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Americans have since the second world war built an entire way of life around the automobile. It turns out, however, that our faith was an unsteady one and, in the face of high gas prices and young people's increasing preference for urban living, we are heading back to subways, trains, buses and trolleys in droves. In the first quarter of this year, we took an additional 125.7m trips on mass transit compared with the same time period last year – an increase of 5%.Shifting to mass transit is not only critical to staving off an ecological crisis, it is also key to getting out of our economic one: the expansion of rail and bus lines drives development, creating jobs while making it easier for the rest of us to get to our existing ones. The reverse is also true. The dismantling of mass transit has, like cuts to other public services, erected a massive roadblock on the path to economic recovery: 706,000 public sector jobs have been eliminated since the stimulus topped out in April 2009, according to a Wednesday report in the New York Times. While the private sector adds jobs, public sector austerity is driving the American economy off the tracks.
There was a time when business-minded conservatives understood that, ultimately, government did serve some purpose – if only to create an environment favorable to business. Members of both parties have for decades supported basic funding of the nation's trains and buses. But Corbett's counterparts in Washington now deliver that same heady combination of obliviousness and hostility. The derision of mass transit as a socialist import of European origin, which happens to be perceived also as a welfare subsidy for the black and urban poor, has now seized the entire Republican body politic. Most bizarrely, Tea Party activists around the country have attacked everything from bike lanes to high-speed trains as part of a United Nations conspiracy to create a "one-world order".