Is the Generation Gap Having an Impact on Public Transportation Policy?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Blogger Joe Baur of the Article 3 blog ran a fascinating analysis on the impact that the generation gap between Boomers and millennials may be having on pubilc transportation policy. His argument was that unsustainable, car-based urban sprawl development has been fueled (no pun intended) by a Boomer car culture that grew up seeing automobile ownership as a central part of the American dream. Baur believes that public transit is largely being blocked by a resistance to change on the part of the older generations who still hold the reigns of power.

There is certainly some kind of disconnect going on, but age alone may not be the source. The source may actually be the increasing disconnect between career politicians and their constituents, regardless of age.

Rob Perks of the Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog offered highlights from an American Public Transit Association (APTA) poll which says that the majority of Americans do want more public transit options. According to the poll:

  • 63% of Americans favor new public transit options over constructing new highways to fight traffic problems.
  • 59% of Americans would prefer to have more public transit options so they don't have to drive. Many people see driving as an unpleasant, dangerous chore.
  • 76% of Americans want to use public transit as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
  • 75% of Americans are willing to see tax dollars used to pay for more public transit.
  • 73% of Americans acknowledge the role that public transit plays in creating economic growth in their communities.

It's true that members of Gen X and Gen Y are leading the way when it comes to moving back into urban areas specifically to take advantage of public transportation options. It's true that these are the two generations who either want to drive less or skip the costs of owning a car altogether.

But older Americans need public transportation, too. Many elderly people come to rely upon public transportation when they can no longer drive.

So why aren't politicians listening? Are lobbyists from certain industries and special interest groups deafening them? Are their votes based on outdated policy paradigms that no longer apply in the 21st century? Are they just stubborn?

In the end, the reason doesn't entirely matter. Baur's parting advice to his readers applies whether the issue is a generation gap, willful stubbornness or corruption. If you want to see sustainable transportation development in your community you might just have to run for office yourself to get it.