Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the impact of transportation

In case you didn't see it, the UNplanner put up a thoughtful reply to my "cities, suburbs, country?" post. S/he has also developed these ideas on his/her blog yesterday, titled "The Importance of Transportation." S/he draws on William Catton, who I also posted about recently, who lays out the idea that trade allows people to enlarge their scope of resources. And as the UNplanner points out, trade is dependent on transportation.

Here is how s/he weighs in on the three options:

...Basically, if you live in the suburbs you will eventually find yourself cut off from food, supplies, employment and just about everything else needed to survive...

...As shortages mount, the transportation and distribution network will no longer be able to ship all of the required goods to all of the urban inhabitants. ... Equally important, wastes would not be able to be properly removed and would likely buildup and foster disease. In an urban area with few other acquisition options, increasing hunger, poverty and social discontent could likely fuel the conditions suitable for riots, crime waves and other ill effects...

...While it is true that transportation interruptions would affect the countryside pretty hard, the low overall population and greater distances from the urban and suburban settlements will serve to protect rural outposts from raiding or looting that could occur as order breaks down.

Food for thought.

Andy Brett at the Gristmill posted about transporting people, specifically the alternatives to driving and air travel coast-to-coast. I live 2,700 miles from my family. If I were driving:
  • at $2.50 a gallon, gas would be $307
  • at $3.50 a gallon, gas would be $430
  • at $4.50 a gallon, gas would be $552
  • at $5.50 a gallon, gas would be $675

Ad the cost of hotels on the road, and at some point I would start to consider taking the train. The fare range looks to be $400-$600, and its faster.

If I were flying, the latest figures are $420. I can't guess how the prices will go up to reflect the increase in oil, but they might be substantial. At some point the train will be a viable option, even with the increase in travel time. Brett suggests:

Two ways to increase the appeal of rail ... might be be to:

  • make it faster; or
  • reduce the opportunity cost involved. A [laptop] plug at every seat would be a start; internet access would be a huge pull. Cheaper sleeper cars would also help, since part of the cost of a coach ticket is the possibility of bad sleep for three nights -- right now that NYC to SF ticket jumps to $739 for a sleeper car, but that does include meals for three days.

We need to stop taking transportation for granted and recognize its significance, especially in the light of increasing fuel costs. This is another reason for getting what you need locally.


karlof1 said...

Hi Liz--Transportation during the depression was actually an asset: ever read about hobos? There was actually quite more freedom then. Today however, mobility is constrained if you're a human, yet freeflowing if you're cargo.

The questions to ask regarding transportation are what needs to be powered and how will they get powered? Think of a spaceship; Life support systems' transport needs to be powered by whatever means. What is life support defined as: Water distribution and waste evacuation systems and the power systems they rely upon; agricultural production and primary food distribution systems and the power systems they rely upon; lastly, police, fire, rescue, hospital, educational, and associated support systems.

This seems like a lot, and it is, but it's not. There is no military, and there no provisions for privately owned vehicles. These would exist, but like owning a horse, you have to feed it yourself somehow. Only so much can be powered by biofuels and alternative sources of electricity. And what can be powered must be used to support life first and foremost, not useless militaries and their supportive govenmental and corporate bureaucracies.

Some of the above conclusions/suggestions were arrived at during the depression and carried over into the war effort of the 1940s--another time of shared sacrifice on the home front that often gets ignored except for the occasional Rosie-the-Riveter platitude. One big difference between then and now is that people then were tougher and more accustomed to brutal economic swings which accounted for their toughness; we today are quite soft.

Liz Logan said...

Good points karlof1! I have just started to read about the sacrifices of WWII. Mostly what I know about it are the leftover progaganda materials that encouraged people to make those sacrifices. I wish our leadership would start doing that with us.

Jay Denari said...

Hi, Liz & karlof1,

And what can be powered must be used to support life first and foremost, not useless militaries and their supportive govenmental and corporate bureaucracies.

I wish that were true... but I suspect that a fuel shortage will be doled out to the military first on the grounds that military organization/command structure can supposedly best ensure that the necessary services are maintained.
(In fact, it'll be b/c the govt will realize doing so is their last gasp of maintaining control in a situation they'll define as "chaotic" but which might in fact be a chance for local communities to establish some semblance of uniqueness & independence.)

Also, as far as public transit (which I entirely support) goes, here's what the Repubs seem to be trying to do, from Redstate.org. We need to watch them carefully...