MYTH: The car saves employment, millions of jobs depend upon the car.
What REALLY saves employment is the MONEY spent for cars (and fuel, maintenance,etc...). What would you do with the money you would save if you got rid of your car? You wouldn't bury it in the backyard, you'd SPEND it. And this in turn would open up jobs in other sectors.
Some people misunderstand this statement, so I will try to make it clearer:
It doesn't really matter WHAT people spend their money ON, it is important THAT they spend money. ANY other product or service has the same benefit for economy.
If our great skills in manufactuing and research were to be focused away from the auto industry, we can only imagine the breadth of sophisticated products that would be manufactured.
I am not proposing that cars be eliminated completely. Nor do I expect these changes to occur immediately. What I do want is for the overgrown auto business to be gradually "rightsized" to the benefit of other industries and for the benefit of our environment, which means: for the benefit of mankind.
Saving over $400,000 on an average lifetime of auto ownership and operation costs is only one personal benefit of the CARfree experience. The reduced costs of road maintenence and operation would be a great boon for our governments.
Subsidizing roads is a losing proposition, more and more money must be spent each year, while the quality of service continues to drop. Subsidizing mass transportation is a good value as increasing capacity means increased efficiency.
The Going Rate: What It Really Costs to Drive 1 reveals that the hidden, subsidized costs of our private-vehicle-dominated transportation system are at least US$300 billion a year
Mother Jones magazine suggests that if we were to calculate the full costs of gasoline, including our military presence in the Mideast Golf area, that the actual price would be closer to $7 or $8 per gallon. We guess it to be far more when you consider all the costs and factors such as roads, air pollution, health problems, etc. "Natural Capitalism" is a good read and perhaps is as articulate a presentation of the structural problems of our economy as may be found.
What a wonderful machine! Talk about transportation subsidies!
See Mother Jones' April 1997 issue on Natural Capitalism (Organic Capitalism?) to obtain more information on the inefficiencies (the automobile is not only over-priced and a bad investment, it is whoa-fully inefficient as a mode of transportation), and hidden costs of the automobile.
Why is public transit in the US so poor? Why do European cars get so much better gas mileage? There are no controls, no incentives to limit the ever-increasing rise in automobile use precisely because the costs are not borne by the user. Americans drive 2 trillion miles a year: double the distance of those in other industrial countries. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, we consume a quarter of the world's oil, half of which is burned in motor vehicles. We drive more and more: per capita motor vehicle use has tripled since 1950. And one car is just not enough: in 1990, there were 23 million more vehicles than licensed drivers. Some costs are conspicuous:
Americans spend $200 million a day building and rebuilding the nation's roads. Gas taxes and other user fees covered only 60 percent of the $33.3 billion spendt on building, improving and repairing roads in 1989.
Also not covered by user fees is the $68 billion spent annually on services such as highway patrols, traffic management, and traffic accident policework. Truck owners pay only 32 percent of national highway disbursements, yet it is estimated that a 50- ton, 4-axle truck can cause an estimated $6 per mile worth of damage to a rural arterial highway.
Other costs of our automotive obsession are associated with the 47,000 people killed in motor vehicle accidents each year. These deaths, and 5 million additional injuries annually, result in medical expenses, lost work time, and other costs not directly covered by user insurance.
Parking costs are a normal cost of operating a motor vehicle. Yet free parking, e.g., at the mall, effectively subsidizes this expense. Shoppers who walk or take public transportation pay for spaces they do not use, while drivers are deprived of a reason to carpool. Ninety percent of all commuters park at no cost and receive this fringe benefit tax-free.
Other hidden costs are the security costs of importing oil. Motorists use half of the imported oil, and arguably should pay half the $50 billion annual cost of maintaining a US military presence in shipping lanes. (This figure excludes the costs of the Persian Gulf War.)
Another impact is land loss. In the US, more than 60,000 square miles have been paved over including wetlands, scenic areas, and historic areas, not to mention farmland. Nearly half of our urban land is covered with asphalt.
In response to regulation, efforts have been made to lessen automobile emissions. But any improvements have been offset by more miles and vehicles driven. The costs are real: acid rain, chronic health problems, forest damage and reduced agricultural revenues.
Motor vehicles have a major role in global warming, climate change, and ozone depletion. Unchecked, they will have incalculable, perhaps incomprehensible, effects.
How can we stabilize automobile use and reduce its effects? Shift the costs of motor vehicle use to the drivers. Imposing user charges that reflect the full costs of driving will almost certainly have direct and lasting effects.
One method is increasing existing state and federal fuel taxes. Fuel tax revenues expand directly with fuel consumption. One proposal is a phased-in tax on fossil fuels, reaching $60 per ton of carbon in the year 2020. It would cut US carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent of the 1990 level by 2005 and hold it at that level indefinitely. This would translate to a price increase of 20 cents per gallon at the pump.
Another idea is to raise charges on trucks according to weight-per-axle and annual mileage. They would then share the cost of road maintenance more equally.
Pay-as-you-go is another concept. Levying road tolls based on time of day helps reduce congestion. In Hong Kong, electronic number plates are scanned by sensors at the toll site, and bills are sent out monthly to each driver. Similar systems are in place in San Diego and Dallas. "Congestion tolls" would range from 25 cents to $1.25 for a 10 mile urban trip.
True medical costs could be incorporated into insurance premiums, or insurance taxes paid at the pump could be placed in an insurance fund. And employer-paid parking can be reformed; companies could offer a tax-free travel allowance instead of free parking.
Significant public policy changes are also needed. Reforms in zoning and land use planning should result in a balanced transportation system. Zoning can be used to encourage densities suitable to public transit. The Going Rate's authors note:
European cities are living proof that a high standard of living is compatible with a reduced need for cars and that the key is fairly high residential densities combined with mixed zoning and integrated public transportation planning.
A doubling of residential population density is associated with a 25 to 30 percent reduction in the number of miles people need to travel by car. Densities of over seven housing units per acre are needed for cost effective bus service; nine for light-rail service. Communities must design for bikes and pedestrians.
Thanks to Joel Ohringer for this information
1The Going Rate: What It Really Costs to Drive is available from World Resources Institute Publications, P.O. Box 4852, Hampden Station, Baltimore, Maryland 21211, USA. US$9.95 plus $3 shipping and handling. For more information, contact World Resources Institute, 1709 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006. (Adapted from In Context, No. 33)