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Dear Editor,

Jennie Hunt makes a good point in her letter regarding "Bad Air Days" (Oct. 21 issue). Public transit isn't convenient for her and her irregular hours make carpooling difficult. And she is far from unique in her circumstances. We need to improve transit to better meet people's needs. But our current system gives no incentive for anyone to take transit or carpool, and provides large hidden subsidies to the lone driver. Car drivers don't pay for the damage they do to the Chesapeake Bay, for the respiratory illness they cause, the reduction in crop yields resulting from car emissions or for the damage to the ozone layer from their air conditioners. They don't even pay for all the on-budget services they require, such as police to enforce traffic laws or the ambulance service that drivers too often require. Just because many people won't be able to switch to a less polluting commute doesn't mean we should continue subsidizing those commutes.

We also need to take a longer view when we think about who can opt for a less polluting commute. The average person relocates residence about once every 5 years and job location once every 3 years. Access to transit and proximity of work and home would be a bigger part of people's decision making if we were to reduce the subsidy to car commuting. Compressed work schedules reduce the number of car trips taken, as would telecommuting. A parking fee that is charged by the day would give people an incentive to take transit when they are able even if their schedule denies them that option as a regular commute.

Parking fees will help people see transit as a more desirable option. When that occurs we will get more demand for better transit and less demand for more roads. When we put more into transit we will get more out of it. Our current course is degrading the planet that supports us and is unsustainable, if not because the oil/car/highway/sprawl mess causes irreparable harm to the environment then because the oil will one day run out. We owe it to our children to take bold steps to build a sustainable economy within a healthy environment.

Carl Henn, NIAID


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