Letter: Let’s get serious about public transit

Metro - A Charlotte Lynx train pulls into a station on the Blue Line, a $463 million electric light rail system that started operating in November. Ridership has exceeded expectations, and the rail line is credited with spurring redevelopment projects and increasing property values. (Photo by Charlotte Area Transit System) ¬ ¬ Published Date 7/09/2008: A Charlotte Lynx train pulls into a station on the Blue Line, a $463 million electric light-rail system that started operating in November.

Rapid growth of the Charleston area has focused attention (though not much) on the subject of transportation. About two weeks ago, a mayor of one of our suburbs commented that the rapid growth will create severe traffic problems. He further said we can’t afford trains, so we’ll probably try buses.

I understand his frustration with the attitudes of the state and federal governments regarding mass transportation, but his proposed solution fails to recognize the real problem we face.

People want to get to work every day and to get there quickly. Buses usually make the rider’s situation worse, as they run on existing streets and highways, make multiple stops and face the same kinds of delays that individuals driving their own vehicles do.

Rail transit, on the other hand (or buses running on their own right-of-way) can avoid traffic problems and allow riders to reach their destinations faster — if they go when and where the public wants.

In the early days of railroads, roads were either nonexistent or so bad that trains allowed passengers to reach destinations much more quickly.

City streetcar lines were originally successful because most streets were unpaved, and horse-drawn vehicles, and even early automobiles, could not travel as smoothly or quickly. All of this was tossed into a cocked hat when the powerful American auto industry promised everyone that he could live where he wanted and travel quickly and independently to his destinations.

Early railroads focused heavily on passengers; freight was an afterthought. How things have changed. So we focused on building highways to allow independent travel. But we have learned that the more highways we build, the more cars get on them, , so local and regional travel becomes more frustrating and time-consuming. Further, we have not maintained the highways and other projects languish for lack of funds or local resistance.

Many metropolitan areas have recognized that they must do something about this. According to the June edition of Railway Age, more than 50 U.S. cities have rail transit in final planning stages, under construction or in operation. Unfortunately, Charleston is not on that list.

As one of the most rapidly growing areas in the country, we need to evaluate seriously the need to provide efficient transportation for our working population.

I hope that the senior officials of Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties, and perhaps others, will soon get together and direct that a serious plan be developed — along with a public information program that will get the population “on board” with the goals and objectives.

Fritz Saenger

Cove Bay Lane

Mount Pleasant