ratpag Introduces Career Academics to the Outside World

everest-college-commercial-o

ratpag is back!  Did you think we had disappeared after our nearly two-week, unannounced hiatus?  We wouldn’t do that.  We just know how the world works and we just know that you, the reader, weren’t at work the past 10 days or so (ratpag was because ratpag’s job is amazing).  So if you, the reader, weren’t at work then we presume you, the reader, wouldn’t be as apt to check your beloved rail-and-transit-and-popular culture website.  Anyway anyway – we’re all glad to be back at the office searching for ways to pass the time and end another miserable work day.  Happy New Year!

We pick up another year of ratpag with a submission by our New Jersey correspondent…

ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent knows that its readers include many university academics—great thinkers.  To help them understand the world outside academics, here are three ways the university world is similar to the world of rail-and-transit.

“Excessive” Drinking is Encouraged

hard_knockers

Of course we’re using an early 90s Simpsons reference!

People in the academic world are known for their drinking habits.  Colleges are regularly portrayed as places of heavy drinking.  News reports depict out-of-control parties and professors “getting puke-loaded and passing out in bars.”

ratpag imagines that you, the academic reader may be apprehensive about a life in rail-and-transit….well don’t worry:  drinking is common in the transit world too.  Down south, alcohol advertisements may help provide funding for MARTA.  And, since alcohol can be so dangerous if people don’t use mass transit, Portland’s transit system will offer free rides (or did offer – hope you took advantage!) on New Year’s eve.  Sometimes though, like in the academic world, people try to curtail the drinking, and they will institute restrictions on alcohol use when it becomes out-of-control.

Current Events Directly Impact You

You in the academic world understand how current events can impact you directly.  For example, students at Columbia needed to postpone their final exams due to the “existential worry” caused by current events.  If you leave academics for rail-and-transit, current events can still impact you.  The People’s Climate March impacted subway service in Manhattan. And, recent protests have shut down rapid transit systems and Amtrak lines.

You Eat Fine Food

In the academic world, food choices are very good.  WebMD suggests “smart foods” such as oats, hemp seed, beans, and coffee.  Our friends as BuzzFeed list thirty one foods you can make in college!  Choices include oats and chili.  [your correspondent has not cooked thirty one different meals in his entire life, and you could have that much variety in four years of college!]   Business Insider has done the work of finding the 15 best college dining halls.

The world of rail-and-transit is known for its food too!  Amtrak provides its riders with very good food options and is even generous enough to subsidize some of the cost.  At New York’s Pennsylvania Station, the food court is enjoyed by commuters and locals alike.  The Taco Bell in the food court earned a respectable 2.5 Yelp stars, but for the selective eater, the location a block south on 8th Avenue scores an even 3.0 stars.

Hopefully our academic readers can see the similarities between the college life and the rail-and-transit system.  And if due to graduation, lack of funding, or a misguided decision by a tenure committee; they leave the academic life, they will feel right at home in the world of rail-and-transit.

Back to your ratpag editor here.  Tune in later this week as ratpag introduces a new installment titled ratpag’s Book Club.  Our first book will be The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis.

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ratpag Wishes You a Merry Christmas and Shares a Traditional Holiday Recipe (With Holiday Tunes at the Bottom)

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the ratpag family to yours!

Are you alone?  ratpag is often alone.  It’s ok.  We have something that should cheer you up:  a wonderful single-serving recipe of spaghetti with meatballs (but with a twist!).

First, a gentle **WARNING**

  • Be careful with boiling water and a hot oven!!  Despite the name, oven mitts can be used for handling oven ware and stove top items.
  • Our writer advised that we warn that Bud Light is only for those 21 years or older.  Frankly, in this golden age of beers, Bud Light should be restricted only to those seeking at least 12 consecutive hours of beer consumption on a hot summer day.

Now this recipe is easy.  Easy-peasy.  It does take about 45 minutes, so have a couple Bud Lights beers ready to go.  Remember:  you’re not trying to impress anyone.  You’re alone.  Feel free to get a little sloppy – it’s the holidays.

