Britannica’s definition of mass transit: “Transportation systems, usually publicly but sometimes privately owned and operated, designed to move large numbers of people in various types of vehicles in cities, suburbs, and large metropolitan areas.” Wikipedia goes further in its definition to compare Mass transit against its alternative to give you a clearer picture: “Public transport (or public transportation, public transit or mass transit) comprises passenger transportation services which are available for use by the general public, as opposed to modes for private use such as automobiles or vehicles for hire. …” Just like subways, buses and family cars in the US, both public air transportation (airlines) and private air transportation (all other means of air transportation) have their places in this country and in most other countries in the world.
As I have traveled all over the world and all throughout the US, I have found efficient mass transit in the large metropolitan areas London, Paris, New York, Washington DC, where I use the systems like millions of other people each year. However, my travels often include some of the less populated areas in the US. On a recent trip out west to Wyoming and Montana, I did not find mass transit; but, I did find wide open spaces and two lane highways that seem to go into infinity.
Wyoming is a big state with not that many people - fewer people in the whole state than in the city of Nashville – my hometown. Cheyenne, the largest city in the state with a population of about 56,000, has an airport featuring scheduled air service – from a single airline. As I drove further through the state, I saw airports in most every city, but no scheduled airline service to the majority of them. However, at those small airports, there was everything from small-single engine prop aircraft to corporate jets parked on the tarmac just like at hundreds of other airports in hundreds of other cities I have been to in my life. Those aircraft and small airports represent many people, businesses and uses, but primarily they represent the most efficient way for people in those small cites to connect to and interact with the rest of the world.
Case and point – the City of Pinedale, Wyoming, has a population of about 1400 and is in the middle of a boom. I wondered, “Why the boom in Pinedale?” My brother, who runs a Wyoming-based airline, answered,”Oil.” Further research tells me this is a hot area for natural gas and oil production. As I drove into this town, I counted five, new, branded hotels on the main drag. On the other side of town, I passed the airport where I saw a tarmac and hangars with aircraft but no small airline terminal. It is a 8900 foot strip of pavement on the side of the highway with small buildings off to the side that keep aircraft out of the weather. So exactly how does a person get to Pinedale, Wyoming, in a reasonable amount of time to sell his product or service to that community, or to make an investment in that community? Not by mass transit, that’s for sure. You see, there is no airline service to Pinedale and, certainly in our lifetime, we won’t see a high speed rail system passing though town. However, that almost unnoticeable strip of runway pavement makes Pinedale, Wyoming, accessible to me from Nashville, Tennessee, by way of a private aircraft in a short 2 hours and 54 minute flight – about the same amount of time it takes to drive across a major metropolitan area in rush hour traffic. It connects the citizens of Pinedale to the rest of the world in a way nothing else does.
So if you are one of those big-city people who don’t see the need for private air transportation, drop into Pinedale, Wyoming, and ask the city officials, business leaders and chamber of commerce folks responsible for job creation and economic development if they will let you dig up their strip of asphalt called Wenz Field, Pinedale Airport. Tell me what response you get. But before you approach, just remember you are in the gun-toting Wild West!