The first stop on the international showcase of high speed rail that I am writing for CleanTechies, will be in Germany. As much as I try to avoid writing in first-person narrative, this topic is quite close to my heart as Germany (where I lived for most of 2002-2003) is where my eyes were opened to how great public transportation can be and how it’s presence or absence severely affects quality of life.
The calamitous state of transportation in the US became apparent when I returned to my old Pennsylvanian home. Being thrust back into the car-dependent nightmare is still the source of much of my angst to this day.
Deutsch: Durch Erfahrung wird man klug.
English: Through experience man becomes clever.
It is my highest possible recommendation to go to Deutschland and zip around on their stellar 300 km/hour ICE (InterCity Express) trains. Take in the sights while enjoying a cold Franziskaner and dream of the day when you can travel with such ease in the good old US of A (be sure to save up beforehand because our dollar is pretty worthless over there). Amenities abound with roomy reclining seats, air-conditioning, wi-fi access, a full bistro and a television if you want to spring for first class. Long distance ICE trains can move you about the country at great speeds and seamlessly connect you to the transportation networks of cities. For example, the ICE feeds into Berlin’s ultramodern main train station and can get a traveler to anywhere in the capital via subway (U-Bahn), elevated train (S-Bahn) or by bus. Lehrter Bahnhof is a model of integrated transport.
Why do Germans get to have cool stuff like these sleek trains and other useful knick-knacks like health care and free higher education while millions of Americans do not have access to public transportation, go uninsured and face a mountain of debt if they chose to get a higher education? It boils down to one word: Solidarity
Solidarity is a German core value whereas in America the concept does not exist. This is not a matter of opinion. It is an obvious fact when you compare any number of aspects of German and American society when it comes to the rich and the rest. Public transportation is simply the most obvious case, but many other very important societal issues follow the same path.
The previous paragraph is where conservatives of the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh crowd (which number in the millions) gets irate when it is pointed out that their ethos is not to care about anyone else but themselves. You hate freedom if you think it is sensible to tax the über-wealthy to build infrastructure that would benefit the rabble that make less than $1,000,000 a year. Irrelevant that taxing the ludicrously rich will improve mobility, create jobs, eliminate car-related overhead for lower-income individuals, reduce pollution, increase productivity by reducing time lost in traffic and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
That is the difference. Not money nor technological expertise, but a simple societal value allows German citizens to have access to world-class public transportation and leaves Americans with pathetic, nearly non-existent mass transit. It is time Americans realized that we need to work together on some level regardless of socio-economic background. Great American thinker/genius John Nash (an American) thought so.
Have the lessons of A Beautiful Mind already been forgotten? Adam Smith needs revision:
“The best result will come from everyone in the group doing what’s best for himself… and the group!”
[photo credit: Deutsche Bahn AG]