Michael Moore suggested 9 action points to President Obama regarding the bankruptcy of GM. Bottom line of his article: convert GM’s car factories to mass transportation factories and promote energy efficient technology. Basically I would agree, though, I think it’s only one side of the medal and that there are a few more things one might consider:
Working on symptoms never cures the disease. Transportation needs are caused by urban planning. I’ve seen Jacksonville, Florida and I can’t possibly imagine how an urban structure like that one can be run by mass transportation. Providing public transportation services for such spread out areas – I’m talking about population densities as low as 970.9/sq mi in Jacksonville compared to 12,172.3/sq mi in Boston with decent public transportation for instance (source: Wikipedia, see map below) – is a tough task, and not very cost efficient or green. Urban sprawl at such dimensions leaves in most cases no other options than to rely on cars.
Other ways of individual transportation – bicycles, walking – require shorter distances to daily services (groceries, schools, doctors, etc.). Again, a large residential area and a huge mall somewhere along the highway make it impossible to introduce anything but car transportation.
Apart from being the most unpopular word in that country, increasing taxes on energy prices, like proposed in point 9, will hurt poor people first if the policy is not balanced out well. Wealthy people don’t care as much about gas prices, they can afford better cars and probably live somewhere close to city centers where they don’t even need them so much. Poor people on the other hand are the ones who have to take a 2 hour daily commute in an old inefficient car to get to work or bring kids to school. Taxes are an interesting lever in transportation and energy policy, but not the holy grail.
Rethinking urban structures, transportation and energy policies is a time consuming issue. It took almost a century to create the status quo, it’s not gonna change in a single presidential term of 4 years. I believe this country must be prepared for a long way ahead.