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.

  • M

    I completely agree with this. I had gradually been moving to less car focused transportation and finally got rid of my car last year. Now unless I need to do some bicycle maintenance or go on a longer road trip, my transportation costs are $0 a month, in LA! So many people are amazed to hear this. My work pays for my Metro pass and my bike and all of the components were paid off in a couple of months of equivalent car related payments.

  • Alek F

    Way to go, M (Commenter #1).
    Good job!
    And, totally agree.
    Yeah,
    ever since I (almost completely!) quit driving,
    I’ve been saving thousands and thousands each year!
    Normally I use the EZ Pass (70 bucks a month), which is nothing comparing to all the car expenses (fuel, parking, monthly lease/finance, car repairs & maintenance, insurance costs parking fines, speeding tickets, etc., etc.).
    And that’s besides the fact that without the car we have a healthier lifestyle (since we ought to walk to the bus/train stop, which adds up to quite a bit of walking!), we have a greater peace of mind, etc.
    The more people do it, the better.
    I hope one day Los Angeles will have a well-developed subway system like other normal cities do.
    Alek

  • At the risk of further complicating the tax code, I propose the following transit/bicycling tax credit, which would be, say, 20% of the first $1000 in transit fare spent per year, or bicycling expenses (to be submitted to Third Party Administrators similar to flexible spending accounts). No double dipping with the new employer-side bicycling tax credit or other employer transit benefits. Only prepaid fare products purchased by the taxpayer on some form of identified payment, such as a credit card, would qualify, such as stored value cards, tokens, and monthly passes, to allow for easier accounting and eliminate people scrounging up for receipts to get the tax deduction.

    Personally, I’m all for tax simplification, and junking most of all of these deductions tossed on tax forms. But if we’re going to give benefits for hybrids and for buying vehicles, then it’s fair to add a transit benefit, that is not tied to employers.

  • James Mancuso

    I think that there are some major cities that should give thought to BANNING the use of private automobiles within their city limits and these include San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Boston to name a few. If not an outright ban on autos within these cities, those about to enter with just one person in them. Get rid of the low occupancy vehicles would be a great place to start and making parking as hard to find as possible could drive people to transit. Why keep subsidizing such a wasteful form of transportation. Especially when the oil companies are returning to their price gouging ways at the pump. By getting rid of the autos in cities, we can reduce our dependency on these corporate gangsters and their oil products.

  • Hey, thanks for the shoutout!

    Some reasons for dumping a car are philosophical, or environmental, but one of the easiest to explain is the economic one.

    Even if you include Airplanes in “Mass Transit,” the yearly amount spent is far less than those who drive.

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