Driving a car can be pretty bad for your financial health
October 10, 2011 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Driving a car can be pretty bad for your financial health [via Hacker News].
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (161 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
The daily activity most injurious to health is commuting
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:20 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, this is why self-driving cars are going to be awesome -- that 80 minutes a day could be spent learning something new, reading, making an art, etc. (basically, things that justify spending that 17-51 cents/mile). Then the issue becomes pollution, which if we can every manage to reinvigorated our electric grid, will be solved by plug-in hybrids (with solar recharging while you're working, since the car just sits there).
posted by spiderskull at 12:33 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "free"way could really be called the "slave"way.
posted by telstar at 12:39 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, this is why self-driving cars are going to be awesome

They already have this. It's called a 'bus'.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:41 AM on October 11, 2011 [96 favorites]


Whenever I read these articles I wonder how intone with the real world they are. "Just get a job near where you live!". But I thought many places were struggling with high unemployment?

I work in a specialised field where my employment options are limited, there are literally no jobs I can do (except taking a step down to retail or secretary) in my town. The lovely walkable town we moved to so my husband could walk to work, my children could walk to school and my commute through the countryside would be 15-20 minutes. Most dual-income couples I know compromise with living close, if not walkable, to one person's work and the other person (who like me, is usually in a specialised field with limited places of employment) commutes. But of course that becomes moot when someone gets fired, or laid off, or transfers to another job to avoid the first two options.

If I had that extra 30-40 minutes back in my life daily I wouldn't necessarily use it for leisure activities any more productively than I do know (listening to audiobooks in the car). Not to mention that in my area at least, housing costs near "downtown" and other intense employment districts are much higher.

There is a systemic problem with the way that places of employment and places to live have been planned to be separate, in contrast to how close they were previously, and that bike paths and public transportation has not been affordable and convenient in most of North America but blaming people for the choices they have made when the deck was already stacked against them seems rather self-righteous.
posted by saucysault at 12:43 AM on October 11, 2011 [31 favorites]


My house would have cost $400,000 more than it already did if it was within 5 miles of my office.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:47 AM on October 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


My house would have cost $400,000 more than it already did if it was within 5 miles of my office.

According to the article's math you would have made up that $400k in cost savings over the length of a 25 year mortgage, not to mention time savings and health benefits.
posted by furtive at 12:53 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hear that, guys? All you need to do is sell your cars and buy a nice $5000 used car that will get 35 mpg for 100,000 miles with no major repairs! Or you could just forgo this and get a cheap magic carpet!

I think he's right about this but also terribly naive about the real constraints on people's choices about where they work and live. It's absolutely true that driving costs eat up a huge amount of low-wage workers' income, but that's one of the hidden costs of poverty, and it's not always avoidable. Cheap housing is often located very far from low-wage employment: it's a structural issue that can't be solved by low-wage workers making better choices. And while it may make sense for a middle-class person to pay $477,000 more to get a house 30 minutes closer to work, that doesn't mean that the bank is going to give a middle-class person a loan for $477,000+. Even if it makes sense over the long-term, sometimes it's just not possible because you can't get the money in the short term.
posted by craichead at 12:56 AM on October 11, 2011 [30 favorites]


there are no places to live within walking distance of my husband's work. there are no safe biking solutions. there is no public transit in this town. he works an office job in an industrial park with miles of fields on either side (and a police training outdoor shooting range).
posted by nadawi at 12:56 AM on October 11, 2011


I agree with a lot of what this guy is saying, but it doesn't address the whole issue. It's also written in a horribly smug tone by someone who sounds like he makes his own shoes and sets the thermostat at 47.

1. People change jobs. Moving costs money. Buying a house close to work may mean being far from work in 5 years.

2. It assumes that other forms of commuting are free. They're not. I mostly ride or take the bus. Bus costs me $5 a day. Riding costs in terms of tubes, tires, bike maintenance, seasonal clothes, etc. Less but not free.

3. These things are cheaper, but each has its drawback. I got a flat last week, and it made me severely late. Cars don't often break down these days. Riding is also often dangerous. I risk my very life riding on a regular basis. Less so with bus or car.

4. Taking the bus or cycling is far less flexible. Can't practically carry large things. Slower. Limited routes and schedules. Riding will often require showering, and so on. For a working professional these things are real issues.

