Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, recently made headlines for his negative comments on public transportation. At an artificial intelligence conference, Musk apparently said “public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end?”
In his defense, he brings up a valid point- public transit can be highly inconvenient and add unnecessary time for commuters. Still, as a fan of his potential Hyperloop that would connect New York and Baltimore, I’m disappointed in the elitist undertones of his comments. Public transport is often viewed as a second-rate mode of travel, smelly, something for the masses. These elitist attitudes on public transit hold us back as a society and help the automobile proliferate. It prevents us from coming up with innovative public transit options.
Here in New Jersey, we can see how elitist attitudes towards public transit can make its way into public policy. For example, building a second tunnel under the Hudson River was once in the works. This would alleviate much of the congestion going into Penn Station. In 2010, former governor Chris Christie halted work on the Hudson River project, fearing New Jersey would be stuck with big cost overruns. The $1.8 billion that was pledged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on this project was redirected to road and bridge repairs in northern New Jersey. Since work was being done on the Pulaski Skyway, millions of dollars went to subsidize ferry rides to and from Hoboken and Jersey City to ease traffic. Operated by the company Seastreak, the ferry carries 154 total passengers, or 77 round trips. New Jersey pays Seastreak $7,200 a day (or about $94 for each round trip). to keep trips affordable for a tiny proportion of commuters. The issue at large is whether it’s right to prioritize the needs of a small proportion of commuters instead of strengthening infrastructure that would benefit the majority.
It’s quite obvious that public transit has a multitude of advantages. It increases mobility and accessibility in communities. It provides jobs and drive economic growth. It can help save money. It reduces congestion. It’s also better for the environment- nationally, public transportation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline and reduces carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. I think in New Jersey especially, we will have to incorporate public transit in a climate action plan. According to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state at 46.3%. To progress as a society, we must view public transit with enthusiasm and appreciation, and most importantly, choose it whenever possible.