Quick Hit: Why the Latest Group of “BART Protesters” Need to STFU

In what has to be one of the most intellecutally dishonest protest movements to hit BART, or any local authority, unions and their allies have been staging protests against BART, demanding that the new fleet of BART cars be built “entirely” in the USA.
Sounds great? I mean, hey, jobs jobs jobs, and like that?
There’s just one problem to the earnest protesters and their message: there are NO COMPANIES in America that build rail cars as a business. None. Zero. Nada. There haven’t been any for years. Those Muni LRVs you ride in were bought from an Italian company. Go to any city in the United States, and not one will have streetcars or commuter trains made by 100% American companies. The United States long ago abandoned this as an industry. Even the mini-subway under the United States Capitol Building was built by a Canadian firm.
Thus all these calls to “build in America” are nothing but emotional, election year hyperbole to whip up their base of support and get on television, but are doomed to failure. Inevitably some politicians jump on the bandwagon (band train?) and huff and puff to their heart’s content. Just don’t ask them why they haven’t done anything while in office to fix the situation – you’ll make their heads explode. (Also, remind them about the epic success Boston and San Francisco had with the Boeing streetc-….oh wait, that’s right. They were a flop.)
More to the point, even though the firm fulfilling the contract for the BART trains is foreign, the actual cars will be assembled in….America. The majority of the party will come from….America. This is actually fairly standard – it’s cheaper than shipping them from somewhere else, and the people building the cars will be…AMERICANS. (OMG!) Another fun fact- the same company BART chose built many of the train cars on Caltrain too. Where was the protest then?
People need to realize that the reason these things, like iPads and other items aren’t built here is due not entirely to the “cost of labor” – we as a nation have decided we simply no longer want to be in certain industries, and the brain trust that goes on to innovate in things like LRV and train technology ends up finding a new home. Many parts are not available from any supplier in the United States, and industry here has shown no interest in pursuing some of these technologies. Why?
Once upon a time, Muni and the old Market Street Railway used to operate factories right here in town back in the Good Old Days, and Muni’s workshop still builds some cable cars. That, however is then, and this is now. It’s time for the protesters to focus their efforts on something that’s useful, and not wave around signs and toss out empty slogans. I realize that’s not easy, but nothing worth accomplishing is.

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One Response to Quick Hit: Why the Latest Group of “BART Protesters” Need to STFU

  1. Karl says:

    You’re almost right, except for the “cost of labor” point. In fact, US cost of labor on an hourly basis and overhead are phenomenally low compared to folk in countries where companies reside that have the capabilities to rebuild a system like BART – Japan, Germany, Switzerland, France. Of course knowing how to turn the wrench more than compensates for the stupid factor that would have to be applied to US labor if everything was built here.
    This doesn’t mean US labor is stupid per se, it’s just that any experience that could be institutionalized in an industry cannot be sustained when capital transportation projects are rolled on a boom-and-bust schedule, so politicos can attach themselves just long enough until they can go for the next big thing.
    Oh, while at it. There’s also a civil rights angle there as well, as DBEs don’t really have a chance to build sustainable businesses either. Just so enemies of DBE programs can point their fingers and say we told you so all along.

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