It’s no secret that Texas Republicans are bought and paid for by special interests. They have consistently stood in the way of any effort to change our reliance on cars and planes. This should come as no surprise, since one of the most influential interest groups in the country is the automotive industry. According to the National Institute on Money in Politics, Greg Abbott has received more than $4,600,000 from the automotive industry in campaign contributions.
While Texas Republicans are to blame for standing in the way, it was the automotive industry itself that created this problem. Since the 1950s, they have lobbied politicians to build our entire society around one machine: the car. This would have major ramifications for the country going forward.
The suburbs, and by extension, sprawl are entirely an invention of the automotive industry. Following heavy lobbying by General Motors, Ford, and other leading car manufacturers, the federal government decided to only subsidize the development of single family homes and wide highways, instead of building dense housing and inter-city/intra-city rail networks. Nowadays, for residents of suburban areas, walking or biking to a destination is nearly impossible, and public transportation like buses and rail are non-existent or extremely limited.
Sprawl not only creates problems for the environment, but also for your personal health. Due to the fact that more and more people are reliant on their personal vehicles to get around, they create more and more emissions that we inevitably breathe in.
The airline industry is another major contributor to our modern transportation problems. A fast and affordable high-speed rail system would put domestic airlines out of business, almost overnight. And rightly-so, airplanes are significant contributors to our emissions problem, and yet they receive heavy subsidies from the government just to stay in business. The airline industry has lobbied against rail and high-speed rail for decades, all while staying in business with your tax-payer dollars.
The airline industry’s extensive lobbying would certainly explain why Amtrak is treated like a corporation by the federal government, instead of a public service. Amtrak tickets are extremely expensive compared to rail in Europe and China, and it’s certainly not because our rail technology is superior, Amtrak’s fleet is incredibly dated. Simply put, Amtrak isn’t supported by the government on the same level as the post office, because it would hurt the airline and automotive industries’ bottom line.
Now take a country like China, although certainly not a leader on the climate change front, they are however leading the world in the development and implementation of high-speed rail. China is a country whose size is relatively similar to that of the United States. However, instead of relying exclusively on domestic air travel and cars, China decided to build a network of high-speed rail lines. In 2008 they broke ground on their first high-speed rail project that would connect Beijing and Shanghai. Now, in 2022, they have connected all major population centers, and have started expanding to smaller cities.
Not only are there climate benefits and personal health benefits to high-speed rail, there are also huge economic benefits that can come from high-speed rail. Just think about it, an Austin resident could commute via high-speed rail to their job in Dallas. A business leader in Houston could catch a 30-40 minute train ride for that 12 o’clock meeting in San Antonio. Families could take a weekend trip from Laredo to Dallas and get there quicker than driving, all while not having to worry about parking and gas expenses.
Texas Republicans claim to be pro-business and pro-economic growth, yet when it comes to the issue of high-speed rail, they’re blind to its benefits because of their automotive industry donors. In fact, the state is currently trying to sabotage a private high-speed rail project that would connect Houston and Dallas. So much for the free market, huh?
Texas Republicans are so far behind on the issue of high-speed rail, but this should come as no surprise from a party that’s fighting hard to take us back to the 20th century.