Reader warns of irrational transit-phobia
Every once and a while I get an email that displays uncommon good sense in the face of nonsense. This, from Terry Shepard of Baltimore, is one of them. After passing along some compliments that are too extravagant to inflict on readers, Shepard writes concerning the June 22 Metro crash that killed nine in Washington:
The Sun and other papers continue to run follow-up stories on it and that is understandable. What is less explicable is the employment of this accident by some to spread fear of and opposition to public transit. Auto commuters say "See, that's why I don't ride transit" and even the Sun ran one of its reader polls on whether this would make people less likely to do so.
Meanwhile, a June 30 story in the Sun reports on "a tractor-trailer that plowed into stalled cars in a turnpike accident that killed 10 people" and no one is running polls or saying "See, that's why I don't drive on the highway." (I realize that crash was in Oklahoma, but you get the point.)
This despite the fact, reported in a June 24 story in the Sun, that: "According to the National Safety Council, the number of accident fatalities per vehicle miles traveled is about 14 times worse for passenger cars than trains and subways. Only transit buses are considered safer."
Perhaps you could repeat those statistics and interview a psychologist who works on transportation as to why people refuse to accept this (beyond the obvious answer that many Americans reject facts that suggest they should get out of their cars and ride on public transit with people they don't know.)
As you know and have argued, more and better mass transit are both possible and absolutely vital if we are to avoid killing our environment, our cities and ourselves. Americans must get past their unreasoning fear of transit and you can help them do it:
I have to disagree, Terry. If anyone, you are the one that can help them do it. And just have. Thanks.
I don't think you need a psychologist to explain what's at work: Transit is unfamiliar to most middle-class, auto-oriented Americans. Cars are something they encounter every day. That which is unfamiliar is more scary than what is familiar, even when the familiar is demonstrably more dangerous. Transit also involves contact with unfamiliar people.
The point on the poll is well-taken. It should be noted that it comes with the disclaimer: "results not scientific." Still, it is encouraging that only 17 percent answered yes. And I'm going to venture an unscientific guess that those most of those folks don't ride transit now.