1.  You’ll need your ingredients:

ingredents

  • 1 box dry spaghetti
  • 1 container Parmesan cheese
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 two-pack of meatballs & mozzarella Lean Pockets

2.  Warm oven to 350 degrees

preheat

3.  Place Lean Pockets on foil-covered baking sheet and insert into heated oven.  Use extreme caution.

cook the hot pockets

4.  Boil spaghetti noodles as directed on box.  Use caution.

cook the spaghetti

5.  Remove cooked Lean Pockets and boiled spaghetti from heat sources.  Be cautious.

cooked hot pockets and spaghetti6.  Cut Lean Pockets into bite-sized pieces.  Use caution when handling knife.

chop up the hot pockets

7.  We presume our correspondent carelessly forgot to include this step:  but open can of spaghetti sauce.  Be careful when handling removed can lid.  Also, we’re uncertain why sauce wouldn’t have been heated sooner.  Part of magic.

8.  Place Lean Pockets in spaghetti bowl (as we can see, some sauce has also already been placed).

put the hot pockets on the spaghetti

9.  Add tomato sauce and cheese.  Be mindful of potential splattering.

add sauce and parmasan cheese

10.  Enjoy your dinner!  Merry Christmas!

enjoy your dinner

And, of course, ratpag hopes you aren’t truly alone on this holiday or any other.  Whether you are alone or not, kick back, relax and forget all your worries with some Christmas tunes.

(Give it a second to wrap up the preceding song.)

Posted in Buses and/or Alcohol, ratpag Goes Off the Rails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ratpag Takes a Break From Ranting to Dust Off an Old Holiday Favorite: The Link Dump (Retirement Version)

May we all be so fortunate to live to such an age.

May we all be so lucky to reach a happy retirement.

Oh my!  You, the reader, must have been quite distressed as you waited, and waited, and waited for more rail and transit news from ratpag.  Are there other sources for transporation news?  What would you do if ratpag retired?

Luckily for you, ratpag has not prepared for retirement.  Unfortunately for you, ratpag has closely analysed the rail and transit system and, by doing that, it has completed many of the steps recommended by the BBC to retire by age forty.

Stock up on money before you retire:

Transit riders have long been stocking up on tickets, passes, tokens, and swipes before fare hikes.  Up in Toronto, token sales were suspended as riders were hoarding them in preparation for a January fare hike.  Down here in the New Jersey region, the PATH system limited our correspondent to putting 140 rides on his “SmartLink” RFID tap card prior to the latest fare increase.  Across the Hudson, the MTA invalidated monthly MetroCards that were bought before the latest fare hike and not used within a few weeks after it took effect.

Spend a lot of time preparing to retire:

Followers of transit news are well aware of the need for planning.  Out west, in Minnesota, they’re planning train service between Minneapolis and Duluth.  Planning will take at least another two years, and service wouldn’t start until 2020.  In Baltimore, planning for a new rail tunnel to bypass an existing choke point in the Northeast Corridor has been going on for years, with no signs of a happy resolution.  In Arizonia and Utah, planning has made the transportation system better for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Reduce your expenses:

Reducing expenses is very common for transit systems.  In New Haven, they have reduced their expenses by scaling back plans for a renovation of their Union station.  In New Jersey, money for transportation is scarce…..so scarce that people speculated the governor would raise the gas tax!  And, out in Wyoming, expenses are being reduced by using more efficient street lights.

Consider your family:

When planning for retirement, it’s important to consider your family’s expenses rather than just your own.  Will you be buying Christmas gifts for your children?  Maybe you want to send your family on a trip?  Amtrak can help do that with their family vacation packages.  Look at all the places your family could go!

Test it before you jump in completely:

Retiring could be quite a shock to the system!  ratpag has had its agents try to retire and see if it is possible:  the shock of going back to into the workforce was overwhelming.  Luckily the rail and transit system provides examples of trials and tests.  For example, Oklahoma will test rail service between the biggest cities in that state, with the hope of it becoming permanent.  Oregon plans to test a vehicle miles traveled tax, rather than raising the gas tax.

There you go!  Hopefully you are well prepared to retire, and you can begin contemplating where you should go when you retire.  Perhaps North Carolina, Texas, or Utah.

Another great way to prepare for retirement:  be the MLB commissioner.