5. Kids. It's hard commuting and picking up kids with the bike trailer in tow. I know, because I do it. It takes me more time. I'm tired afterwards.

6. Riding the bike makes me tired for other sports I enjoy and compete at. Running (which I often do as part of a commute) is not always much fun after spending 30 mins each way on the bike.

I could go on...

It's not quite as
posted by jimmythefish at 1:02 AM on October 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


There are plenty of people for whom this approach wouldn't work for a variety of reasons. But there are also plenty for whom it is worth keeping this in mind as part of the process of making informed decisions.

Thanks for the post.
posted by vidur at 1:04 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do miss living five blocks from my office. But now that I have kids in school, I really can't live in the sort of neighborhood that is that close to my work unless I'm willing to either send them to public schools to which I don't want to send them or to pay for private schools that I would have to drive them to for 40 minutes each way. That said, I have a remarkably short commute for the city in which I live and work.
posted by The World Famous at 1:04 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


My house would have cost $400,000 more than it already did if it was within 5 miles of my office.

Bingo. The elephant in the room is unequal housing prices. I moved about 20 miles away from my job three years ago, saving around $400 per month on housing. I actually happen to do it using a $5000 economy car -- by his estimate that's 17 cents a mile, or $6.80 a day round-trip, or $136 per month.

That extra $264 per month (or, by his reckoning, $62,000 in wealth over ten years!) has been more than worth it for me. It made a big difference in my standard of living and ability to save... especially since I already had the car, as you can't do much around here without one. The time sink isn't optimal (although I do get to enjoy an album per day, and traffic is rarely a problem here so it's hardly stressful), but commuting isn't always a losing economic proposition.

According to the article's math you would have made up that $400k in cost savings over the length of a 25 year mortgage, not to mention time savings and health benefits.

If you could afford to do it in the first place. At 400k difference that's a really, really big if (that's $2000-3000 in mortgage a month on top of what you'd be paying to live anywhere else -- talk about a let-them-eat-cake proposition.)
posted by vorfeed at 1:06 AM on October 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you're going to count the true costs, then you have to count the true benefits of commuting as seen from the driver's perspective. (I'm saying this as an anti-car person who walks from home to work and back and who takes the bus or train for longer trips, and who would make commuters pay for the true costs of commuting if I were king, but this is how it looks to me.)

Commuting in your own car is sitting your ass down in your own upholstered mobile couch with your own stereo system blasting in your own little listening room, with door to door service, the toy ownership aspect of having a big shiny car, and the thrill of commanding a big powerful machine in battle against other big powerful machines for first place to arbitrary finish lines. There are no rules against eating or smoking. There are locked steel doors and sealed windows protecting you from big scary strangers. You can stop to pick something up on the way to and from work without making any extra effort with your legs. You don't have to carry anything. After you're out of the driveway, the weather means nothing to you except in the worst conditions. And a half hour commuting alone in the morning and again in the evening is not an hour lost, but an hour free of spouse and children on one end of the trip and free of the boss on the other, maybe the only time (other than when you're on the toilet) that you get truly to yourself all day.

You aren't going to get people to give that up in sufficient numbers unless you make it too expensive in immediate terms. Bill them (and only them) for it. Make car owners pay by vehicle weight and size to pay for highway maintenance, pay per trip into the city, pay for all on-street parking everywhere, etc., all at rates high enough to maintain (never expand) the current highway system. If traffic congestion is a problem somewhere, raise the rates there until the problem goes away. People will take the bus or train if private commuting is too expensive. If there is no bus or train now, there will be when enough people demand it.
posted by pracowity at 1:09 AM on October 11, 2011 [25 favorites]


I say everyone should live within unicycling distance of work, because, damn, it would be cool to see hundreds of people going to work on unicycles.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:09 AM on October 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


I suspect that this dude would be the sort of insufferable dickhead who saved by living in his parents' garage until he was 37 and who would recoil in horror at the suggestion that one be so stupid as to carry a mortgage.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:14 AM on October 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hear that, guys? All you need to do is sell your cars and buy a nice $5000 used car that will get 35 mpg for 100,000 miles with no major repairs! Or you could just forgo this and get a cheap magic carpet!

Or, you can do what many people in cities outwith North America do and cycle or take public transport in. I take the Tube into work, others take the bus, one guy cycles in (though admittedly that's a 25mile round trip). Living in a city where very very few people own a car, it seems so strange that you would need one at all, save for moving house.

