Too Far, Too Soon

Submitted by Anirban Mahanty
on 03/10/18

Imagine the most fulfilling thing you have ever done. Is it building something? Painting?
For me, it is saving lives.

For the last three years, I have been researching HIV at the Food and Drug
Administration to develop a method to prevent drug resistance in patients. And for every day, I
took a trip more than two and a half hours each way on public transportation. However, while the commute was intensive, strenuous, and draining, I endured it to make use of one of the most unique experiences a high schooler can have.
In this, I am not alone. In the last ten years, there has been a 70% growth in the amount of
time the average worker spends traveling to and from work in America. Commutes have been
getting longer and harder, even as jobs have seen net growth. Not surprisingly, traffic on
highways has risen nearly threefold, and more and more Americans are forgoing the stress of
driving to put up with longer, but easier, public transit systems. All across the country, cities
have seen at least a hundred percent increase in biker commutes since 1990. Now, a mere 31% of commuters drive alone, while 47% take public transit. However, even as this transit statistic is growing faster and faster, now that rideshare systems like Uber and Lyft have taken to the
highways, traffic has grown even slower. This is because these systems are designed to
maximize car passenger capacities. Nevertheless, most customers prefer to keep cars to
themselves. More affluent commuters that otherwise would have taken the metro on long
commutes now have the option of traveling alone with rideshare services for long periods of
time. Now, the commuting problem has been exacerbated by lone drivers attempting to make
their way back the same commuting route to find new customers after dropping off their
previous ones.

This upsurge in the push-pull relationship of public and highway transit has caused an
imbalance in the dynamics of city commutes. For example, in Washington D.C., record highs hit in highway traffic three years ago, forcing commuters to take to the local Metro subway system.As Metro faced a huge upsurge in popularity, and ultimately, ridership, the outdated and
underfunded system began to show strain at the seams and crack under the pressure. Before long, increased Metro interest led the local government to create a “SafeTrack” refurbishment
program. Ridership times quickly ballooned on average by an hour, causing destabilization of the program from loss of interest and lost revenue. Without a viable option, most riders began to pay for the ridership services of Uber and Lyft, though many locals cited it as overpriced. After a year of refurbishment, the Metro was preparing to support a new ridership surge that was nonexistent. Currently, highways are gridlocked and the Metro is running on a half-finished system.

But if more people are commuting to a growing list of jobs, why go far? It turns out that
the answer to this problem is complex. As more people, often unskilled workers or skilled
immigrants starting from scratch, move closer to the cities, richer families will move out to the
suburbs. The result is that cities will host blue-collar workers and the ultra-rich of the upper
class, while the middle class takes essential businesses outside of the city. As neighborhoods
become more crowded and rundown, upper-middle-class families will move further out, creating a need for more jobs outside of the cities. As workers become more skilled, they seek more advanced jobs that are farther in the cities, while the suburban families are often commuting back the most intellectually-intensive, rather than labor-intensive, work in the cities. The result is that there is a flow in both directions of the city, causing traffic to jam up and preventing implementation of multidirectional lanes.

How can this be changed? One of the key changes is prioritizing what really matters in
your life. Is it your commuting time? If so, find a job that is closer to home that is satisfying to
you. Is it experience? Then commuting is not a case of object. By reprioritizing, we will see a
mass shift in culture, as those unsatisfied will allow for governments fully realize the depth of
the problem and provide the solution of better highway infrastructure. Nearly 2600 dollars are
spent by each American worker’s commute. Imagine if half that money was allocated to
improving government infrastructure. Rather than our spending money to provide for a broken
system, we could pay a slight increase in tax to provide for these changes. However, it is
important to note that this reform would not function as merely a simple tax hike. The newfound funds would have to be allocated strictly into categorical grant funds for the national
government.

By making the states responsible for the use of block grants, the national government
promotes cooperative federalism. However, this is akin to making states responsible for
regulating their own trade or currency. Interstate affairs such as trade and commerce should be
regulated by an authority outside of the interstate system, as it is within any political or legal
situation requiring administrative agency and oversight. By merely passing blanket regulations
that monitor state action, it hikes upkeep costs for an agency that can consolidate state funds it
has allocated from its own taxes. This would reduce overhead as well, as the agency could create its own division to direct infrastructure construction and refurbishment and monitor its own actions using the highway transit authority as an internal affairs division. Oversight and control in this process is key to providing a successful infrastructure to the citizens who have given so much to this nation.

Ultimately, I found a comfort in knowing I could make a difference at the FDA. I hope to
do the same through this piece and hopefully improve some lives through this process. By doing what I loved after enduring a such a hectic commute, I found solace in sharing these experiences with others and learning about how our transportation system works nationwide to provide a service. And by taking part of this service, I hope to give back to it as well.

Submitted by Anirban Mahanty
on 03/10/18

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