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It's OK to text

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, February 15, 2017

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

For that matter, it’s also OK in this situation to read; to do a crossword puzzle; to play a game on your electronic device; to use earplugs to shut the world out; and probably many more things that can’t (or shouldn’t) be done while operating a motor vehicle.  Even napping isn’t out of the question.

In fairness, there are a few things that can’t be done while riding on a commuter train, such as Virginia Railway Express 309, shown here during its station stop at Alexandria, Virginia on February 24, 2012, including grasping a steering wheel (none, onboard the entire train!), or putting your foot on either an accelerator or a brake pedal.  Since there aren’t any domes on commuter trains, you won’t be able to keep your eye on the road ahead, either.  Such are the inconveniences that users of public transportation must put up with.

For many people, however, the belief (or illusion) that they are in control when they’re behind the wheel – instead of riding comfortably well above them – overwhelms any possible benefits in their calculation of modal choice for the journey to and from work.  This apparently includes much of the population of the U.S.  Certainly adhering to a fixed schedule bothers some, as does the need to share space in a common-use vehicle, as opposed to riding serenely (albeit slowly, in many cases) in their self-sufficient imperial chariots.

Cost, at least on an out-of-pocket basis, also may be a concern.  The IRS currently calculates that the total cost of operating an automobile, on an average basis, is over 50 cents a mile.  However, for many individuals, effectively only fuel, and possibly parking, and where applicable, tolls, are considered.  For many suburbanites, one car per family member is a given, and if this is taken into account, including its insurance component, only marginal costs seem to matter.

By choosing to ride rather than drive, the individuals depicted here are actually providing a direct benefit to those who navigate the I-95 corridor to Fredericksburg and beyond by themselves, rather than in a group, by removing the vehicles that they would have driven on the highway from the afternoon’s congestion.  The taxpayers should be glad, as well, since, in the absence of commuter trains such as this one there likely would have been a costly need to build either more or wider roads; in the absence of this costly construction highway users would need to endure greater congestion.

Still, from an individual benefit standpoint, as alluded to at the outset, it’s hard to ignore the concept that gaining back time useful for other activities during commuting hours by utilizing train (or, in many cases, other types of transit) is a major benefit.  Clearly, offering both (rail and highway) alternatives has benefits to society as a whole, from multiple perspectives.  Finally, there is the possibility that serious multi-taskers can even work on a commuter train (particularly if internet connectivity is provided).  With that, however, I think that I’ll close, lest I be uninvited back to this forum on the basis violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment …  

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