Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We need to get out of our cars

The MTA in New York Tuesday said it must raise more revenue and therefore must raise rates for both transit riders and those who use its bridges and tunnels.

It would be the second fare hike in two years. The first one went into effect this year and the next is expected, if approved, in 2009. It would be the second time in the 100-year history of the subway system that fares were hiked in two consecutive years. The only time that happened, so far, was in 1980 and 1981.

The hike would include Metro-North Railroad commuters along the New Haven Line that carries hundreds of thousands of people daily between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

NYC Councilman Eric Gioia said that in this era of nearly $5-a-gallon gas, anything that discourages people from taking mass transit should be eliminated.

He is so right. We must find a way to keep those fares or even lower them. If that means trimming the fat at the MTA, so be it. If it means taking money from highway funds for mass transit, so be it. We must do what it takes to get people out of their cars, especially those who drive alone day after day after day on our crowded highways and parkways and city streets.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is preparing to widen I-95 in the Long Wharf area by one lane and recently chopped down stately old trees to make way for the right-of-way. People in the Howard Avenue area are distressed, they say.

But one wonders where people are when it comes to mass transit. On Saturday, when my wife and I walk to synagogue along Fountain Street in the city's Westville neighborhood, we see big, smoke-belching buses going by with a maximum of two people on board. More often, the driver is the only being on board. My word, at least put smaller buses on those routes during the weekend.

Smart people do ride trains to work or to go to New York for fun, but many people we know drive to New York, even though the gas is high and some parking lots charge around $10 per hour or more.

"We want to be able to come and go as we please," they say.

Most gas pumps have slots into which you put in your credit or debit card to pay for the gas. Reminds me of slot machines in Las Vegas. Those have slots in them, too. I think the one-armed bandits give you a better chance.

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Today, oilman T. Boone Pickens, pictured, appeared before a congressional committee to explain his plan to produce enough power by using windmills. He says we could save
about 22 percent of the natural gas the nation now uses to run electricity-generating plants. If we could power our cars with the natural gas saved under Pickens' plan, that amount of natural gas would lower the amount of oil we import by 30 percent or so, he said.

There are about 7 million natural-gas powered vehicles in the world, but only 150,000 of them are in the U.S., Pickens said. That's pretty sad.

I agree. You can get from any place to any other place in Europe by public transit. In the U.S., you can't get from New Haven to the state's university by train at all or by bus without investing the best part of a day.

We must do better. Yes, riding a bike helps in a small way, but public transit is the answer. Many of the tracks we used to have for trains and trolleys have now been converted to linear parks and bike paths. The bikers and walkers will never let those be retrofitted. Drivers will never let trolley tracks reappear on our major roads.

But that is what must happen if we are serious about saving oil and the environment.


As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama heads for Israel during his well-publicized jaunt through the Middle East, a Palestinian driver aimed his bucket loader at cars along King David Street in Jerusalem.

Before the driver, an Arab Israeli citizen, was killed, he ran over three cars and a bus.

But our friends at CNN didn't say anything about the dozen people whose lives were changed, including one who lost a leg and others who will spend years trying to recover from the physical and emotional trauma brought on by this man who was given an equal share at the Israeli dream. He was a citizen, had papers that allowed him to go anywhere any other Israeli could go.

What CNN and the others were interested in was that the tragedy took place near where Obama was staying. It's in a leafy part of Jerusalem, on King David Street, not far from the Dan Panorama Hotel, where a lot of American tourists stay. It is also close to the King David Hotel, where diplomats stay and on the balcony restaurant of which Paul Newman began his seduction of Eva Marie Saint in the movie "Exodus".

It is also near the tony Yemin Moshe neighborhood, where a lot of Americans have bought homes and well within view of the Old City.

But our guys were only interested in the fact that the incident took place near where Obama was staying.

Speaking of Obama, a poll taken by a right-leaning Israeli publication showed Israelis favored GOP presumptive nominee John McCain by about 11 points, according to a story in the Forward, a New York based left-leaning Jewish newspaper.

The New York Times carried a story saying that Israelis and Arabs in Israel, Jordan and Egypt thought nothing would change no matter who got elected. The Arabs said both candidates would back Israel no matter what because of the American Jewish lobby and its power.

Let's hope they're right.

Until next time...

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