A public transportation system may seem an enormous project “just” to get people walking and biking more, but we want to ask you—what would your solution be to combat an epidemic that cost 150 billion in 2008 and by the time Vermont is to go single payer, will have doubled? We know the disease of obesity, we know the cure. The innovation lies in the commitment to and delivery of the treatment. It is estimated now that every dollar spent in prevention saves 3 and maybe even 6 dollars in medical costs. Put another way, if Vermont has spent 5 billion dollars in healthcare in 2009, and faces an 8 billion dollar pricetag in 2017, 2 billion dollars for a transportation system really could save 6. You don’t believe us? For example, in 2000, Vermont spent only 1 billion on healthcare, and our population has only gone up 20%. It would seem our healthcare costs really have mirrored those of the rest of the country, and if that is true then we need this cure.
Why Public Transportation?
There are other very important reasons to commit to a public transportation system. What better way to address climate change and lead the country, than through a solution that also addresses our worst medical problem? Sometimes the best innovations are the ones that simply come up with a single solution to multiple seemingly disparate problems. Public transportation would unburden those of us who cannot afford the 8000.00 per year cost of owning and maintaining a car. It would allow the elderly and the young independence; it would give those who should not be driving, alternatives. In fact, transportation is already a very expensive component of healthcare, with medicare and Medicaid paying for non emergent trips to doctors and pharmacies. Why not roll that cost into a system for everyone?
What we are suggesting is to begin thinking of public transportation, not as a luxury reserved for urban centers, but a necessity for keeping our society healthy and functional. Think about how hard it would be for us to function without highways or roads. We pay for these things through taxes, and yet we know that they really pay for themselves. What we are proposing is that we think of public transportation in the same way. Paying up front for a system that frees us to walk or bike daily, that links the longer distances with clean, dependable, affordable and fast busses and trains, pays for itself by decreasing healthcare costs, reducing carbon, and allowing all Vermonters a way to commute to school and work. Put another way, we have discovered how much it costs NOT to have such a system:
$8000.00 per year per person to maintain a car (571,000 vehicle registrations; Vermont trans. Energy report 2011)
$718 million per year cost of obesity in Vermont (2009 numbers, for Vermont)
500 million + for Tropical Storm Irene
cost of climate change? Priceless.
Don’t let these huge numbers scare you into ignoring them. They are real, and we need to use them to justify to ourselves the huge commitment it will take to create this public transportation system. Because we need to do it.
Creating a public transportation system that works, in a rural state in the United States, might seem a daunting task. And it is. But let us ask another question related to The Greenprint’s Tools for Health plan: How do YOU propose to deal with obesity? And climate change? . . . and what if YOU could create a system that:
- makes people fitter
- reduces carbon
- reduces reliance on cars
- makes the state more attractive to young, energetic families that don’t want to rely on cars anymore
- is awesome and makes life great
Wouldn’t you do it?
What will this system look like?
The Greenprint will describe first the transportation component, and then the medical component.
We would have sidewalks and bike paths created and maintained with the commitment we presently give to roads and highways, recognizing their importance to:
1. provide meaningful transportation, while
2. allowing daily exercise.
We would have busses and trains that bridge the long distances, considering that the ideal walking commute is .5 to 1 mile and biking commute is 1 to 3 miles. There would always be the option to walk or bike further for those who wish, by having the paths be integrated and connected. For those who cannot walk or bike there would be stops accordingly, such as directly at nursing homes.
Bus and train stops would be designed not as primitive shelters but when possible, as real destinations. For instance, we could create incentives for gas stations to become bus stops, to ease the transition away from gasoline dependence. They could be places to purchase healthy foods (as part of our overall Greenprint design).
Use of the system can be directly tied to the medical system in the following way: if we are able to create this system before 2017, as a pilot project we can have healthcare premiums tied directly to use of the system. If one uses the system instead of a car, ridership is free and premiums are say, cut in half.
What this will look like, here in Vermont
There are admittedly challenges unique to a rural state like Vermont, with cold winters and with mountainous terrain. These are obstacles, but they are not insurmountable. Let us consider them one at a time, keeping in mind that whatever this system costs, it will be saving us billions in the long run.
- We are a rural state
- there is no better time than now to have a public transportation system in Vermont, because we now all have electronic devices. Individuals and busses can communicate, to maximize ridership and convenience.
- Individuals can key in their and busses locations, and communicate their transportation needs. A “group on” model could reward those willing to tailor their commutes to fit the largest ridership.
- We need to change our paradigm of what a successful transportation system is, and believe that “if we build it, they will come”. An empty bus is not a failure, but a commitment.
- We have mountains
- bus and train routes can be designed to accommodate for our difficult terrain. Electric assist bikes are being developed.
Check out our Tools for Health link for what a medical system will look like.
And this is just the beginning . . .