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ratpag Finds Ways For You to Save Time Because You’re Busy and You Don’t Have Time for That Shit (Pro-Telecommuting)

So many of our sources that discuss the benefits of telecommuting are over 10 years old. Why? Is it because ratpag isn’t thorough? Is ratpag lazy? Is ratpag simply not credible?

No. Don’t let yourself ever doubt ratpag – we only use the best resources when discussing some of the most important issues facing our fragile society. So who’s to blame for our dated material? Everybody?

Our first report, published sometime around 1992, comes to us from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Transportation Impacts of Telecommuting is a lengthy patchwork report presented in small print font featuring travel forecast models extending all the way to 2002. Why do we even bother mentioning such a report? To show you just how short we’ve fallen from these projections.

The year was 1992 and optimism was on the rise in America. Boyz II Men’s End of the Road topped the charts, the nation said no to Perot and elected potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, president, and the Major League Baseball strike was two years away. Department of Transportation researchers saw a nation with 2 million telecommuters, averaging 1-2 days per week, and forecasted a boom in remote working that could only be thought practical and sensible given the potential positive impacts and ease with which the rapidly-evolving technology would be adapted.

We never did see their 750% (to 15 million) projected increase in telecommuters (averaging 3-4 days per week) by 2002. Nor did we realize the 35.1 billion annual vehicle miles travel saved, the 1.679 billion annual gallons of gasoline preserved, the 110.3 hours saved per year per telecommuter, or the litany of other dollars, reduced emissions, or general saved time for all realized.

So what do we have? The New York Times reports (taking statistics from the American Community Survey) that telecommuting “now makes up 2.6 percent of the American work force, or 3.2 million workers.” That’s nearly one-fifth of the upper-bound projections (for 2002) from the DOT report! But we can’t cherry-pick forecasted data from such an old report and treat it like gospel.

Break:  So what else happened in 1992?  George Bush vomited:

bush

The L.A. riots:

Sides_LA-Riots-4_525

And the Cold War formally came to an end.  What a year!

So how about another old report? The California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) published a report on (supposedly) January 1, 1998 titled The Costs and Benefits of Telecommuting: An Evaluation of Macro-scale Literature.  Oh God.  For ratpag’s sake, and the sake of our readers, we’re only going to focus on the first part of that title.

The good PATH people cited the same DOT paper that we mentioned above, which validates us, as well as a few other interesting studies that either show a) how wildly inaccurate telecommuting forecasts were in the 90s or b) how complacent, unwilling to change, or unmotivated society is as a whole to embrace a potentially significantly beneficial new approach to work-life balance.

As with the old ratpag – we report, you decide.

So many figures to pick out. A 1994 Department of Energy study projected 17.7 million telecommuters by 2005 – a figure that would rise to 29.1 million by 2010. We didn’t quite do that! Oh, here’s one: “telecommuting could result in the avoided construction of between 2,900 and 4,500 freeway lane-miles and 4,400 to 6,700 arterial lane-miles” at a savings of between $12.97 billion and $19.96 billion. To be fair, those figures were for between 1994 and 2010 – so nearly $1 billion a year – which is good for about 0.167% of the U.S. defense budget. That just doesn’t make it seem like so much.

You don't have to be in an office to do this.

You don’t have to be in an office to do this.

So of course ratpag is pro-telecommuting. And the New York Times wrote positively of it in a trend piece from earlier this year (not two decades old!), what with their mention of home-based employees working “9.5 percent longer” than office workers (we’re not in favor of that), “13 percent more productive,” and also happier with quitting rates halved. So what? (To be fair, the study cited by the Times also noted that home workers were “promoted at half the rate of their colleagues working in the office.”)

But what about other – real – organizations like the American Enterprise Institute? They’re for telecommuting, too! Yes, the AEI – the same one featuring “The Honorable Richard B. Cheney” – this same Richard B. Cheney – says telecommuting is good for workers and bosses.

We won’t pile on more numbers and facts – many of what they cite was mentioned in the Times article – but just look! Telecommuting saves time, it saves money, it leads to less emissions, it reduces stress, it’s promoted by conservatives, it’s promoted by liberals, it’s promoted by socialists – there are very few downsides. So let ratpag get deep here: all that’s stopping us is ourselves.

