This year, I am living in North Rhine-Westphalia, the “westernmost, most populous, and the most economically powerful state in Germany.” It looks like this
To the left is Germany, the whole country, and to the right is the state in which I live, North Rhine-Westphalia.
Just for some perspective: The entire country is a little larger than Arizona, but with a population the size of about 2.2 Californias. The state that I am living in is about a thousand square miles larger than the state of Maryland, with a slightly smaller population than Florida. There are no fewer than 23 Urban Areas in the area. Here’s the best part:
I get to see all of it…FOR FREE! How can this be? Because of the 47th great idea that I am lifting from Germany and encouraging someone, anyone in the US to copy:
As a student enrolled in a graduate university, I am required to have a Metro Pass that allows me to take the train and bus for free anywhere within the state where I live. Why do I say “required”? Because when I signed into school last week, they wouldn’t let me leave without signing some forms and paying a processing fee of $47 and taking my free pass. It’s incredible. Travel everywhere, do it for free and with as little damage to the earth as possible. We REQUIRE you to do this.
Now, the only place I’ve been in the US that seems capable of this would be the MAJOR metropolitan areas, LA, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington DC, well…the entire North East really. What if students in college and grad school in America were required to get a cheap ticket that gets them free rides all across a given geographical area? How would that change the cost/benefit analysis that students make all the time about their decisions as they enter into the adult world? Owning a car? Where and how to shop? Where to live? What about the money they could save on insurance, vehicle upkeep, gas? Not to mention the potential for lowering the rates of drunk driving accidents and increasing the risk that a digital generation might have some unintentional human interaction while traveling. Massachusetts is smaller than this place by a solid 3,000 square miles, and they have trains that run throughout most (if not all) of the state and neighboring states. What if we made it easier for students to travel, not just to and from class, but to all kinds of areas and neighborhoods and towns and historic sites? Would it matter? I don’t know. Is it possible? Well…they’re doing it here, and it’s working just fine. Is it cool? It’s unbelievably cool! I have lived in two American cities now where it took two hours to get from my home to where I work/worship by public transportation (Phoenix, because it is so spread out, and Boston, because it doesn’t have services to where it should), and the only thing that was worse than all the time spent on those trips, was knowing that it cost ten to twenty bucks a week to do it. Maybe more people would be willing to put up with the time it takes to go by public transit, if they didn’t have to pay for the inconvenience?