, Newburyport, MA

September 19, 2013

'Car free' week gimmick is out of gas

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Many people may not be aware that this is “Car-Free Week” here in Massachusetts, a time when it becomes official state policy to berate people for driving to work.

Car-Free Week, surprisingly in its fifth year in Massachusetts, is meant to coincide with world Car-Free Day on Sept. 22. The day is a project of the World Car-Free Network, a loosely knit international organization dedicated to trumpeting all the negative effects of the automobile while neglecting to mention any of the positives.

In Massachusetts, Car-Free Week is promoted by the Department of Transportation, which encourages those who must travel to their jobs to “try a green commute at least one day throughout an entire promotional week.”

“We felt that it was important to recognize that not all commuters can commute green on a daily basis,” said Rebecca Cyr, a spokeswoman with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “... The goal is that they will incorporate sustainable trips into their daily commutes all year long.”

MassDOT is even offering prizes to those who take the public transportation plunge. A $50 gift card will be awarded each day, and two grand prizes of a $150 gift card will be awarded at the end of the week.

It’s silly that a Massachusetts state agency would latch on to a global crusade against the automobile, among the foremost freedom and productivity-enhancing inventions in human history.

There’s nothing at all wrong with people who choose to ride their bicycles or walk or take public transportation to work. If it’s a viable form of transportation, that’s wonderful. They do so for a variety of reasons: for the health benefits, to opt out of stressful commutes or even out of a personal commitment to protect the environment. The point is that their alternate method of getting to work is their choice.

But for the bulk of us, “alternative transportation” is a non-alternative. Many must commute long distances to work, to places where public transportation does not exist.

If our state government thinks we should give up our personal vehicles, perhaps its time might be better spent actually providing Bay State citizens with a functioning public transportation system instead of the inefficient, delay-plagued, patronage-ridden, fiscally bankrupt hack-o-rama we have now. The MBTA is a disaster on rails, carrying some $5 billion in debt. Facing a $161 million deficit last year, the MBTA raised fares by an average 23 percent while cutting back on service. The system requires regular infusions of taxpayer funds to remain solvent. It offers employment, retirement and pension packages that are way out of whack with the reality of its economics.

The sad truth is, if a significant number of drivers took the Department of Transportation up on its car-free challenge, the MBTA would collapse like a Big Dig sinkhole.

Promoting green-friendly stunts like “Car-Free Week” is foolish in the face of the all-too-real challenges facing our public transportation system. The Department of Transportation ought to leave those driving to work alone so long as it is incapable of providing any realistic, functional alternative to the personal automobile.