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Archive for Monday, August 9, 2004

Travel options

Alternatives to traveling by private car are getting scarcer all the time.

August 9, 2004

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Even in the face of dire predictions about the rising cost and shrinking supply of oil and gas, it's getting harder every day for anyone in America to get along without a car.

In about a week, Greyhound Lines will discontinue bus service to 260 smaller towns in its 13-state northern region, which stretches from Chicago to Seattle. Among those that will lose service are the Kansas towns of Abilene, Ellsworth, Goodland, Oakley, Quinter, Russell, WaKeeney and Wamego. For most of those cities, the Greyhound route was the only public transportation link they had to other cities. Their only choice now is to drive.

Lawrence was spared from the Greyhound cut, but the same may not be true of Amtrak rail service. Last month, Lawrence city officials wrote a letter to members of Congress after a House subcommittee recommended cutting the Amtrak budget by a fourth and allocating just $900 million for the railroad in 2005. That's half what Amtrak was requesting and prompted a spokesman to speculate that the service might simply shut down if Congress didn't increase its budget.

To be sure, Amtrak, which stops in Lawrence heading west in the middle of the night and heading east in the early morning hours, isn't a particularly convenient mode of transportation. Bus routes also are limited and not always conveniently timed. But it seems that, considering concerns about fuel supplies, it would be the right time to increase public transportation options that might make people less dependent on cars.

It's often said Americans have a love affair with the automobile, and it's certainly true Americans have come to enjoy -- and expect -- the freedom of driving when and where they want. But our attachment to vehicles has some drawbacks, especially when it leads to the demise of most public transportation options.

Not only does it increase the use of fossil fuels, the loss of public transportation increases traffic on the highways and perhaps encourages more marginal drivers to get behind the wheel. Many elderly people might be more comfortable hopping on a bus to travel to another city for shopping, visiting or health care, but if that option isn't available, they probably will drive.

The loss of bus service will hurt many small towns, but given the current ridership trends, reductions in bus and train service were inevitable. If people aren't riding, the service can't afford to continue. But growing traffic congestion in many urban areas and declining oil supplies worldwide may soon force Americans to rethink how they get from Point A to Point B and perhaps start wondering what happened to some of the travel options they used to have.

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