Why Won’t the Feds Encourage People to Go Car-Free?

We always like to hear about people jettisoning their cars for other
modes of transportation, and there are several blogs on the Streetsblog
Network that chronicle efforts to give up the personal automobile. They
include Carless Parenting, based in Salt Lake City; The MinusCar Project, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Car Free with Kids,
based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All are filled with inspiration and
strategies for those who would like to go the same route.

Today we’re featuring a post from Car Free Days,
a Seattle blog that chronicles the mobility adventures of a family that
has gone from three cars to one, and is looking for ways to give up
that last link to auto dependency. Today, they examine the money people
could save if they didn’t drive, and marvel at federal policy designed
to prop up the auto industry:

2611810942_75ca5747cd_m.jpgAs good as money in the bank. Photo by Car Free Days.

[T]he American Public Transportation Association’s Transit Savings Report…looked
at what a car costs to own and run (the whole deal from buying it,
maintaining it, parking, registration, insurance and more) and then
compared that with what transit use would cost the same family.

The PI says
in Seattle such a comparison nets a $10,483 savings for those chucking
their car keys. And that’s for transit use. A bicycle switchover would
probably fare even better. …

While news like this could entice many to bail on car ownership, it seems like government is trying to keep us chained to the auto industry, using promises of a $4500 stipend
for turning in a gas guzzler and replacing it with a newer, slightly
more economical model. Cutely titled “Cash for Clunkers” the plan
appeared under the banner of climate change but doesn’t strike me as
anything other than a politically beige way send additional cash to the
auto industry.

As I tweeted yesterday, how come only new car buyers are getting the bonus? If this is about fixing the
climate, then shouldn’t non-drivers be eligible for the same (more!)?
Isn’t going from 18mpg to unlimted mpg better than the 28mpg called for
by the trade-in proposal?

More on the costs of driving — including thoughts from Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic on the subject! — at Seattle Transit Blog. Plus, The Infrastructurist takes an early look at Rep. Jim Oberstar’s plans to change the way American transportation is funded, and The Bellows links to a proposal for vehicle-miles-traveled taxation.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    The cash-for-clunkers plan has no policy goals which could not be achieved more quickly, more fairly, and more cheaply by raising the gas tax.

  • This is indeed a massive problem. Two years ago, I wrote a piece for SFist about how the national 511 system is propped up by the highway industry, which is why local 511 services are so slow to offer non-car info. (Although to be fair, our own bay area 511 has made improvements since then.)

    But still, there’s just so much money pushing highways and autos that it’s hard to politicians to push back.

  • no policy goals which could not be achieved more quickly, more fairly, and more cheaply by raising the gas tax.

    Gas tax increases affect the long-term cost of keeping a car.

    This affects the up-front purchase price.

    Those affect people’s decisions differently, for countless reasons, some rational, some not.

    Also, “stimulating the domestic auto industry” isn’t a policy goal? Someone tell the politicians.

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