Maryland Senator Ben Cardin: America Needs Transit, Now

cardin.jpgThe $1.7 billion in public transportation funding promised by the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act would be a step in the right direction, but it pales in comparison to what might have been. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act — the cap-and-trade bill that died in the Senate last month — would have brought 100 times that much in federal transit investment, thanks in large part to Senator Ben Cardin. In a recent interview with Grist, the Maryland Democrat offers a refreshing perspective on the future of US transportation policy.

We are in desperate need of significant transit improvements. We’ve got to have the facilities and we don’t today, and then we need the fare-box and economic policies that reward people for taking public transportation. Some try to say that it should be "self-sufficient" or have a certain percentage return through the fare-box. We don’t do that on our roads, and public transportation is much better for so many reasons — not just the environment or the quality of life. We should be providing much stronger incentives for people to use public transportation, but first you need to have the facilities.

I’m a big, big supporter of dramatic change in public transportation. It includes more than just the bus and rail systems in our urban areas. It includes a commuter rail and inner-city rail — the whole gamut of services that get people out of their personal vehicles. I don’t want people driving their personal vehicles the way they are today.

Even in the era of $4/gal gasoline, not many elected officials would go on record with such heresies. But that may be changing. Gas tax "holiday" talk has all but evaporated over the past few weeks as pols promote transit as an answer to higher gas prices. And a column in today’s Boston Globe predicts that Senator John McCain’s dogged and sustained effort to undermine Amtrak could create an opening for transit-friendly Barack Obama heading into November.

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