Having said that, jimmythefish's comments reminds me of all those articles here about how to get your first property - you either wait for someone to die and leave you pots of cash, borrow money off your middle-class wealthy parents, or you move in with your parents as all parents live in areas rich with jobs and close to your own.
posted by mippy at 1:21 AM on October 11, 2011


The elephant in the room is unequal housing prices.

No. The elephant in the room is the heavily subsidised price of fuel in the United States that makes a 50 mile commute economically viable. Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will find European solutions.
posted by three blind mice at 1:23 AM on October 11, 2011 [41 favorites]


I think you guys are missing a major point about the cost of driving. If people really understod how much driving costs them both monetarily and in risk to life and limb, they might be more ready to consider paying higher taxes for reliable public transportation, and clamour for better urban (and suburban) planning that is not so car-centric. We needn't only think about how we can ameliorate these costs in the extreme short term (moving, etc); we can use these facts to spur long term thinking.

My personal perspective is informed by the fact that I moved from a city where I had to drive all the time to a city where I am able to walk and take public transport everywhere. There is no way I'm going to go back to a driving lifestyle. I'm spoiled; I don't even own a car, and I love it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:26 AM on October 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


I say everyone should live within unicycling distance of work, because, damn, it would be cool to see hundreds of people going to work on unicycles.

I used to see a guy riding a unicycle in downtown Pittsburgh, pedaling for all he was worth to stay ahead of afternoon traffic. I was entertained, but also a little terrified for him.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:33 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


we can use these facts to spur long term thinking

But you can't. People don't do long-term thinking well.

People know what food is good for them in the long term but this bag of chips sure is tasty. They know they need more exercise every day and they plan on getting it, but their favorite show is on right now and there is beer in the fridge. They know smoking takes actual hours, days, and years off their lives -- time they know they would beg to have back at the end -- and they know that their deaths will much more likely be nasty gasping wasting affairs because they smoke, but that one cigarette they are having right now sure is exactly what they needed right now.

You need to make bad short-term thinking cost a lot in the short term -- bam! we just took ten dollars of your beer money straight out of your wallet to pay for this road toll, and we'll do it again every time you come back -- and then put the money to long-term good, like paying for a bus running the same route.
posted by pracowity at 1:43 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would so love to not need a car. I would love to never need a car. I moved from sprawling suburbia to what was sold to me as a walkable city and STILL need my car because half of what we need to get to is still out in a different sprawling suburbia.

Are there that many people with long commutes who think it's an awesome use of time and money, or is it more likely that people do what they think is necessary to find the compromise between staying employed and living in an affordable place that isn't too terrible and scrounging a decent education for their kids? I would like to see a credible research study on this topic.
posted by bleep at 1:44 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"No. The elephant in the room is the heavily subsidised price of fuel in the United States that makes a 50 mile commute economically viable. Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will find European solutions."

Bingo.

Also, one of the happiest days of my life was when I sold my car and moved to a country with decent public transport (speaking as an American ex-pat).

Seriously, when I sold it there was a proverbial weight off my shoulders. My friends thought I was crazy. I thought I was a little crazy.

But living without insurance, gas, or repair fees is the only way to go. I don't think I could ever go back.
posted by bardic at 1:46 AM on October 11, 2011


I dunno, I calculated out the costs and found commuting by public transportation would add a full 2-3 hours extra of commuting time per day and still cost more than traveling by my car. So I go by car.
posted by schroedinger at 1:48 AM on October 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


2. It assumes that other forms of commuting are free. They're not. I mostly ride or take the bus. Bus costs me $5 a day. Riding costs in terms of tubes, tires, bike maintenance, seasonal clothes, etc. Less but not free.

Indeed. I run to work some days, but on days when my wife and I are both working, and my daughter is going into creche, it would cost us significantly more than the cost of parking plus running the car for us to take the bus. Despite the fact that the bus service is heavily subsidised out of rates (property taxes for those in the US). So my rates are paying for the city roads I can drive or bus on, a bus subsidy, and I'm paying out of pocket, and for that my car is still cheaper to run in that the out-of-pocket price? WTF?

On top of that, when I took the bus for the first year I lived in my current house, my experience was that buses were often late or early, leaving me waiting 20 minutes for the next one (if early); on a number of occasions buses simply refused to stop. And Wellington has a *good* bus service by New Zealand standards. Hell, my Parisian French teacher tells me it has a better bus service than most *French* cities.

