Government should encourage public transportation

January 14, 2008       Editor: Dave Uphoff
Everyone has felt the impact of higher gas prices. Heating our homes and driving our vehicles has become a very expensive proposition. As it appears that high oil prices are here to stay, we find ourselves in a situation that requires new solutions and changes in our life style.

I was thinking about this as I was driving back to Minonk from Bloomington the other day on I-39. It occurred to me that there is a 60 foot ribbon of grass between the two sets of lanes that has to be mowed and maintained by the state. Then I thought - why not run a railroad track down between the interstate median and have inter-urban transportation between Minonk and Bloomington?

You laugh? In 1929 my father and mother took a train from Minonk to Bloomington and then caught the inter-urban train, which was like a big street car, to Peoria and spent their honeymoon at the Pierre Marquette Hotel. Trains were an essential part of our transportation system 70 years ago. They not only ferried passengers between communities, they also hauled most of our freight.

Minonk had a passenger depot for both the Santa Fe and the Illinois Central. My father actually drove a taxi for Charlie McKeon's garage in the 1920's. He would pick up passengers from the train depots and drive them to their homes.

However, the advent of cheap oil, the inefficiencies of our railroad companies, the political clout of General Motors to get Congress to encourage bus transportation over streetcars and trains, and the American love affair with their automobiles led to the demise of rail travel. But the ever increasing price of oil changes everything.

Ridership on Amtrak has improved dramatically due to not only the increased cost of driving a car but also because of the traffic congestion in our cities. The expense of driving an automobile will eventually lead Americans to be more like Europeans by depending more on public transportation. Europe's gas prices have always been much higher than ours. Subsequently, railroads and streetcars are much more important modes of transportation in Europe.

Like Europe, the United States will have to become more reliant on public transportation not only because it will be less expensive but because it will make us less dependent on foreign oil. And like Europe we must also subsidize our transportation system. Congress is attempting to come up with more money for Amtrak to enable it to increase the number of routes and passengers it can carry.

There is talk of having a rail line running from Chicago to Moline along I-80 and also a rail line from Chicago to Peoria. That would make more sense than building another interstate between Chicago and Peoria. Unfortunately, President Bush with his 19th Century blinders actually wants to cut back on the subsidies to Amtrak.

Another possibility is to create more public bus transportation between communities. With the aging of our population, many of us will not be able to drive or even want to drive as we get older. Having public transportation available will allow the older generation to still get out and about. At a certain age it makes more sense to get rid of the expense of a car and pay as you go for your transportation whether it be a train, bus, or taxi.

A Utopian vision of the future would have a rail line running along or through the middle of our interstates connecting all major cities. There could be smaller trains, buses or streetcars for smaller communities and large trains for the big cities. If such a rail service would become available, I can see taxis ferrying people in Minonk to the train or bus station and when they get to Bloomington or Peru there would be shuttle buses between the transportation station and the major shopping centers. Sort of like shuttles at the airport.

The emphasis on building new interstates started by Eisenhower in 1957 has reached its natural end. It must be replaced by the development of a new public transportation system just as grand in scope and even more important for our nation's security. It will not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil it will eject us from our solitary confinement in our cars into the collective social gathering of fellow passengers. No more road rage - just good old friendly conversation all the way to Bloomington. This idea may seem far fetched for our generation but future generations will have to adapt to a new life style that minimizes the use of our earth's resources.

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                                                             Viewer comments on this editorial

rtFI1 wrote on 11/28/2011 at 15:33:34
rtFI1 wrote on 11/28/2011 at 15:33:51
OTHER TOWNS wrote on 1/25/2008 at 14:23:50

Its ok for basketball and football to be played in Minonk all the time. Sounds like its ok for other people to drive or take the train except for you(minonk people). Others spend just as much in gas to come there.

Baseball wrote on 1/18/2008 at 09:22:50

The Baseball team can take the train to Wenona since the school board voted to move baseball back to Wenona again after the city of Minonk put all the money into their fields.

Jack Daniel Devine wrote on 1/16/2008 at 15:07:44

There are slight remnants of the electric train that ran between Decatur and Peoria with overhead electricity. These trains were not defeated by competition but by the powerful oil lobby.

Your all forgetting wrote on 1/15/2008 at 11:36:53

American auto industry killed our rail system. There is no way now it can ever catch up it would be nice to step on a train and get to work everyday on time, but realist rural communties the rails die in the early 80's. Now the hybred cars are set-up for city driving also if you drive any distance you don't get any better gas milage than a regular small car. The goverment needs to subsides some schools to come up with an clean alternative safe fuel. That the american people can put into their car and drive 300 mile fill up in minutes and be on their way. But don't fund schools to come up with this give the money to big oil on top of the billion they are making in profits

Piper Payer wrote on 1/15/2008 at 10:04:43

The interstate system was developed for national defense purposes(quick mobilization and transportation in case of war) and funded by the federal government as part of its constitutional responsiblity to "provide for the common defese." Faster personal travel times were a welcome byproduct to many (but not to small towns that lost traffic). Without government the interstates there'd be more train use and less truck use. Now there's an idea. :)

Wind is the Answer wrote on 1/15/2008 at 10:23:29

Water's not the answer. Put wind turbines down the center of I-39. When your car runs out of juice on the way to Bloomington, roll into the nearest turbine station for a recharge.

Editor wrote on 1/15/2008 at 09:53:15

To Piper Payer: Was the government funding of the interstates capitalism or socialism? Where would the trucking industry be without the government building the interstates?

Water Is The Answer wrote on 1/15/2008 at 08:10:11

I think instead of polluting the air with fossil fuels from cars and trains we should use that center median as a river. Dig it out a little deeper and then have water taxis like in Venice. Then at every stop a new driver can take over so their arms don’t fall off. Then on date nights for those who have them can have a gondola serenades to add to the romantic trip back & forth from catching a meal and a movie in Bloomington.

Piper Payer wrote on 1/15/2008 at 08:19:39

Dave, most tax payers don't want to pay more taxes so that the government can decide which programs to fund or cut. The governement doesnt' have a good track record managing that. The free market is better at dtermining what services people are willing to have and pay for. At the point our current means of travel become too expensive, the market will allow other cheaper means of travel to enter and reduced demand will push the more expensive means from the market unless they adjust to safisfy the services demanded. You need to have more faith in capitalism than Europen socialism.

good idea but... wrote on 1/15/2008 at 08:05:59

I dont think the total overall cost of the project would be covered by the number of residents that travel from Minonk to Bloomington everyday.

Editor wrote on 1/15/2008 at 08:07:37

To Piper Payer: You pay for government programs by raising taxes or cut spending and subsidies on other items. If the government doesn't fund it then we will keep paying more for our current mode of transportation ourselves through higher gas prices At least this program would benefit the average person and not just benefit special interest groups we now subsidize.

Piper Payer wrote on 1/15/2008 at 07:18:40

Just one thing Dave.... How will it be paid for? I guess I must have Bush's "19th Century blinders" on too.

Dave have you noticed wrote on 1/15/2008 at 03:56:16

That they pulled up all the tracks, so unlike Europe we do not have the infrastructure to handle it with out billions. Also unlike Europe Amtrak is always late