As I sat stuck in stop-and-go traffic the other morning, I found myself pining for commuter rail: a relatively uneventful and predictable commute spent reading or writing (or occasionally — let’s be honest – napping), less wear-and-tear on my vehicle and nerves, and a ready reason to leave work on time in order to catch the last train out.
I have ridden the train before and loved it. In fact, I’m a big fan of the concept of rail transportation. The reality of it, however, gives me pause. I had heard when I rode the train before that it couldn’t sustain itself, let alone turn a profit. I have little doubt that subsidies are the only reason the trains still run every day, and that my employer’s financial support of mass transit was the only reason it was a cost-effective option for me. Commuter rail appears to be something of a money pit, and I’m not a fan of money pits, in concept or reality – but at the time it cost me less to park and ride than to commute and park in the Cities.
The question that arose in my mind the other morning was, Since the train, the track, and the subsidies that sustain them are already realities through no decision of mine, can I park my car and ride the rails in good conscience?
This was followed quickly by the disturbing realization that I hadn’t taken the time to think through my underlying philosophy on this before – especially since the answer seems applicable to numerous other dilemmas we may face. For example, if I disapprove of the public funding plan for the Vikings stadium, should I boycott games there? Even if I’m given tickets? If I disapprove of Obamacare in principle, but it becomes the law of the land and I am ever without health coverage, what then? I complain about infrastructure and services every day and still use them — but is there a point at which that approach lacks integrity?
I have viscerally different reactions to each of these questions, and I’m honestly not sure if I can articulate a consistent approach to these types of dilemmas. The challenge is similar to that of what businesses to frequent based on their stances on social issues – except that somehow getting this right seems more important to me, since these involve public funds and public impacts.
I have a sinking feeling I’m making this way too complex, but can’t quite see how. Men of the Junto, help me talk this through!