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ratpag Quantifies Just How Much Commuting Sucks out of You

Some things don't change at ratpag.

Some things don’t change at ratpag.

Studies often look at the cost of people sitting in traffic – presumably delayed getting to work, not buying stuff, whatever – due to congestion. That’s all well and good. But how about the cost on a good day? The cost on a day with no traffic – how much are Americans essentially paying for the joy of going to work?

Hmm…Census data is a little old (from 2009). The Census report does show that the average travel time to work was 25.1 minutes in 2009. When the Census started asking about travel times, in 1980, the average commute was just under 22 minutes.

So how to determine the cost of commuting – that purgatory between the heaven that is not being at work and the daily hell that is the 40+ hour work week? Well, you could go through some old DOT reports. That sounds fun, right?

Loads of fun.

We dug around for some info and came across, well…not a report. More like a “MEMORANDUM TO: Secretarial Officers and Modal Administrators.” We skimmed.

Dated September 28, 2011 – long before your author’s wild rollercoaster ride through the DOT – the memo rambles on about the need to determine the value of travel time and uncertainty and impact and whatever. The real stuff that we found includes “for local personal travel, VTTS [vehicle travel time savings] is estimated at 50 percent of hourly median household income.” In 2009 the median household income broke down to $23.90 per hour, meaning the VTTS for personal travel would be $11.95 per hour.

That’s all well and good, but is commuting really “personal travel”? According to the DOT memo: “In some cases, commuting is treated as a separate category, intermediate between personal and business, but more frequently it is included in personal travel.”

Now that’s bullshit. We don’t agree with that. We realize that you’re not likely to live at work (though our argument for more telecommuting follows this post) but we also realize that 25.1 minutes x 2 (for the round trip) x 5 (for a full work week) = 251 minutes commuting per week. That’s a lot of minutes – that’s a lot of hours!

110315_beck_chalkboard_605

Using the DOT’s $11.95 per hour personal travel rate, those 251 minutes come at a cost of $49.99 per week (this just for time – not factoring gas, transit tickets, extra congestion, and the like). That comes out to $2,599.52 for a 52-week work year, though we hope you get some days off in there.

Obviously, based on the DOT’s personal-time-is-50-percent-as-valuable-as-business-time formula, that cost would double if you considered your commute as entirely business travel ($5,199.04 per year). To be fair, even we can’t consider a commute as entirely business travel, but why not split the difference? Commuting, again, is that purgatory between work and pleasure, so why not consider it as being between work (100%) and personal (50%) travel – so 75%? We’ll call this the ratpag method. That gets us a 52-week cost of $3,899.28. That’s no small amount. ratpag operates on a $0 per 52-week budget. Could you imagine what we’d do with $3,899.28?

So we think it’s safe to say that commuting costs you something – your time is worth something and you’re spending that time on what’s at least partially a work-related expense. Whether you think that our numbers are ridiculous (they very well may be) or that those 251 minutes per week are just the cost of doing business, well, we aren’t likely to sway your opinion.

What we do hope you agree with is that those 251 minutes per week amounts to a lot of wasted time that could be put to more productive use. This leads us to our next post arguing for the much greater, much more widespread use of telecommuting (or teleworking, or simply working from home).

So come, join us, as we continue our never-ending crusade to keep people out of an office (while still getting paid) later this week.

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Happy Holidays – ratpag Returns

It’s true:  ratpag is back.

So what brought us back?  And what exactly were we doing all that time?

It’s been an interesting few months since we began our hiatus (we struggled over whether to call it a hiatus or sabbatical).  We got into a new form of gambling (we didn’t do well).  We studied the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (didn’t take).  One of us bought an electric piano!  But try as we might, we couldn’t sustain a diversion long enough to distract us from all the transportation needs that the world needs us to resolve.

You lost your job, didn’t you?

We did not (yet) lose our job.  Nobody lost any jobs.  It’s just…it’s that someone is considering this progress?  Philly is no longer using tokens and that’s progress?  ratpag remembers the time it first walked into a SEPTA station – no one around, no apparent ticket machines or employees of any kind – and walked right to the platform to wait for free mass transportation to arrive.  ratpag then got a little uneasy – still no other people around, unsure how a city like Philadelphia could afford to operate a free transit system given the state of its above-ground environment – and left.

