Skepticism is the Mother of Security August 1st, 2005
By RailPAC President Noel T. Braymer — The July 7th bombings of London transit has set off a wave of panic, which is just what the bombers wanted. There are calls to spend massive amounts of money to increase security on all forms of public transportation, comparing the situation to security at the airports. Yet even the pundits admit that Israel, the most security conscience nation on earth hasn’t been able to stop bombings on their buses. These bombings are not random acts of thoughtless violence. British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s popularity even with his own Labour Party was hitting an all time low. He hoped to shore up his image by hosting the G-8 economic conference in Scotland. That way he could be seen with rock stars promoting help for impoverished African counties. Bombing London while this was going on was a way to rain on Mr. Blair’s parade. The train bombings in Madrid in March 2004 were timed just before the Spanish National elections. Their purpose was to weaken an already unpopular Prime Minister because of his support of American involvement in Iraq. It is unlikely that Al-Qaeda will be bombing Fresno anytime soon.
Security is very important for public transportation. It saves lives, for example on the train tracks. It saves money in reduced legal liability and vandalism. It encourages ridership, because safety is a major factor in how people decide to travel. But turning every train station and bus stop into mini-airport terminals will be massively expensive. It will turn people away from public transportation by slowing travel time, and will come from money needed to expand service. The main problem is such a knee-jerk reaction distracts us from the underlying cause of today’s terrorism: OIL!
The problem is our continuing dependence on oil, and the instability of the counties we depend to supply it. We now import 58% of our oil. Some 42% of our energy consumption comes from oil. The U.S. burns 45% of the world’s production of gasoline. We use 60% of our oil consumption for transportation. The United States has about 2% of the world’s total oil reserves. There has not been a major new oil discovery since 1962. Current oil reserves are expected to last about 60 years.
Oil prices are increasingly unstable. Saudi Arabia has admitted that it will have difficulty meeting current demand. There is increasing evidence that the most productive oil fields in Arabia are starting to dry up. Arabia should be a wealthy country. If you are a member of the Saudi royal family, you are wealthy indeed. However, Arabia has a population of 22 million with about 6 million foreign workers. Official unemployment is around 13%, but including women in the workforce, the unofficial unemployment rate is between 24 to 30%. There is a great deal of poverty and hostility in Arabia to the royal family. In turn the royal family is increasingly dependent on the United States to stay in power. This may explain why much of the leadership and money for Al-Qaeda comes from Arabia.
What’s the worse that could happen? Perhaps we could look at Iran. We depended on the Shah of Iran as our ally. He depended on us to stay in power. Officials in Washington were caught off guard when his regime was overthrown by revolution. Our relations with Iran are still far from normal. If we do nothing, or continue as we are, things could get very ugly.
What we could do – and should have done – is to raise taxes on gasoline and “gas guzzlers.” We should raise the minimum fuel efficiency of new cars, and rebuild and expand the national rail network for both expanded freight and passenger service. We could lower fares on buses and trains, which would be justified in saving fuel and dollars being sent overseas. There are many transit projects waiting for funding. Perhaps most importantly we should encourage construction of affordable housing that is well served by transit and commuter rail, and close to jobs and shopping served by transit and rail. If these things were easy, they would have been done long ago. But would you prefer an armed security officer on every bus with a bomb sniffing dog? That is assuming there is any fuel left for the bus.