Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's Green, but it's also Red: An Anti-Ode to Public Transport

Y'know the zebra-stripe-painted Jeeps in the Village?  I'm starting to understand them more.
Remember #6's attempt to rent a car he could drive himself?  Yeah, I'm starting to understand that more, too.
It's all back to private versus public transportation.

In my mind, the two images these two forms of transporation evoke in my mind are:

After booking tickets for a group on Amtrak and seeing the conditions Amtrak lays down, I'm starting to understand why totalitarian regimes love public transport. 

I mean, compare a joyride in a car to a trip on Amtrak:

Private car: You can carry as many people as can fit.  It doesn't matter what their names are or if they have ID.  Only the driver needs a valid driver's license, and that's checked only if you're pulled over.
Amtrak: The names of all passengers must be submitted ahead of time if tickets are purchased in advance.  All passengers' ID will be scrutinized before boarding

Private car: Pile as much junk as you can in the car.  The only limits are physical impossibilities and your own attention and patience span.
Amtrak: You're limited to two carry-ons, not counting your

Search and seizure
Private car: Though the situation is changing rapidly (just ask my brother), a police officer can only pull you over if he has a reasonable suspicion that you are breaking the law.  The Constitution codifies the citizen's right to not have to endure unlawful search and seizure.
Amtrak: Your luggage can be randomly selected to be searched, even if there is no reason to suspect you of committing a crime.

Sure, everyday travel is easy and affordable now.  But look at how much is wrapped up in your ID, even now.  Think about how quickly our public transportation system could change, and overnight.  To limit a person's travel by public transport, a government official could confiscate or blacklist a person's ID.  And whammo.  That person could no longer travel by public transport unless they forged a new ID with suitable information.  Of course, if there was private transportation available, a person could just drive themselves somewhere else.  But what if private transportation was denied to the average citizen, and limited only to government officials?  Or if the freedom to drive was severely curtailed, with passes required to leave your hometown, and checkpoints and mandatory searches were standard fare every twenty miles along the highway?

So call me a conspiracy theorist.  It wouldn't be the first time.  But is anyone else growing uneasy about the average citizen's apathy toward random searches?  Is anyone else weirded out by the fact that at the same time that US automakers are turning bellyup, there's a sudden and "irresistible" (to borrow Calvin's term) call to public transport for the sake of the environment?*  Is anyone else troubled by the golden gleam that surrounds the phrase "gas tax"?  And sure, gas prices are cheap now, but if the government wanted to quash private transportation, what would keep them from jacking up the tax on gas to, say, $20/gallon?

Don't get me wrong.  In certain cases, public transport is great.  I love having the option to drive or to ride the train.  But did you hear the words "the option"?  That means I like freedom.  And that freedom is what threatens the stability of totalitarian regimes.  No freedom is too insignificant to crush if your heart is consumed with the politics of power.

So yes, public transport is "green."  But get this, it can also be "red."

*If these sentences describe you, consider joining The Citizens Against Compuslive Public-Transport.  As members of the environment, we stand against the abuse of the environment in the form of long-lines.

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