But those 90 second – 2 minutes, tops – of free mass transportation felt like progress.  This break from tokens is just silliness.  It shouldn’t be news.  SEPTA should be embarrassed to announce this.

So ratpag returns in search of real progress:  free mass transportation for all.  Short of that, we’ll take just discussing the the wide world of transportation news.  And also bitch about work and stuff.  And Uber.  We had changed our tune on Uber – now they can’t be trusted!  And how about the possibility of another government shutdown??  That’d certainly impact transportation funding a bit.

Most important of all, we return because we know you need ratpag.  You crave it.  Look, we get it.  It’s well-written, it’s funny, it’s very well-presented – the complete package.  So we know that you need us.  And, maybe just a little, we need you, too – but not as much as you need us.

Anyway, give us some time to get our voice back.  We may drop the we, at times, and throw in some I’s.  We’ll get off-topic a bit, because non-stop transportation coverage can be boring and monotonous and we don’t want to beat a dead horse.  And we’re going to start fresh!  Phase 1 of ratpag was great – no doubt – a solid rookie season, but we’re beyond that now and will see where we go in Phase 2.

The schedule is that there is no schedule, as of yet.  We’re just gonna sort of freeball it like Rolling Stone for a time and see how that works out.  So be sure to check early and check often whilst ratpag re-establishes operations!

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ratpag Re-Opens For A Very Important Post

anigif_enhanced-28321-1415206404-8

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

An Ode To Quitting

quit

There’s been a lot in the news lately about certain people quitting – just plain old giving up – and some of that must’ve stuck somewhere in ratpag’s little rat subconscious.  One of ratpag’s favorite pastimes is quitting – in fact, we quit covering rail and transit just two days ago.   We used to post five days a week!  We quit doing that.  We quit transit for a week.  We covered Scotland’s vote to quit the UK.  We begged you time and again to quit your job.  And we know we’ve referenced our favorite Freakonomics podcast – about quitting – well…at least once.  Do you see what ratpag’s getting at here?

Don’t worry – we know our readers are a bit slow (certainly ungrateful).  You’d have to be if you actually continued reading ratpag for the last 7 months – 156 posts (we’ll count the 5 August best-ofs)!

So ratpag is proud to announce that post #157 (today’s post, for our continued slow readers) will be our last.

Does this mean ratpag is dead?  No.  As we mentioned long ago, ratpag can never die.  But ratpag will certainly cease normal operations immediately.

Where will I go for my rail and transit (or recreation and travel) news?  ratpag found this website to be of great use in gathering rail and transit (and, we presume, recreation and travel) news.  Try it!  Many of our Link Dumps found material in the AASHTO daily bulletin, which may explain our great inability to get Link Dumps posted in the AASHTO daily bulletin.

So if ratpag isn’t dead, but most certainly ceasing operations…how is ratpag not dead?  Great question.  We’re sure ratpag will pop up at random conferences, raining ratpag business cards and informational flyers about, and there’s always the possibility that ratpag could return again someday if a certain person becomes an unemployed person once again.  We give it a 50-50 shot; though, if that were the case, ratpag would probably have to start charging actual membership dues.  Extremely lightly-read free-to-access blogs don’t pay the bills and do not qualify as a tax write-off, despite our best efforts.

So, that’s it, huh?  Sigh…sadly, yes.  Your ratpag writing staff is off to explore other unpaid writing outlets, maybe even back here on WordPress, who knows.  Maybe we’ll even find another paying one again, someday.  Which brings us to our final talley:

  • ($35 received for one non-Failed Submission Friday entry) – ($18 spent on ratpag.com domain) = $17 net gain from ratpag operation (not including time spent)
  • 157 posts
  • 4,173 spam comments blocked
  • 5 unpublished, incomplete drafts of posts
  • As of September 30, ratpag received 2,859 views (presumably some of those were not bots, though likely not many)
  • Our best day was April 24, with 96 views, for The Greatest Conference Paper Ever Written
  • Our worst day was 0 (repeated).  There were a couple of those in late May.  Mass layoffs as a result.
  • Our best month was July, with 558 views.
  • Our worst month…it’s hard to say.  After a late February start and a moderately successful twitter spamming campaign in March we sort of plateaued in the low-to-mid 400s once April rolled around.  With that said, June was kind of shitty with only 363 views.