As well as the Vimes' Boot Problem (hey, street sweepers, secretaries, just get a $350k bigger mortgage and live closer to town! You'll save in the long run!), it also ignores that evening out the cost of insurance, depreciation, and those costs to a per-kilometer basis is, on one level, a nice way of looking at TCO, but, in another, complete horseshit. If you have *one* use case that justifies a car (regular trips where there's poor or zero public transport options, transporting a number of people who cost-prohibitive on public transport, for example), you will be paying insurance. It doesn't matter if you drive 5km or 50000km. Using the car less saves you nothing.
posted by rodgerd at 1:48 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and believe me, I would totally ditch the car for public transit if it made any sense for my situation.
posted by schroedinger at 1:48 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will find European solutions.

we'll shrink our landmass or split off all the states into their own countries?
posted by nadawi at 1:49 AM on October 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


American drivers work two hours a day to pay for their cars.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 1:57 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I moved from sprawling suburbia to what was sold to me as a walkable city and STILL need my car because half of what we need to get to is still out in a different sprawling suburbia.

Everything in the US right now is configured for cars. Sprawl is the result of low gas prices, low parking prices, and low road tolls that allow for taking cars everywhere. Raise them and these sprawling suburbs will reconfigure themselves.

And it's got absolutely nothing to do with how big your country is. If Europeans can work X miles from home, so can you. You don't have to drive ten times farther just because your country is ten times bigger. There is no natural law that says the distance between work and home or home and school must expand or shrink proportionally to match the size of the country. Demand sensible planning where you live.
posted by pracowity at 1:57 AM on October 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


For those not familiar, the Hacker News demographic is mostly upper middle class white males between the ages of 18-35, without children, who live/work in San Francisco as junior javascript software developers but are convinced that they're going to sell a startup for 10MM+.

So... yeah.
posted by outlaw of averages at 2:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ah, yes! Remember the good ol' days, when you could live wherever you wanted, and work wherever you wanted?

And there are also ways to live in the town of your dreams without signing up for a commute – get a new job! (There are plenty of them here in my own city)

Writing crap like this can be pretty bad for your actual health, Captain Wow.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:44 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Raise them and these sprawling suburbs will reconfigure themselves.

Not without a fair bit of suffering first, by people who are already suffering. I understand it'll be great when it's done (like I said, I would love to get rid of my car), but it's going to hurt first. The infrastructure is well-entrenched and public transit, like anything public that needs funds, is always being de-funded. Getting the public to agree to fund anything at all, even schools, is a hard sell at this point. Getting them to massively re-configure entire towns and cities is a tall order. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, I'm just saying it's easier said than done with the way things are going in the US lately.
posted by bleep at 2:47 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


> American drivers work two hours a day to pay for their cars.

When our car went to car heaven hell last spring, my wife and I decided to forgo buying a new one, even though we could afford it, because we hated the thought of so much of our time and money going towards one. The only problem is that we live in a city where public transit sucks so badly (and it's going to get worse) that sometimes it literally takes me longer to *catch* a bus than it did to drive home.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:06 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


we can use these facts to spur long term thinking

But you can't. People don't do long-term thinking well.


The fact that people don't do it well does not mean they can't do it. It just means they have to be pushed into it ("average citizens" and politicians alike). Making people aware of the true costs of commuting is part of that process. There are, in fact, many examples of long-term thought going into policies in developed countries. Now, there are some who would destroy those policies, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:09 AM on October 11, 2011


Corportations: "Now, if we could just convince people to live right near their jobs and stop driving to other towns, we could really have something!"
posted by ShutterBun at 3:18 AM on October 11, 2011


Here's an idea to think about:


Why would you - or anyone figure out a way to live without a car, if you still have a car?


If that car of yours simply vanished one day, you would figure out a way. We're all smart, creative people. Creativity works when problems are faced head on.

Don't face the problem, never find a solution.

Me? I chose to ride a bicycle. It's hard to count how many times I've been told I can't do something, because I have a bicycle. It's hard to count now how many times I've done something incredible simply *because* I have a bicycle. I can't convince a naysayer, but I can show someone how much fun I have pedaling around, not needing a car. Or that bill for that car. Or the insurance for that car. Or the stress from that car. Or those extra pounds from that car.

