Prop 1 In Austin and Public Transportation

I apologize in advance for those of you outside of Austin, although I do think what I’m about to write pertains to people outside of Austin.  In Austin we are debating public transportation right now.  There is a proposition on the ballot that will fund 9.5 miles of rail and improvements to our roads.  It is called Prop 1 on the ballot.  If you want to support it, vote yes on Prop 1.  Even at a conservative estimate the rail is supposed to take 10,000 cars a day off of the roads.  Why is this a conservative estimate?  Because they want to pass more rail in the future.  In order to do this the first one has to work as promised.  They would prefer it to work better than they said, and not worse, so they are estimating that it will take 10,000 cars off the road each weekday, but in reality the numbers will actually probably be higher.

Here are some things that a lot of people don’t know:

1.  The federal government is matching the City of Austin dollar for dollar.  So those that are worried about price, which seems to be why most people are worried, should know that if we pass it now, we will only have to pay for half of it.

2.  Taxes will not be increased fully until 2020 and then it will be on average of $20 dollars a month per household.

3.  Many people don’t understand why the city is starting with one line.  This is because the last time the city tried to pass rail, they tried a comprehensive plan and it was voted down by a small margin.  This time they are trying to do it a little bit at a time so it has a better chance of passing.  They are addressing I-35, which is the worst road in Austin.  This 9.5 miles of rail also hits a lot of the main parts of Austin including downtown, UT, ACC campus at the Highland Mall, East Riverside, and the med center.

4.  Some people are concerned that it doesn’t go to the airport.  If it went to the airport they would have to deal with Federal Aviation and the price tag would be even higher.  Again, this plan was put into place because they were trying to get something that would pass, based on the defeat of last time, while still addressing a wide number of concerns in the city.

Now those are just a couple answers to people’s concerns that I have heard.  There are things I didn’t bring up, like it will be more environmentally friendly than having all those people drive, It’s the kind of project that Americans need to be doing to get off of fossil fuels, it will provide convenient and affordable transportation for those that owning a car isn’t a reality, and it will make the city more livable.  If you were to ask most people what the worst thing about Austin is, most people would probably say the traffic.

But this proposition is also the moral thing to do.  This is where those of you that are not from Austin should be interested.  Both because of climate change and because of conflicts that arise over oil, we need to be finding ways to diminish our use of gas.  Getting 10,000 people a day, and hopefully more in the future, won’t change the world in and of itself, but it is the start of a lifestyle change that we need to be making.

Those that only think of their own pocketbook are missing the larger picture.  We spend money on all kinds of wasteful stuff in this country.  I’m sure that anyone that complains about taxes probably has some kind of TV or other thing in their house that they could do without if they really needed to.  No one is even asking you to go without such things.  I’m just trying to make the connection that $20 dollars a month towards something that is a public good, that will benefit people at large that don’t even live in Austin, although the citizens of Austin will see the most benefit, isn’t really that much to ask.  This is your chance to do something to make the world slightly better.

I have been all over Europe and Japan and most Americans have no idea how amazing good public transportation is.  It is so much less stressful than driving in bumper to bumper traffic.  You can actually enjoy yourself by reading a book, playing a game, or taking a nap.  When I used to work a day job I worked 12 miles from my home.  It would take me over an hour to get home some days.  I don’t care how good of a day I had, by the time I got home I wanted to dismember people.  Imagine if you could get on a train and read instead of do that drive.  It would make day to day life so much better.  In Japan and Europe public transportation is clean, efficient, and enjoyable.  Sitting in your car for an hour every afternoon inching your way forward is not efficient or enjoyable.  It is also ridiculously bad for our environment.

I criticize the GOP a lot on here.  I am largely criticizing the modern ultra-conservative GOP.  It is totally a fair argument to have to make sure that taxes are not spent on wasteful projects.  Even though I rarely agreed with the more moderate conservatives, I understood where they were coming from and felt that those arguments served a purpose.  The questions that conservatives and liberals should be asking is not should taxes be higher or lower, but are we getting something that makes our lives better through taxes.  If we are not then it is not worth spending money on.  If we are than it is.

The public good is always something worth spending money on.  Public transportation and parks and things of that nature, that make life more enjoyable, are worth committing resources to.  Spending billions of dollars on foreign wars in countries that are of no threat to our security are not.  Can we not see that we often spend money on all the wrong things?

I love this city and I love this country.  But we must admit that as a people we are often wasteful.  Things like Prop 1 are our chance to not only make our lives better, but to be better citizens in the world.  On one hand Prop 1 is about the kind of city we want to live in here in Austin.  But really, it is about so much more.

Let the Train Blow the Whistle When I Go

I had a really enlightening conversation with a professor of mine yesterday.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to excel in his class.  As usual, I already feel like I have too many pots on the oven.  Anyway, we talked at length about global warming and how to get more people interested in renewable energy, public transportation, etc.  He was a pretty positive guy that felt that civic engagement at the local and state level was the key.  Austin is doing some positive things about carbon emissions.  Texas, not so much.

I can’t understand why people, especially those that live in cities, aren’t more enthusiastic about public transportation.  When I was working my last day gig I lived 12 miles from work and it would take me over an hour to get home some days.  By the time you got home you were borderline insane.  You wanted to run people off of the road like Mad Max in The Road Warrior.

I’ve been lucky to spend a good amount of time in Europe.  Travel by train there is just amazing.  It’s comfortable and affordable.  Instead of sweating and contemplating murdering your fellow man, you can sleep, read, play games, stare blankly out the window at the scenery, do work, and flat out relax.

In Austin we have an inner city rail line, but it’s not at a level yet that is very convenient for most people.  However, my professor says that people that do live where it is convenient for it to use are starting to realize the benefits of it and are using it in greater and greater numbers.  Once people realize something increases their quality of life they are more likely to keep using it and will want more of whatever that is.  Change is often slow and frustrating, but it can happen.

I was thinking how great train travel would be if we could really invest in it here.  I know many of you will say it’ll never happen.  Americans love their cars and we are a car country.  But trains are part of American folklore.  There are so many great train metaphors in our language.  There are also so many great iconic train songs in our culture.  Johnny Cash alone sang countless great train songs.  Let the Train Blow the Whistle When I Go, Hey Porter, Train of Love, are just some of the many that he sang.  Elvis sang a version of Mystery Train.  We need to get people dreaming about trains again.  The railroad is full of myth.  It would not only make our quality of life better, but it would also make us better global citizens.  In closing my favorite Johnny Cash train song:


I don’t want no aggravation
When my train has left the station
If you’re there or not I may not even know
Have a round and remember
Things we did that weren’t so tender
Let the train blow the whistle when I go

On my old guitar sell tickets
So someone can finally pick it
And tell the girls down at the Ritz I said, “Hello”
Tell the gossipers and liars
I will see them in the fire
Let the train blow the whistle when I go

Let her blow, let her blow
Long and loud and hard and happy, let her blow
No regrets, all my debts will be paid when I get laid
Let her blow, let her blow, let her blow

You’ll be left without excuses
For the evils and abuses
Down to today from years and years ago
And have yourself another toke
From my basket full of smoke
And let the train blow the whistle when I go

Let her blow, let her blow
Long and loud and hard and happy, let her blow
No regrets, all my debts will be paid when I get laid
Let her blow, let her blow, let her blow
Let her blow, let her blow, let her blow