Comment 94841

By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted November 18, 2013 at 09:51:21

This was very interesting. A few thoughts:

1) Yes, the concept of private automobiles has been enabled by cheap energy, but so have all other trappings of increasing prosperity. Cheap energy can not end, and will not end- cheap fossil fuels won’t even end soon, as demand shifts to other types of energy. (It’s hard to believe that fossil fuels are about to skyrocket, given natural gas prices of late.) An important trend very soon will be how cheap solar energy is now becoming- that sector is not far from making innovations that will make it extremely affordable. I know that oil is well-suited to fuel for automobiles, but we could make natural gas work, and we could make electricity work. We will, when necessary.

2) I couldn’t agree more about how expensive car ownership is for working-class families. I don’t think rising inequality will cause the decline of private auto ownership so much as the reverse: private auto ownership has exacerbated economic inequality. Either way, a lot of families will discover that they can barely afford one vehicle, let alone one for every adult member of the household- because they could never afford it. It was always a luxury, and believing that it should or could be attainable for most people was and continues to be very bad for a lot of people’s personal finances.

3) Given that fact, I really find it problematic when people say things like “cities cannot favour automobile owners at the expense of the less financially able members of the community.” It’s not a false statement at all, but to imply that people who use other forms of transportation are “less financially able” is not completely accurate. A typical Ontario household, who earns about $70,000 annually, is considered fairly well off, and probably maintains two vehicles. You claim the average cost of this is $8,000- I’ve read higher claims, and also think that there are costs that are never included. But that average Ontario household spends 23% of their income on car ownership- you’d do much better if you happened to earn less but could cut down to one or no vehicles. If we could get it framed not as public transit investment to help poor people, but rather to help middle-class people keep from becoming poor (I really do think car ownership is a huge reason for bad personal balance sheets), that would be a much more honest and accurate conversation.

One day, I envision important publicity campaigns directed at consumers, supported by an odd alliance of personal finance advocates, environmentalists, urbanists: “Driving makes you poor.” Someone will come up with a much better slogan, but that is I think the issue.

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