Does it create other, different problems? Doesn't any solution? Were they faced and dealt with? YES! Did it pay off? Oh, hell yeah! I would never want to own a car, ever again. To me, it's crazy. Did I think that way when I own a car? No way!

Don't be a slave to your car. Radically rethink your basic assumptions. We've got some big problems we're all facing, yes?

Yes.

You can't move freely until you unshackle yourself. Or at least give an alternative idea a, ahem, test drive. Do it do it do it do it do it do it.
posted by alex_skazat at 3:19 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


It turns out the cost of a late model car in good working order that never needs repairs, maintenance, gas, insurance, payments or tax is.... $15 per month for a key, $5 per hour or $50 per day when checked out, and 23c per km driven.

I don't have a dog in this race; car sharing is a good solution for some. We have saved thousands since we joined a year ago. But it doesn't work if you are a daily commuter who has no alternative to driving: you pay by the hour for the car to sit in the lot at work.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:54 AM on October 11, 2011


"Before the 19th Century, most workers live less than an hour's walk from their work."

People have always commuted to work. Whether it was the farmer walking from town out to his field or the laborer walking from home to the warehouse or the servant walking from home to the employer's house, for most of human history, people did not live particularly close to where they worked.

The difference is that commuting now costs actual money in addition to time whereas before it didn't. But even though wages for the working class have stagnated over the past few decades (unless you factor in benefits, in which case they've gone up), it's still about 50% higher--adjusted for inflation--than it was sixty years ago, and that was several times what it was in the early nineteenth century.

It's called "cost of living," and hey, it's gone up! But so have incomes. One of the reason the lowest quintile is feeling so squeezed right now is that it's really hard to even put a household together for someone on the low end of the income scale. This has always been true--people have been poor pretty much forever--but cost of living is high enough now that the difference between someone who can cover that and someone who can't is pretty dramatic. A hundred years ago, there wasn't really all that much health care you could buy, for love or money, but now there is, so the lack of it is really obvious. A hundred years ago, most homes, even in urban areas, didn't necessarily have electricity, and having it wasn't essential to living. Now it is. A hundred years ago, the telephone was still a recent invention, and most homes didn't have one. Now it's pretty much a requirement for participation in modern life. A hundred years ago, most homes were heated by actually burning fuel right there in the home, whether it be wood or coal, and a lot of people were just cold six-odd months out of the year. Now there really isn't the infrastructure for that sort of thing, and a house without heat can be condemned, so there's another monthly bill. And, of course, a hundred years ago you didn't really need a car to have a job. Now most people basically do.

Bitching about increased cost of living isn't really all that productive. Not only has that ship completely sailed, but the fact that it has is simply a testament to just how much better our lives are, materially speaking, than our great grandparents' were.

Deal with it.
posted by valkyryn at 4:11 AM on October 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


The best thing that we ever did was move back into the city to be near our jobs. We do have a car but I drive it so little that I put gas into it last night for the first time since August. With a little inconvenience, we could get by with the ZipCars that are parked about two blocks away for grocery runs and such. But we'll have the car paid off in May so it will only cost us insurance plus $100 a year for registration/inspection. It's a Honda Fit so it doesn't really cost anything in maintenance.

We're probably lucky that we live in a city where you can buy a "downtown" house for < $200,000 so YMMV for other cities.
posted by octothorpe at 4:20 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not without a fair bit of suffering first, by people who are already suffering.

It doesn't have to be all suffering. Shift the parameters for developers and then let development continue but in new directions.

For example, make it the law that no new (or repurposed) residential housing can be created farther than X schoolchild-suitable sidewalk miles from public schools that can handle the predicted number of children in the new residences. X might actually be a few numbers, one suitable for elementary school children, one for middle school children, one for high school children. And define "schoolchild-suitable sidewalk" as a safe paved walkway of certain dimensions that is maintained year round for walking or for bicycling by children under a certain age, and that is actually suitable for children (railings, lighting, crosswalks, wheelchair ramps where needed, etc.). And that's it. Who the fuck can be against making sidewalks for kids to get to school?

