It depends on what you mean by “we.” If we’re talking about public money, or mostly public money, personally I believe expanding rail would be a better choice, for two reasons. First, light rail and high speed rail systems are cost-effective over the long term for moving large numbers of people and changing transportation behavior, as the experience with Portland, Oregon’s “MAX” system has demonstrated. Secondly, I believe that infrastructure for electric cars–I assume we’re talking primarily about charging stations–will eventually be provided by private industry rather than through public works. Electric cars are coming, there’s no denying it. They’re already popular in India, and automakers see a huge potential market here in the US. Just like gas stations sprang up on every corner in the early 20th century to support the increased use of the automobile, somebody somewhere will figure out that money can be made by installing electric car charging stations. I don’t think we need public money for that. Private corporations, however, don’t have either the resources or the access to land and road infrastructure that is needed to design and build an effective rail system. That has to be done with public money. So, while I think we can and should have both high speed rail and electric cars, I think they will come from different sources.
There has been a lot of discussion around high speed rail in California surrounding the 2008 proposition for the California San Francisco – Los Angeles bullet train. California passed the proposition and obviously has great interest in more efficient public transportation. That being said, all of California is designed around car usage, even big cities like LA, so to make the biggest change without completely reshaping the US lifestyle, investing in electric cars is the way to go. I believe a combination of more public transportation and a stronger push forcing people into using hybrids or electric cars is the best option.
As far as what I see, high speed rail would help people traveling in or between cities – and only those who already use public transportation. Most people who have cars will be unwilling to switch to using rail, and will use it rarely if at all. On the other hand, an electric car infrastructure (along with some decent incentives or penalties to make people shift to it) would reach the vast majority of population.
I’d make another point though – I wouldn’t support either project really unless they go hand-in-hand with clean energy production like solar and wind. Burning fossil fuels to charge electric cars and run trains is not my idea of efficiency or helping the environment.
I think we do, yes. The government should fund more infrastructure projects and join the rest of the industrial world that has great public transist systems in their big cities. Few U.S. cities have the kind of public transit needed to help people get around and live effectively without cars. These systems are good for the environment, and should be part of the discussion when people talk about the goverment going green.
I think we need to focus on both. However, I do not believe that trains will catch on as quickly as cars. Many people like having the ability to travel from door to door, not have to go to train stations. As sad as it sounds, this is the truth. We should mainly focus on cars because they are not losing any popularity. Many families have a bunch of cars nowadays.
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