To Drive or Not to Drive

This entry is a response to a good friend concerning the need for public transportation and the want for private automobile.

Responding to Nathan

Cadillac BLS front 20080823

It is true.  If free market demands it, then it will come to pass.  However, what are we doing to educate the masses so that there will be a higher demand for public transportation.  That the demand for the automobile is high is a no-brainer.  According to the US Census Bureau; 77% of Americans drive to work alone (that is without carpooling).  77% of Americans choose to go to work in their private vehicles, which alludes to the fact that at least 77% of Americans own cars.  Moreover, they choose to use their cars as opposed to other means of transportation.  The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) reports that since 1972 there have been more vehicles in production or in the market then there are licensed drivers to drive them.  So yes, it’s safe to say that the demand in the United States of America for the private automobile is high.  Therefore is easy to see how someone can just throw the possibility for public transportation to the way side.

However, there are many facts concerning the automobile that have been kept from the public conscious sight.  I am convinced that if a person takes a careful consideration to these facts he or she will be more apt to give public transportation a second look.

Fact 1.  The Private Automobile is Expensive. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the automobile has a proportion of 17% of an average annual household

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web
united states currency seal – IMG_7366_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

expenditure (AAHE).  When you compare this to the fact that a home has a 32% AAHE you start to get the picture of the true expense of a vehicle.  It is the second most expensive item on the AAHE, third is food at 13% and fourth is Social Security at 10%. Using a person that makes 40,000.00 annually and using the BLS statistics, it can be calculated that this person is paying 6,800 Dollars every year for their automobile, compared to 12,800 dollars for their home every year.  That’s 566 dollars every month for a car.  These are conservative estimates.  Calculating the cost of driving on an individual basis may end up producing a higher expenditure value for an automobile (You can calculate your true cost of driving at   With these figures it is perplexing how the “free market” has not demanded something less expensive like public transportation.

Fact 2.  The Private Automobile Industry is Too Important

With such a high demand for automobiles, the automobile industry has become too important since it holds a major financial factor in the United States tablet of economics.  In other words, the United States has too much dependence on the automobile industry.  For example, In an article written for the New York Timesby Jeffrey McCracken and John D Stoll they reveal that the automobile industry employs about 3.1 million Americans across the nation.  That’s a lot of Jobs.  If the automobile industry was to

A photograph of the children's version of Monopoly
A photograph of the children’s version of Monopoly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

somehow be affected in a negative way, the possibility exists that 3.1 million jobs could be at jeopardy. The year 2008 gave us a short visual of the possibility of such an event happening to the automobile industry.  It may seem that the course would then be to ensure that these companies would remain in good operation in order for these jobs to exist.  In doing so, a steady flow of tax income to the government and a healthy supply of jobs to the masses is then provided.    As good as this reasoning may sound, the fact still remains that the United States by exclusively supporting the Automobile Industry creates a situation in which it only has one main source of “goods”. It is as the saying goes, “putting all your eggs in one basket”.   The United States thus relies on the Automobile industry to supply the 3.1 million jobs and the steady tax revenue.  However, if the United States was to expand its load of job demand onto another industry, than it would not have such a dependence on one industry.  That’s healthy economics under any economic book out there.  According to the article written for by Paul Nussbaum, a healthy public transportation industry in Spain created about 600,000 jobs within 5 years.  Spain has demonstrated that a Healthy public transportation system can help to create jobs.  The fact is obvious that 600,000 jobs is much lower than 3.1 million.  However, this second option to our transportation system would help to create a second financial basket which would then alleviate the financial burden upon the automobile industry and thus create more opportunities for advancements in automobile technology and public transportation technology.  The hope of course would be to create opportunities to lessen or completely severe the United States dependency on oil thus giving the United States a greater freedom on the world stage.

Fact 3 The Infrastructure for the Automobile Costs More than that of Public Transportation

According to the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority on average a Light Rail Transit system (LRT) costs about 35 million dollars per mile to construct.  That seems like a good deal of moneyespecially when estimates are based on not only 1 mile but 20 to 30 miles at a time.  The media is quick to point that the overall expenses to an LRT goes into the billions.  However, when you compare the 2.3 million dollars it takes to construct a highway lane per mile the LRT all of sudden does not seem so expensive considering that most lanes

English: Taxis, cars and buses stuck in the ev...
English: Taxis, cars and buses stuck in the ever honking traffic in Kolkata near Sealdah train station. Deutsch: Taxis, Autos und Busse stehen in Kolkata im Stau in der Nähe des Bahnhofs Sealdah. Das Hupkonzert gibt’s gratis dazu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

can only carry two thousand people per hour compared to a LRT than carry 20 thousand people per hour.  Thus per passenger mile basis the cost ends up being roughly about the same for both constructions.  However, LRT is not the only public transportation option.  There also exists Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which, according to the US Government Accountability Office costs about 13.5 million dollar per mile in upfront charges.  The truth of the matter is that reasonably priced public transportation is available.

These are just a few of the MANY reasons why as a nation we need to consider public transportation.  It is true; the current demand in the United States is for the automobile.  However, if the masses can be educated to the benefits of public transportation, this demand can be changed.

It’s easy to say, “if the free market wants it, it will happen”.  But the free market is just people and apparently none of us are looking ahead.  Were stuck in the now, with no aspiration to do anything more than cope.  We like our cars because ultimately it is one of the most “status” showoffs we have available.  Its convenience is also evident.  Nevertheless, our population keeps growing, our resources are being taxed.  Land is at a premium when consolidation of ridership is simply too inconvenient for a society too engrossed with self.

We need to look ahead as a nation.  The stark reality is that compared to the world, we are falling behind in just about everything including transportation.  For a nation that is so bent on efficiency, we have become inefficient with how we move.  It’s time to do something about it.  I love my nation and I want it to be great again.

My Sources:


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