Developers will always find a way to make money. They will be pressured to build housing close to existing schools in places with sidewalks, so people would of course find more housing options in such places. But if there is going to be continued sprawling development, it's going to be with the creation and maintenance of home-to-school sidewalks, maybe including the creation of whole new schools, and no more new car-only bedroom communities. Kids will be able to walk or bike to school from the new places and from everywhere along the sprawlway between the new places and the school. This will mean less car traffic (especially during school rush hour), more foot traffic in general, more exercise for everybody, more bike paths, more support for Main Street and corner stores instead of big box stores, and more social cohesion in the neighborhood. Parents who would have been driving SUV-loads of kids could instead take turns getting some exercise while escorting their kids in walking or bicycling convoys. Existing bedroom communities might get sidewalks and bicycle paths because the developer wants to put more houses on the green side of the existing residential area and has to put sidewalks and bike paths around or through the existing housing to make it legal.

Similar laws might be to require a certain number of multi-family rental units to be erected in each new residential area, allow people to rent rooms in their current homes, allow people to run small businesses from their homes, and require daily bus service (at least during rush hours) between these new areas and the nearest town centers or transportation terminals. Now you have flexible housing available for singles, cohabiting people, and new families, and you have car-free options for getting those people to school and work.

You have to decide how you want life to be and then make sure it happens that way.
posted by pracowity at 4:30 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hell, my Parisian French teacher tells me it has a better bus service than most *French* cities

It may. It may not. But a Parisian has a certain view of all things provincial.

/former Parisian
posted by Wolof at 4:31 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to drive to work downtown until I found out that all the cute girls ride the number 4 bus round 7:30 or 7:45 each morning. We all ride back round 4:30 or 5:00. Riding the bus is a quality of life issue for me.
posted by localhuman at 4:33 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


My entire response to this article is something like "Congratulations. How wonderful."

And I walk two miles to work each day, with options that include a bus (slow) or train (7 bucks round trip?!?) but which are there. I am a rare American, in that I cannot drive; I was extremely lucky to end up in a town with fairly good public transportation and which is, handily, full of things like my doctor, a hardware store, grocery shops, eyeglass places, and what seem like a million nail salons. (And cheap rent! But killer property taxes.) But you know what? I have two degrees, and could get this job. I grew up in a city with parents who thought 12 mile walks were a pleasure stroll. I have really strong legs, and no health problems, which are what allow me to consider my walk through my gorgeous neighborhood. It is gorgeous and safe because it is populated almost entirely by that famous 1% of Americans. I am pretty sure most people do not enjoy the luxury of safe, clean, and secure sidewalks. My boyfriend has just moved to a different state: should we teleconference our relationship? I have one friend who ended up in a coma after being smacked by a hit-and-run driver; it is harder to dismiss those fears once you have seen your friends lying that still. And so on, and so on.

I get it. I hate the car culture. The nearest DMV is not accessible by public transportation, unless you consider an hour and a half to two + hours each way accessible. One must go there to get an ID card, which is really kind of cruel, if you can't drive. But to blithely wave away the very real reasons actual people-- with their myriad, wonderful, terrible problems, not caricatures of fat, stultified Americans-- commute smacks of inanity.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:35 AM on October 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


The asshat who wrote that article needs to move out from his urban paradise and plop his hipster ass down somewhere between the coasts, where public transportation exists only marginally and where a change in employment can mean suddenly living 60 miles from work, instead of around the corner, next to the Starbucks.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:36 AM on October 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


At twice the age of Mr. Money Moustache, I can attest to the utility of his life strategy--and then some. The mindset and problemsolving approach he promotes--works. Many of the commenters qualifiying and objecting to his philosophy in this posting merely demonstrate the barriers and misconceptions he has overcome. Read his Complainypants posting to see what I mean.
posted by Sparkticus at 4:37 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm all for nuking the commute, but the blogger has his head up his arse.

If you buy the right car for $5,000, you might be able to squeeze 100,000 miles out of it with no major repairs. In this case the car depreciation is 5 cents per mile.

