The Extra Dimension

The Extra Dimension features deep discussions on how technology intersects with other parts of our lives. Welcome to the heart of the technological convergence.

Transportation – Individual Car Ownership

Episode #15The Fringe #395

All your favorite Nexus hosts gather to talk about the dominance of the car in transportation, and what it means for both individuals and society as a whole.

Transportation Miniseries

Overview

  • Pros
    • No physical effort
    • Door to door
    • High speed/shorter commute
    • Can get to places inaccessible to other forms of transportation
    • Longer distances
    • Can carry things like groceries or pets
    • Most convenient from an individual perspective
  • Cons
    • No physical effort
    • Have to be focused on driving for the entire commute
    • Pay for gasoline
    • Pay for insurance
    • Pay for maintenance
    • Traffic
    • Encourages living further from work/school
    • More pollutive per person than public transportation, walking, or cycling
    • Cars spend most of their existence parked - not being used
    • Inefficient for society as a whole (much better and more efficient uses of space, moving people, etc.)
    • Leaves behind segments of the population who cannot drive - particularly the very young and very old
  • Neutral
    • Don’t have to interact with people
    • Pay for huge amounts of car infrastructure via taxes
  • The future of commuting - Vox
  • The utter dominance of the car in American commuting - Vox How working women, cheap cars, and Starbucks killed carpooling - Vox
    • Driving to work alone is still the most dominant form of commuting.
    • Percentage rose slightly since 2000, mostly because there is less carpooling.
      • There are more cars per household than before, and the number of cars a person owns is the best predictor of the likelihood of driving to work alone.
      • Less people per household, which affects carpooling a lot because most carpools are within a household.
      • Lower gas prices and more fuel-efficient cars.
      • Women entering the workforce has an interesting effect: more income per household means they can afford more cars; spouses often have different work destinations; women are more likely to do other chores along their commute, which makes carpooling infeasible.
      • Suburbs: when you live in an area where you have to drive no matter what you want to get to, carpooling is infeasible.
      • Even with recent trends away from driving alone, they aren’t moving back towards carpooling.
    • Income isn’t really a predictor anymore of whether a household owns a car or not.
      • Decreasing cost of car ownership.
      • Cars last a lot longer than they used to, so it’s really easy to get a used car.
  • Long commutes make you fat, tired, and miserable - Vox
    • Having a long commute by car is associated with poor health, but it usually isn’t a direct cause.
      • Less likely to exercise.
      • Less likely to make food at home.
      • Purchase more non-grocery store food (like fast food.)
      • Sleep less.
    • Even if you exercise, long commutes are associated with higher blood pressure and chronic neck or back pain.
    • People with long commutes are also generally more stressed and less satisfied with life.
    • Most people with long commutes choose them because they want a larger house or a better neighborhood, but they are almost never enough to offset the drawbacks of the commute.
    • Carpooling is a great way to prevent the stress part of a long commute, because you are socializing with people instead of simply losing a couple of hours. But what if your carpool buddies don’t want to listen to the podcasts you like?
  • Young people are driving less than their parents. But why? - Vox The many reasons millennials are shunning cars - The Washington Post
    • Young people drive way less today than young people in the past.
    • The dip in driving came at the beginning of the recession, when jobs were scarce and gas was expensive. So it was thought that this might just be a temporary change.
    • As we have gotten further from the recession, it seems like it is a permanent trend: Generation Y prefers to do less driving than Generation X.
    • Likely contributing factors:
    • “Americans reaching driving age today have no living memory of consistently cheap gasoline.”
    • In addition to gas prices, auto insurance costs have also risen, as the cost of repairs has gone up.
    • It is more difficult to get a permit/license when you are very young now.
    • As student debt has gotten bigger, paying that back eats into car payment funds.
    • There is a greater preference to live near city centers. In some cities, the higher cost of living is offset by easy access to public transportation and more walkable neighborhoods.
    • Information technology has made it way easier to live without owning a car. It is easier to use other forms of transportation like public transit or car sharing. It is also easier to stay home when your social life is largely online.
    • If you are in the habit of being productive on your phone while in transit, driving is much less appealing.
    • Even so, the car’s dominant position isn’t going anywhere soon.
  • Highways gutted American cities. So why did they build them? - Vox » 60 Years of Urban Change: Midwest
    • If the highway system were built from scratch today, would it go through city centers? Probably not. So why did cities agree to do it?
