(Hey, I can’t put all the Big Serious ones in a lump at the beginning. Gotta sprinkle in some more quotidian thanks, just to keep things moving.)
The last time I was home, my father very kindly – and bravely – let me drive his car. It wasn’t far, just a mile or two to a restaurant, but it was the first time I’d driven a car in probably a decade, and I was mostly just concentrating on not causing a catastrophic mess.I didn’t get us or anyone else killed, of course, and I have to admit it was nice to drive again. As nice as it was, though, it didn’t make me want to get into a car on a regular basis again. The momentary enjoyment of driving doesn’t balance out the incredible hassle of actually owning a car. The insurance, the parking, buying gas, getting oil changes, black ice, getting pulled over for a brake light and finding out your license has been suspended for the last eight months, flat tires in the middle of nowhere, the engine catching on fire… I’m sure you can relate.
None of that comes into play when you have efficient, convenient public transportation available.
Japan has some of the best public transportation in the world. Trains are clean, safe, and on time, and they reach almost anywhere you want to go. They’re a wonder of efficiency and technology, and they’ve been embraced by the population as the best way to get around for your day-to-day life. From the slow local trains that will take you far into the countryside to the futuristic shinkansen, which – when you factor in all the hassle involved – will get you places sooner, in greater comfort, and with far less hassle than an airplane. Living in Japan has made me a public transportation evangelist, and if I have my way I will never own a car again.If there were one thing I could wish for the U.S., it would be that this level of public transportation were available for everyone. That is totally unrealistic, though – even in Japan, there are places where the trains don’t reach, or come so seldomly that a car is a necessity. So we’ll never be rid of them, but the U.S. deserves at least some kind of shinkansen-level intercity light rail system that hooks up the major population centers. Acela is good, but they can do better. I know there are plans in the works in parts of the country to get this kind of system, which is wonderful, and I hope it materializes. I know, I know – it’s expensive, it’ll take ages to build, and people do love their cars. But trust me, it’s worth it.
I use public transportation every day, and if I had to go back to driving, I think I’d go mad.