Yes, you might, or the transmission might fail after 5 minutes. Buying a $5k used car and expecting to drive it for four or five years without major repairs is a ridiculous premise.
posted by unSane at 4:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Obviously the answer is: quit your job and become a full-time blogger.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The asshat who wrote that article needs to move out from his urban paradise and plop his hipster ass down somewhere between the coasts, where public transportation exists only marginally and where a change in employment can mean suddenly living 60 miles from work, instead of around the corner, next to the Starbucks.
Maybe that's where he moved from?
posted by SyntacticSugar at 5:13 AM on October 11, 2011


Looking through the archives I found the reason for the self-righteousness I was looking for... The blogger started out of school with a household income of $90,000 and very quickly went to $200,000 per year. Gosh, if only poor people got the message that they need to earn more then all their financial problems will be solved! And a $5,000 car is no problem because even if it doesn't have a major repair in those four or five years you just dip into your generous savings! People living paycheque to paycheque have clearly made nothing but poor choices and bad luck or lack of access to opportunities and barriers to education and employment have nothing to do with the choices they have. I'm glad his life has worked out so well but his smug "my family of three lives on $43,000 in expenses a year (including their international travel and organic food) when other families live on much les because they have no choice really gets up my craw....
posted by saucysault at 5:19 AM on October 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


You have to decide how you want life to be and then make sure it happens that way.

What. The. Fuck.

Obviously, you have absolutely no experience with the land use planning process.

make it the law that no new (or repurposed) residential housing can be created farther than X schoolchild-suitable sidewalk miles from public schools that can handle the predicted number of children in the new residences.

Okay, you've now outlawed new housing developments. Awesome. What you haven't done is created any space for said residential housing. All of that land within "X schoolchild-suitable sidewalk miles"? There's already stuff there. Some of it's houses. Some of it's businesses. Some of it's public infrastructure. But I guaran-damn-tee you that there's no large tracts of land just laying around, waiting for someone to throw up cheap, mixed-use, walkable developments.

You also haven't done anything about existing zoning. Which can be changed of course, but it has to be, and that's a political process. Property owners don't like it when you change the zoning of their property, either because it drives their property values down, which obviously pisses them off, or because it drives their property values up, meaning they pay more in property taxes,* or it makes it impossible to sell their property at all, because what they're doing on it now has just become illegal. I mean, have you ever been to a zoning board hearing? Because I have, and lemme tell you, unless it's a property owner specifically asking for a minor variance, almost no one is happy.

I'm not even going to bother examining the rest of your proposal in detail, because it's completely divorced from anything resembling our current reality. Suffice it to say that land use planning does not work the way you seem to think that it does. Municipal government is not, as it turns out, anything remotely like Sim City.

*And if you think that isn't a big deal, you haven't dealt with the voting block that is senior citizens living on a fixed income. Think they give two shits about whether or not someone else's brats can walk to school? Not if it means their cost structure changes.
posted by valkyryn at 5:22 AM on October 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'd love it if we could simply redesign the US to no longer include suburban sprawl and whole areas that are barely navigable without a car. Sometimes I wish the US was an Etch-a-Sketch, which we could harmlessly shake to start all over. Since the US is not an Etch-a-Sketch, we're stuck with most of the current urban designs.

The necessity of owning a car in most places is an enormous burden, although there are some solutions which could work, such as increased bus and shuttle services.

What are some examples of car-centric areas which have remodeled themselves into not being so car-centric?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:29 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those of you who have the perfect non-car commute now: what would you do if your place of employment moved to a location that's not easily bus/walking/bike accessible? Would you just find another job?
posted by Lucinda at 5:41 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Obviously an article like this that fails to take into account the difficulties that are faced by people with less options is of very limited usefulness. The failure to address the systemic issues of urban planning and public transportation in the US is even more problematic.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure that there are lots of people in the US who have had no experience living in a situation where they don't need to commute by car, probably starting at 16 when they got their license and started driving to high school. For some of these people, it could be very hard to understand the car-free lifestyle as a genuine possibility.

I would guess that people who have had the opportunity to live without a car commute mostly appreciate the benefits of that lifestyle, regardless of whether they can do it currently. On the flip-side, people who have never had that opportunity are more likely to feel that it is simply impossible for them.
posted by snofoam at 5:46 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to drive to work downtown until I found out that all the cute girls ride the number 4 bus round 7:30 or 7:45 each morning. We all ride back round 4:30 or 5:00. Riding the bus is a quality of life issue for me.

Bus Crush (mp3)
posted by snofoam at 5:48 AM on October 11, 2011


I dunno, I calculated out the costs and found commuting by public transportation would add a full 2-3 hours extra of commuting time per day and still cost more than traveling by my car. So I go by car.

Rounding up the IRS mileage costs to 50 cents/mile, relying on the bus for commuting would cost us a dollar or so a day more than driving does. I'm pretty sure that my actual costs are lower than the IRS number, but haven't calculated it out; that's on top of the afore-mentioned issues with time, flexibility (I often need to work later than the last bus -- uh oh!), and being able to add efficiency by stopping at the library and grocery store on my way home from work -- something you can do on the bus, but only if you can match each stop to the bus schedule.

