Kash Jain ’24
One of the key points of recent infrastructure plans, including the Build Back Better agenda, has been transportation. Voters and politicians alike have expressed a clear view: we need to invest in transportation.
Two critical issues must factor into any decision made on transportation: accessibility and climate change.
Public transportation networks are critical to allowing people to move around — people across the country, especially in urban environments, rely on buses and rail to get around. However, we have not seen significant investments in public transit at the federal level. While some states and cities have managed to effectively fund transportation and maintain both quality and accessibility, the US as a whole lags behind much of the world; Our infrastructure, including transit, is slowly crumbling.
Public transportation does not merely allow people to get from one place to another. Broad, high-quality transportation networks offer easier access to schools, jobs, and services. However, 45% of Americans lack access to transit, leaving an alarming number of people without a reliable, publicly-funded method of transportation. This lack of access makes it significantly harder for many to simply get around. While cars and bikes can work in some instances, and some cities are walkable, this still leaves many — especially elderly or disabled Americans — without an accessible mode of transportation. In order to ensure that everyone has access to various services, jobs, and education, we need to invest in and expand public transportation.
The breakdown of America’s public transportation has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic — an area that was already underfunded has grown even more so. It is past time for a large-scale, federal investment into repairing, modernizing, and expanding American public transportation. The bipartisan infrastructure bill would provide $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, a step in the right direction for increasing access to public transportation.
There is also another important consideration when it comes to transportation investments: the climate. In an era where climate policy has taken the forefront in many policy debates, environmentally friendly policies have grown in popularity. In 2019, the transportation sector accounted for 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it an area where investments to reduce emissions are critical. Expanded access to public transportation will undoubtedly benefit the climate by helping reduce reliance on cars and shifting some transportation to more efficient methods. However, expanded access to public transportation does not solve the car problem outright. Car usage cannot be cut out entirely, but we can work to make cars more environmentally friendly. The electric vehicle (EV) industry has made great progress in the last few years. Investments in EVs will not only create jobs, but they will also help the environment. Incentives in the form of tax credits can help shift more people over to EVs, lessening the overall negative impact of cars on the environment.
Some have argued that the production of EVs also causes pollution and is therefore not a path worth pursuing. While production pollution does occur, the long-term damage done by cars that use gasoline are far more damaging than the production and charging of EVs. Incentivizing EV use is clearly the right option. Even if this would not outright eliminate car-based damage to the environment, it would cut down on it, making incentives for EV usage worthwhile.
Congress needs to pass these investments, built into the Build Back Better agenda, to combat climate change and ensure that all Americans have access to public transportation.