    • Local governments were offered lots of money if they built highways, but they didn’t get a lot of control over where they went.
    • The car industry successfully framed highway building as a public responsibility.
      • Shifted from building privately-owned toll highways to publicly-owned highways funded by taxes on gasoline (well, 43-74% funded by gas).
      • Perception has stuck around that highways are self-funding, even though they’re not.
      • Allowed highways to expand much more quickly.
    • 1939 World’s Fair model built by GM called Futurama showed big, wide highways that are only accessible by on- and off-ramps.
      • Credited with introducing the concept to the American public.
      • Promised to solve the traffic congestion problems of the day.
    • A 1947 map and 1955 document called the “Yellow Book” outlined the paths the interstate system would take - both through the countryside, and city centers.
      • Contributors to the document included members of the auto industry and highway engineers.
      • Notable lack of urban planners; the profession barely even existed at the time.
    • The majority of funding came from the federal government, because Eisenhower was really enthusiastic about the project; he wanted it to facilitate troop movements and mass evacuations in the event of a nuclear attack.
    • States were essentially getting highways for free, as long as they agreed to the routes in the Yellow Book.
    • Suburbs were starting to get big, so highways were seen as ways to bring commuters into the city centers.
    • Highways were used to get rid of “urban blight,” aka low-income, often African-American neighborhoods.
    • Some neighborhoods were able to prevent highways from coming through, but they were almost always higher income and had more political capital.
    • People displaced by highway construction had to move to other highways, leading to overcrowding and increases in crime rates.
    • Those who could afford it moved to the suburbs, taking tax money away from the cities that the highways were supposed to serve.
  • Once seniors are too old to drive, our transportation system totally fails them - Vox Curbing Metro Mobility’s Growth | streets.mn
    • About 80% of American seniors live outside of urban areas, where driving is the only viable form of transportation.
      • Harder to get goods and services.
      • Isolated from friends and family. This can affect health in a number of ways.
        • Nobody to monitor and give health advice.
        • Psychological effects of isolation.
      • Society misses out on seniors who would volunteer their time if they could get places.
    • Our population is getting older.
    • Drivers past the age of 75 are much more likely to be involved in a fatal crash - partly because they are more likely to die as a result of a crash, but also because of slower reaction times and poor eyesight.
    • We need a better solution than public paratransit shuttles, which you have to schedule long ahead of time, and typically arrive within a wide window of time. Also, some disabilities which disqualify you from driving do not qualify you to use paratransit.
    • Possible solutions:
      • Multi-use neighborhoods that are accessible by wheelchair.
      • Elder village model.
        • Organization that provides services to the elderly so they can stay in their homes.
        • Both paid staff and volunteers.
      • Subsidized Uber.
      • Self-driven cars.
  • The "fundamental rule" of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more - Vox
    • Expanding road capacity doesn’t alleviate traffic; people just drive more, and it remains congested.
    • This is because you are not charged to use roads, so using them more is the most logical thing to do.
    • Even improving public transit doesn’t solve the problem; the people who take transit instead of driving are replaced by other people who drive more.
    • The only method that has effectively reduced traffic is congestion pricing: charging for road use at peak traffic times.
    • It is a bit regressive, but so are current systems for funding roads.
  • Why free parking is bad for everyone - Vox
    • Donald Shoup of UCLA: charge for parking anywhere where # of cars > # of spots to park.
    • Reasons why it’s currently free:
      • Parking meters emerged a few decades past the invention of the car.
      • “It's hard to start charging people for something that the government owns and had been free.”
    • Space is finite, and therefore parking spots should be considered a limited good.
    • Lots of costs to maintain, which shafts those who don’t use cars.
      • ~$1750 to build, ~$400 annually to maintain.
    • Building standards of many dense cities require parking space to be included, costing around $30k-$50k. The price is passed onto the consumer.
    • The unused lots of buildings forced to comply is wasted space.
    • So many govt decisions to allow for free parking makes a world in which a car is necessary to have.
    • People looking for *free* spots adds to congestion as well as CO2 emissions.
      • Free parking = larger demand for parking -> more miles driven.
    • Suggested Solution: charge for parking based on “market price.”
      • If a spot is occupied >80%, raise the price on the meter by $0.25/hour, <60% lowers by $0.25/hour.
  • One Scientifically Proven Thing Actually Makes People Happier - YouTube

Attributions