So that’s about it.  ratpag must be bad at goodbyes because we’re just rambling on.  Time for us to ride off into the sunset.  We’ll let you know through another major spamming if we’re back or moved on to something else.  Otherwise, thank you for reading and we’ll sign off with this – our most overly-referenced TV show:

(Maybe picking the clip with the anti-transit overtones was a mistake.  Good night everybody!)

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ratpag Goes To An All-New Format

ratpag is proud to announce that, as of 12:01 am today, we are, without prior warning, switching formats from the former all-talk rail and transit programming to all-talk recreation and travel programming.  ratpag will be known henceforth as the “Recreation And Travel Progress Advocacy Group.”  How fortunate that such a name will be able to retain the same “ratpag” acronym!

Why the format change?  Well, unlike most news outlets, ratpag actually has the self-respect and dignity to will itself to put forth an honest effort day after day.  Alas, after 155 posts over 7 months focusing solely on rail and transit (kind of), we’ve kind of run out of ideas.  So instead of running out the same tired ideas around slightly modified themes we felt it might be nice to focus on a new topic even more near and dear to ratpag’s little rat heart.  But don’t kid yourselves – 155 installments is a lot!  Not to compare ourselves to Seinfeld, but they had 180 installments – we were pretty close!

In any case, ratpag will keep abreast of rail and transit news as it pertains to recreation and travel but will not focus on it as we had in the past.  What kind of schedule will we keep?  Who knows.  We’ll keep the usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday thing for now and see how that goes.

But, ratpag, I don’t care about recreation and travel.  Tough.  You have no choice but to read ratpag.  Better start liking recreation and travel.

ratpag, will you continue loosely-citing, at best, quotes and information from other, more reputable websites?  Yes.  Though we hope to have much more original material (we learned that focusing on rail and transit often only made available such original material as rat enjoys bagel and lengthy, detailed insults – those will still remain and be expanded upon).

ratpag, I was led to believe that I was supporting a public transportation advocacy group – an important cause in a world with so much inequality where access to affordable transportation can open the doors of opportunity to those in greatest need.  Can I get a refund on my membership dues and continuing financial support so as to redirect them towards a more worthy cause than travel blogging?  No.

Well, we’re pretty busy changing the website around so better cut off the questions there. Further inquiries can be directed to our marketing team TBA.

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Transit Could Save Trillions – With a “T” – By 2050

Um, ratpag’s not entirely sure how legitimate our two sources – the Environment News Source and Sierra Sun Times (found at goldrushcam.com) – used in this post really are…but let’s just go with it and see what we come up with.

So the word is that the world could save “more than US$100 trillion in public and private spending…between now and 2050 if the world expands public transportation, walking and cycling in cities,” as found in a report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and U.C. Davis.

In addition, “an estimated 1.4 million early deaths associated with exposure to vehicle tailpipe emissions could be avoided by 2050” as a result of the “reductions in carbon dioxide emissions reaching 1,700 megatons per year” (not to mention, presumably, fewer auto deaths from reduced driving).

So?

ratpag isn’t here to dissect such data or tell you how to think.  That’s not how we operate.  We’ve always stood by our original “we report, you decide” motto.  So have at it.

Here’s an infographic to help you decide:

Why might it also be a good idea to invest more in transit?  According to a trend story from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “young people are twice as likely to take public transit than middle-aged Americans, and seven times more likely than those ages 60 and over.”

Yeah, but that’s because young people are poor and apathetic about car ownership and growing up.  Maybe.  But, according to the article, even when young people start growing up and doing “grown up” things, they are “still more apt to ride a bus or train than their parents.”

ratpag’s going to give you a conclusion to all this and we’ll let you decide how to get there.

  • Increased transit investment could save $100 trillion over the next 36 years.
  • 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided over the next 36 years from increased transit investment.
  • More and more young people are comfortable with using transit even as they grow older.

What should we do???

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