Some Things Just Don’t Scale

I’m writing this posting while riding the infamous Maryland MTA train. It’s a light rail, the kind of public transportation that we keep being told that we need. My friend and I just left the annual Shore Leave science fiction convention, and are traveling the roughly 22 miles (as the crow would fly) back to his home, where I am a guest of him and his family. And on Friday, he and I traveled to DC on another train and back.

This trip cost us $3.20 total, and he says it will last a bit over an hour. In his car, if he’d not left it for his wife, it would have cost us about $6.50 in gas, but saved us over half an hour of time. Not to mention the seats would have had more than a slight trace of padding over the hard metal/plastic/stone that’s currently numbing my butt.

This, in a nutshell, is why “high speed rail” simply won’t work in America. At least, not on a scale large enough to make it economically self-sustaining.

We are Americans. We are used to our independence, our freedom of movement. There simply aren’t enough Americans (outside of highly urban areas) who have to go to and from the same places at the same times, and are willing to put up with the inconveniences that go with the economic benefits.

Inconveniences as the aforementioned time factor. Or the (pardon me while I cover my ears yet again) the squealing of the steel wheels on the rails. Or the constant stopping and starting and having to keep track of which stop is yours. Or the occasional crowding and being cooped up with a bunch of people you quite possibly would rather not be around, for various and sundry reasons.

Likewise, public security. Israel’s airport security is touted as the ideal, the role model. But Israel has exactly one major international airport, and it’s considerably smaller than our biggest ones. The efforts that make Ben Gurion such a secure airport would be simply too expensive, too time-consuming, and too manpower-intensive to work on the scale we would need them.

But that doesn’t change how current security measures are an absolute joke. While in DC, I ran into several security screenings. One of them was so I could get some fast food.

No joke. My friend and I saw a sign indicating that the Ronald Reagan Federal Building had a food court, and we went in – and I promptly concluded that there was a covert airport installed in the building. It was the only explanation I could see – the food at the Subway was NOT a national secret.

My faith in the security process was further eroded by my observation that most of the security guards seemed to have the main duty of telling us not to believe the signs we saw. One guy in the Commerce Department informed us that we could not reach the National Aquarium through that building – while standing under a sign that said “NATIONAL AQUARIUM” and had an arrow pointing down a hall to the right. Other guards repeatedly told us that doors marked “EXIT” were not actual exits, but we had to find other ways out of various and sundry buildings.

The only reason I can see to push things as “high speed rail” is to exert control over people. To limit their options and force them to give up their freedom to just jump in their car and go where they wish, when they wish, for as long as they wish.

Yes, that’s not a freedom that all can exercise. A lot of people don’t have cars. But that hardly seems a reason to strip the right from all.

Unless, of course, your goal is to get people used to depending on an impersonal government to provide for their needs. To get them to stop doing for themselves, to even stop thinking that they can or should do for themselves.

That is one of our greatest strengths as a nation. And yeah, sometimes it’s not such a great strength, or can actually be a bit of a liability. (Cue the environmentalists to tell us how wasteful private cars are vs. mass transportation.)

But it’s indisputably American.

Last Weekend's Caption Contest™ Winners
Sarah Palin: "I do believe that I can win"