Monday, June 01, 2009

Sorry, Mike, I Still Love My Car

I'm generally a fan, to an extent, of Michael Moore. He's more left than I am, but we don't have enough unapologetic blowhards on our side to counter the shout 'em down tactics of the O'Reillys, the Hannitys, the Becks. He's a little obnoxious from time to time, and he's about as fair and balanced as Fox News, but he leans the other way, and I'm kinda OK with that.

So I find my reaction to his reaction to GM's bankrupty to be about par for the course. I'm right there with him, like "Fuck yeah! Preach it!" with him for the first third or so, then the "Uh, OK, but maybe with some caveats" for the second third and then "Uh, whoa, pull back the reins on the crazy horse" for the last third.

To wit:

I'm with him on almost all the points he makes in 1-8. Convert GM auto production into production for light rail, bullet trains and other mass transit? Check. Hell yeah. If we ever want to even start dealing with the multiple problems of our oil dependency and all the various problems it causes, viable mass transit is a must. I have to admit, the thought of being able to take a light rail to Dallas in two hours and then a bullet train from there out to Chicago or San Diego or New York in a little more than the time it would take to fly fills me with glee.

And hey, I'm all for tax credits to gently push both industry and the public at large to build and then use this mass transit, until the sheer convenience makes it a viable commercial option. So tax credits, but tax credits that don't auto-renew, but need new renewing legislation in five years, and then again in three years, etc. So that in five or six years, we don't wind up paying people not to grow corn, metaphorically speaking.

My big disagreement with him, though, and it is a huge one, is something he says early on where he basically indicates that cars as a form of transportation need to go away entirely. And then in point nine, he says something that is, quite frankly, monumentally stupid, saying that we need a two dollar a gallon tax on gasoline.

See, here's the thing. Cars are almost always going to be a better form of short-distance transportation than mass transit. They're on your schedule, you can take as many or as few people as you like, and you can go exactly where you want. And until the mass transit system is in place, making gas twice as expensive is like punishing the common man for the excesses of the rich and the industrial. Suddenly folks can't afford to go to the store, go out to dinner, etc. and local businesses take the hit. Worse, think what it would do to the trucking and commercial airline industry, and what the resulting freight increases would do to businesses who rely on being able to get goods from across the country.

Also, while I'm all for creating more energy-efficient cars, with an eye towards cars that run on an alternate fuel source (no oil) entirely, I'm not onboard with eliminating cars and trucks. We don't *need* iPods, or videogame consoles, or films (even the documentary kind) any more than we *need* cars, but that doesn't mean it's not OK to want them. Driving can be stressful, it can be a pain in the ass, it can be a necessary evil to get you to your job, and if that's true, hey, mass transit is a great alternative. But it can also be fun to drive. It can certainly be necessary. For example, if you need to get to the hospital because your wife is in labor or your kid has hurt themselves in a way that isn't quite bad enough for an ambulance, but in a way that makes waiting at the train or bus station a less than pleasant alternative.

Let's not throw away a perfectly usable 20th century invention just because it still has some 20th century problems. Let's evolve it into a 21st century version of the useful machine, to work alongside these new, futuristic mass transit notions.

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