Sunday, August 9, 2009

I don't want to take your car away

I've often seen transit/road funding discussions framed as "those anti-car liberals want to take your car away!" Many transit advocates come up with lame responses like "But I'm not a liberal!" or "I'm not really anti-car! I want choice!" This is bad framing.

I'm not a liberal because liberals are wishy-washy; I'm a leftist. And I am anti-car. And I will confess to the occasional desire to take your car away, but mostly to keep you from killing me or my family with it. But I don't support any policy that would actually confiscate cars from large numbers of people.

I don't have to because I believe you will give up your car sooner or later. If you don't give it up now, you may when gas goes back up to four dollars a gallon. Or maybe when it gets repoed because you paid the mortgage first. Or when the cars themselves become so expensive that only the very wealthy can afford them. If nothing else, then you'll give it up when the road warriors shove a gun in your face.

These things may sound silly and apocalyptic, but more and more people are coming to the conclusion that at least the first few of them are very likely to happen. Within fifty or a hundred years, car ownership will only be affordable for the wealthy, or for enthusiasts, or for people who make their living with it like taxi drivers, farmers and construction contractors.

If I'm right that this will happen, where do you want to be when it does? Stuck in a cul-de-sac in Mahwah? Driving to an office park in Hauppauge? Shopping at the BJ's in Eastchester? Or living in a walkable neighborhood, working in a pedestrian-friendly downtown, and shopping around the corner from your home?

What kind of transit do you want to have to rely on? Do you want to be crammed onto a ten-year-old guagua with a driver who may have bribed his way through the test? Groaning as the latest round of budget cuts decimate your once-great Bus Rapid Transit system? Stuck as the repairman tinkers with the rusty PRT prototype? Or relying on your time-tested subway, trolley or streetcar?

No, I don't want to take your car away. I just want there to be some reasonable transit around for me to take when I'm old, and for my kid to use. I don't want you to kill the hope of a sustainable rail transit system because you spent all my tax money on your stupid highway widening and airport runways. Can you please think about sustainability before it's too late and we've wasted everything we've got?


fpteditors said...

Wow... now you are talking. Transit advocates need to go on the offensive. The people are with us. the economics are with us. All we need is more backbone. Don't forget the streetcar WAS forcibly taken away:
Taken for a ride

EdHeath said...

I believe in mass transit and I don't wnat ot ake anyine's car away, in fact, I don't wan to give up my car. Truly, for the middle class, I stil envision a Jetson's kind of future in the near term, where a family might own an electric car or several electric bikes and a gas hybrid. The family might use mass transit for day to day trips to school and work, and possibly to stop for a small amount of groceries. Otherwise the electric bikes oculd be used for a relatively small grocery trip or the electric car could be used to carry larger amounts of groceries. The hybrid could be used for get-a-ways to bed and breakfasts off the beaten path, for going out to dinner somewhere a bit farther, taking people to the airport, etc. You might be able to get away with using a Zipcar for these kinds of tasks, but not for those people who still might live in the suburbs. So whether you choose to own or just occaisionally rent a car might welll depend on where you live.

CityLights said...

One way to counter the "liberal" argument is to say that it is actually a conservative/libertarian argument. Pay-per-use instead of tax, "consume only what you can afford", "pay more for convenience" are all phrases that should make sense to the average American, once he or she gets used to the fact that driving is not a right, but a privilege that (should) be controlled by the market. The VMT tax is a step in this direction, even if it doesn't make much sense in cities (since the distances are small).

Jonathan said...

Cap'n Tra: thanks for the thoughtful post.

I interpret your argument as “I want you to explore alternatives to using your auto now so that you won’t be stranded when you can’t use your auto later.”

But as long as auto use is subsidized with free parking—at work, at school, and at stores—exploring alternatives to using your auto will be about as mainstream as exploring alternatives to using your hands.

Christopher Parker said...

Jonathan nails it - I don't feel a need to take your car, but I do feel a need to take the subsidies . . . and that's going to be a hard fight -- if we even get to the point of having the ability to even begin it.

That said, finding alternatives to using your hands is pretty mainstream. Witness the dishwasher!

Alon Levy said...

Meh. The two developed countries that do use the tax systems to suppress car ownership, Singapore and Hong Kong, are also the most capitalist.

And although Pigou was a social democrat, the person who's pushing Pigovian taxation the hardest in the US including a $2.21/gal gas tax, Greg Mankiw, is also the most prominent conservative economist.

Talking just about subsidies is useless. Subsidies are popular with the people who get them, as Bush learned the hard way when he tried to privatize Social Security. Rural and suburban residents who discover that they're net recipients of subsidies soon switch over to talking about government providing people with the good life - just ask farmers in Iowa, who know very well how much aid they get.