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Car Culture

“Buy Here Pay Here” Series Conclusion: We Need to Subsidize Cars for the Poor

12:45 PM PDT on November 3, 2011

The Los Angeles Times wraps its three part series on the "Buy Here Pay Here" used car dealers -- those that often times con low income people into high interest loans for low quality cars -- with a plea for policy to make cars cheaper.

My favorite "Buy Here Pay Here" promotional picture.

For more than a century, efforts to help the disadvantaged have focused on education, healthcare, nutrition and housing. Almost nothing has been done to help the working poor afford cars, despite research that indicates it would help alleviate poverty.

About 1 in 4 needy U.S. families do not have a car, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That's a serious handicap for the millions of Americans who don't have access to robust mass transit.

Oh, so close to getting to a sustainable solution, so close.

Let's be clear.  It's a national disgrace that we don't have the transit system, urban density, zoning codes, community plans, affordable housing and everything else that would reduce car dependency among those earning the least. There are a lot of people fighting for those things, but in the meantime it seems callous to argue that one be forced into a horror story of a commute everyday just to get get to their job, especially if that commute takes them away from children who need them.

But with all the problems that America's car-culture has wrought, I find it impossible to believe that more car-ownership is even a short-term solution to the problem.  What is a short-term solution?  I'm not sure yet, but maybe we can figure something out together.

Next week, Streetsblog will publish our own mini-series, a response to the Times' series that ran this week,  focusing on what is the best solution to the causes that create a market for Buy Here Pay Here car dealerships.

Have your own idea? Leave it in the comments section.  We'll do some sort of investigation of any serious idea that's left.

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