While, in this country, we constantly flap our jaws about being "green" and talk about renewable energy resources and the conservation of gasoline, Europe and Japan have, for years, been involved with "mass transit" systems that are more environmentally responsible.
We are truly "pigs" when it comes to ground travel and air travel. We are a country of one-person-per-car and we prefer cars over public transportation. What's worse, our preferred means of regional transportation (movement between major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco or Detroit and Chicago) is usually by automobile and by gas-guzzling short-range jets and not by train. Further, we move most of our freight by truck when short-haul freight trains would be more efficient.
When we hear our politicians talking about saving the planet or reducing our dependence on foreign oil, no one talks about mass transportation as a means, available right now, of reducing emissions and oil/gasoline consumption. They would prefer to talk about "pie-in-the-sky" things like hydrogen fuel cells that may be a two decades or more away from full implementation.
The trick to getting America off its love of the automobile is to make public transportation extremely affordable and more convenient. First, we need to subsidize mass transit so its cost is attractive. Second, we need to be smart about where we apply mass transit. There are natural "high volume" routes that could easily get cars off the road. (I live in Las Vegas and there are thousands of cars that almost commute daily/weekly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; and vice versa) Third, it should be fast; certainly faster than by car or airplane. This means the application of high-speed "bullet-type trains" and the use of limited-stop express trains that ride separate spurs. Fourth, there needs to be convenient end-point modes of "fan-out" transportation such as compact rental cars, buses, and short-haul commuter trains.
The Federal government needs to take the lead. The reason we have so little regional transportation in this country is because too many government agencies are involved. In order to make something happen, local and state authorities have to work with other local and state authorities; and, mass transportation isn't their priority. But, as a nation, it should be!
Image by AndreasNygaard on Flickr with Creative Commons Licensing.