Monday, December 03, 2007

My Most Recent Local Activism Attempt--Reviving the Interurban

When thinking of ways to improve and sustain my community in the event of higher energy prices (which anyone reading this blog would most likely agree is a given), I wrote the article below in an attempt to create dialogue within the community and to spark ideas. There was a nice response to my article in the Sunday newspaper but it hasn't been published online yet. I will include it in another blog entry when it comes up.

I would've worded some things differently in hindsight but the issue was a burning one in my mind at the time so I just typed it out and hit send after a few revisions only. I guess my writing habits have worsened with the advent of discussion boards where one tends to "freewrite" whatever is in mind at the time of writing! Oh well...I threw it out there anyway!

Read original article here.

— Someone with experience recently told me that it takes about 50 years for an idea to be accepted by a community and become a reality. For example, the Hoosier Heartland idea was birthed in 1960. So I am beginning now. My idea involves transportation of the public kind — local mass transit.
Many years ago, in the early 1900s, I believe, there was local public transit here and elsewhere known as the “interurban.” It was an electrified light passenger rail car that traveled to and from surrounding points such as Kokomo, Peru, and Royal Center, etc. The interurban eventually lost out to the automobile. I would like to see it return and service the people all points along the ways of Winamac, Royal Center, Peru, Monticello, Delphi, Flora, Lafayette, Rochester and Kokomo.
Why? Because energy is not likely to be any cheaper in the future than it is today. The most recent credible reference to evidence my claim would be Nov. 19th’s front page of the Wall Street Journal and the most recent outlook report from the EIA. Some would argue that alternatives such as ethanol and biodiesel will take the place of oil in transportation. However, it’s not generally understood that any alternative will cost as much or more than oil. Even if we quit using foreign oil, we will still pay a price for any alternatives or domestic oil. At some point, it will take more energy to extract any oil, requiring two or more barrels of oil to produce one barrel of oil. This is based on “energy returned on energy invested.” When it costs more to get that oil out of the ground, refine it and transport it, the cost will be so high no matter where it comes from that the average person won’t be able to afford it and demand destruction will develop. Hence, the price will not be able to be logically lowered due to decreased demand because it will cost more to produce that one barrel of oil no matter what. There is also the potential of supply not being able to keep up with demand. Either way, the future price is going nowhere but up.
So, what advantages would an interurban passenger rail have for our area? I have three initial answers: College students, drunk drivers and low wage homeowners who don’t work in their hometowns.
Presently, this region is blessed with many schools of higher education including Ivy Tech, Indiana University and Purdue among others. Speaking from personal experience, many adult learners who attend these schools to improve their future have a difficult time providing their own reliable transportation. An interurban rail line would help them do this without worrying about a reliable vehicle and the cost of gas during their quest for a higher education. An interurban would also accommodate those younger students who live on campus to come and go to this area if they have no transportation of their own.
Also, many people who love the nightlife and like to come into town or drive out of town often need to have a designated driver. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Those who decide to drive back while drinking pose a great risk to themselves and others as some do.
An interurban would allow enjoyment of food and commerce around the region that might otherwise be passed over and could reduce the risk to our well-being via drunk drivers on the road.
Most importantly, I think of low-income wage earners working outside of their counties. Not only is there a personal cost of transportation but also a cost of the viability of each county. If the cost of transportation doesn’t decrease (which I believe it won’t), these populations of people will end up moving closer to their employers and any home ownership they may now have in said county may bring a decrease in tax revenues from property taxes to local income taxes if they decide it’s not cost effective for them to remain here and travel every day. In simpler terms, our tax base could decrease. An interurban could allow this group to remain in the area, keeping revenues in place.
I’ve no knowledge of what must be done to make this idea a reality. I’ve nothing to help with the cost of the project, although I believe a regional/community investment such as this would pay for itself in time by keeping people here as well as alleviating hardship on the local subcultures mentioned above.
All I have are ideas. This would not only require the efforts of our local leaders, but they would have to work in conjunction with the other leaders in the surrounding communities also potentially serviced. It could be a joint regional effort. Too costly? What about interurban buses?
In 50 years, it might be more costly when people can’t afford to travel to their workplace or attend school for lack of cheap transportation. Hopefully, some of the leaders of the community are reading this and will understand my call for an “interurban revival.” Who will follow my cue?
Gwen Ashby is a resident of Logansport.

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