’ll find in anything, you can’t stick to the same thing, ” Brian Grimes of Occupy told the New York Times in another context. “Whether it’s education, health care or protests, you can not be static, and you have to change your tactics.”
Bill Csapo, a spokesman reached through the Occupy website, concurred that Occupy should push this cause. Free mass transit “has not been a specific Occupy issue, but it would easily be implied,” he said in a phone interview.
“America’s entire transportation industry is geared towards cars,” he continued. “Currently, nearly everyone accessing transportation has to have access to autos. And even after we pay for the cars, we still have to pay for paving and then maintaining our roads and parking lots.”
In addition, he said, interstate highways, which are more often used for local transportation in cities such as Los Angeles, “are a subsidized transport system. So what we are really talking about is not something new, but about re-allocating resources.”
Think of Los Angeles’s Red Car system, which once connected the entire city – from the valley to the ocean - into a cohesive whole still speckled with orange groves. That system lasted until the 50’s and early 60’s, when government authorities reallocated resources away from the Red Cars, the last trolley running in 1961. Instead, the city is now carved up by freeways.
Occupy’s proposal is simply to reverse the priority – away from freeways and back to mass transit. “We have done this before, and we can do it again,” concluded Csapo. As in World War II, when the country shifted much of its resources from car manufacturing to manufacturing tanks, “we’d be using the same type of machinery, perhaps even the same machines, to create new things such as subway cars and busses. And yet, nobody talks about this.”
A gridlocked Congress, which refuses to repeal the oil subsidies while members receive huge campaign contributions from those they are supposed to regulate, won’t do this. Nor can a President running for reelection. If anyone is going to push for this, it’s got to come up from the grass roots.
Isn’t it time?By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist