Grim outlook for public transportation

Muni-Bus-Market-street-San-Francisco
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Can we have a functional, effective transportation system in the U.S.? Can we afford not to? Those were the questions addressed by former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and a panel of experts at a full-house 9 AM event at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club Friday. Oh — and how are we going to pay for it all? The program was titled “Funding the Transportation System of the Future.”

“Within the next two decades,” Mineta said in his introductory remarks, “the Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population will increase by as many as 50 million people. This population growth, combined with a growing backlog of overdue maintenance work on roads and transit systems, creates a need for significantly expanded transportation revenues. However, the current political climate is generally unfavorable to tax increases.”

The ensuing discussion continually returned to two general points: first, that our parents and grandparents funded the transit infrastructures and systems we now enjoy and it is incumbent upon us to do the same for our children and grandchildren; and second, as Mineta and others repeatedly said, that there is no political will anywhere to do the latter. One illustration of the first point was cited by panelist William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, who observed that “the New York subway system was built 106 years ago for $35 million — and you couldn’t get a feasibility study today for $35 million.”

Given the fact that most cities and counties could spend $35 million on overdue maintenance alone, most panelist comments and audience questions concerned the issue of finding funds at a time when tax increases are not very popular. “Creative funding” solutions appear to be the answer, even if there is currently far more creativity around than funds.

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute‘s National Transportation Finance Center, cited a public opinion poll released yesterday (“one of those phone calls at dinner time…”) that surveyed 1500 people in English and Spanish to test receptiveness to eight variations of a possible gasoline tax. In general, opposition to such a tax is high, she said, but acceptance increases in proportion to benefits which individuals can see: tie the tax to emissions per vehicle and thus reduce greenhouse gases, for example. Agrawal recommended consideration of taxes linked to environmental effects.

Panelist John Horsley, Executive Director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said that because of funding cuts and declining revenues (from road usage fees etc), the U.S. Highway Fund will be insolvent some time between August and October of 2011, with the resultant loss of approximately 1 million jobs. He cited a few bright spots such as several states going ahead with high speed rail projects, “four states have actually raised gas taxes, Kansas has increased the sales tax, and New Hampshire sold itself a bridge” (which will get paid off through tolls.) High occupancy toll lanes were another potential funding source Horsley said could help until “fiscal sanity returns: investing in something good (rather than) borrowing forever.”

The consensus was aptly covered in one summation by California Senator Alan Lowenthal: “It’s a very difficult time for transportation.”

Whereupon this reporter got back on the #1 California Muni bus (catch a back seat, work on your computer for 30 minutes, no parking fee, no traffic hassle) and went home.

Abortion foes invade NY Metro

A new attack on reproductive rights is underway, this time on New York City subways. As if the Georgia anti-choice campaign linking abortion rights to Black genocide or the Polish campaign linking abortion to Hitler weren’t enough, now we have a soft sell campaign complete with well-dressed women ostensibly traumatized by a past abortion and downcast men who  yearn to be good fathers.  Come on, folks. Is it possible that (often poor, often desperate) women choosing to have an abortion have perfectly good brains, and not many of them have the man in question offering support?

The 2,000 ads, which straphangers (are now seeing) in nearly every subway station, depict either a woman saying, “I thought life would be the way it was before,” or a man saying, “I often wonder if there was something I could have done to help her.”

Many people, certainly including this writer, will have reservations about all this.

“The campaign suggests that feelings of sadness and self-harm are the universal experiences for someone who had an abortion,” said Samantha Levine of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “And there’s no evidence to suggest that that’s true.”

“The organization behind these ads has an agenda,” continued Levine. “They aren’t seeking to help women — they’re seeking to get abortion banned.”

But Michaelene Fredenburg, who started San Diego-based Abortion Changes You (25 years) after her own abortion, says her ads are more about helping people than politics.

“I had an abortion when I was 18,” said Fredenburg, 44. “I had a hard time … I wanted to reach out and say you’re not alone.”

Fredenburg’s agenda could be broader than Levine suggests, or narrower, depending on your degree of cynicism. She has, surprise, a book. You can purchase it on her website at a 20% discount, for $19.95. Plus “outreach materials” that include cards ($20 for 250), posters (set of three, $50.) A disclaimer at the bottom of most pages says it is “not a professional counseling site” or meant to replace such, but you are offered ‘Healing Pathways’ to follow or other readers’ stories to read.

Fredenburg was 8 when Roe v Wade paved the way for her to choose a safe, legal abortion 10 years later. Had that not been the case, she might well have joined the uncounted thousands who died at the hands of back alley butchers rather than lived to create an organization. Contributions are invited, and purportedly tax deductible, although there is no mention of 501(c)3 status. Miscellaneous retreats (and the phone number of a suicide prevention hotline) are listed under the ‘Find Help’ button. Planned Parenthood is notably not listed, although they often help, and they do not force anyone to have an abortion.

I have no reason, other than it seems a great way to sell stuff and make a few bucks, to question Fredenburg’s altruistic intentions in founding Abortion Changes You. (PS, so does an unwanted pregnancy.) But if she is not in cahoots with those who seek to eliminate a woman’s right to control her own body, she is their tool. Should they succeed, women will return to a dark age that today’s 44-year-olds cannot begin to imagine.

When Fredenburg agrees to fight for all women’s right to control their own bodies, and to have access to the safe, sterile, legal abortion she presumably chose for herself, as well as to console others who have long-afterward regrets, I’ll buy her book.

Metro – Don’t look now: You may not like the ads you see.