As has been mentioned above, changing the implicit subsidies for driving would change that calculation significantly, and there is certainly a threshold above which I'd be willing to stand in the rain for 10 minutes waiting for the bus, but it would take a lot more than a small gas tax. Even in Europe, with gas at painful prices, I see a lot of cars on the road -- people overwhelmingly prefer the convenience and comfort of personal vehicles and are willing to pay very high costs to use them when they can. Buses are pretty far down the list of preferred commuting options, and I don't miss riding them at all.

Cheap housing is often located very far from low-wage employment: it's a structural issue that can't be solved by low-wage workers making better choices.

This, exactly. There are a set of issues (eg transportation, health, obesity, education, etc) that all require structural solutions, and yet that we insist on addressing as issues of individual choice, both in our discussions here and in our national politics. Changing the constraints in which people are making choices (eg by altering the costs of driving, or the land use options available) has a lot more power than does urging unrealistic individual choices that won't work for most people.

I've lived with cars and without cars; I'm ok either way, but neither is some magic ticket to paradise. (There is a special place in hell, though, for the people who talk all loud about how ridiculous and wasteful pickup trucks are, and then ask to borrow yours when they have something to move.)
posted by Forktine at 5:53 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


For those of you who have the perfect non-car commute now: what would you do if your place of employment moved to a location that's not easily bus/walking/bike accessible? Would you just find another job?

Not everyone, for sure. On average, though, I think someone with a non-car commute would give that factor more weight when making the decision than someone who had always had to drive considering a new place to work/live.
posted by snofoam at 5:55 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The average house where I teach costs one million dollars more than I paid for my house, and because my house was fairly inexpensive, I was able to take a 15 year mortgage. It'll be paid off in 5 years, when I'm 46. we both took teaching jobs where we were offered them, and we both love where we teach, and changing districts would lose us seniority... Insane in today's environment.

Also, my wife and I commute in a small car. She has health problems and could never walk or bike unless work was next door. Our commuting costs are pretty minimal, although we did buy our car new... I've had too much experience with used cars.

Lastly, living close to work as a teacher means that hoisting that giant homebrew at the block party might not be an option, depending on where you live, and wearing my Republicans for Voldemort t-shirt would definitely not be an option where I teach, unless you enjoy pointless conflict with the people whose children you teach.

Not everyone lives in perfect circumstances.
posted by Huck500 at 5:57 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I meant we carpool, which makes the drive pretty nice, actually... We talk the whole time.
posted by Huck500 at 5:58 AM on October 11, 2011


I would guess that people who have had the opportunity to live without a car commute mostly appreciate the benefits of that lifestyle, regardless of whether they can do it currently. On the flip-side, people who have never had that opportunity are more likely to feel that it is simply impossible for them.

Only something like 10% of the country lives in an urban area where even part of the city permits a car-free lifestyle without major concessions. I doubt there's more than a dozen people in my current city of 400,000 who are car-free by choice. There are probably more than that in Indianapolis, but not that many, as it's got the fourth-lowest population density out of the top-25 largest US cities, coming in ahead of only Jacksonville, Nashville, Fort Worth, and Memphis, none of which are really known for being all that walkable.

Really, population density has to get over something like 9,000 before you start seeing cities on that list which have more than one or two neighborhoods in which one could make living car-free even remotely workable. By my count, that's 26 of the largest 275 cities in the country. Even fudging the numbers a bit, you're still looking at only a few handfuls of cities where this is seriously plausible.

The US is really, really big. It just is.
posted by valkyryn at 6:02 AM on October 11, 2011


We're currently using buses, metro and taxis in China which is a big saving on the cost of the 2 cars that we had in Texas. When we eventually move back to Canada/US, we're talking about moving to a location that would let us get by with only one car rather than two. As others mention though, affordable housing close to work may be unavailable. Agree with the point that petrol is too cheap in the US and this has led to the urban sprawl and surburbia in North America.

In other news, smug blogger is smug.
posted by arcticseal at 6:03 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other news, someone applies "common sense" individual solutions to deep structural problems, then is astonished - astonished! - when people don't take their advice!

I say this, by the way, as someone who gave up her car as soon as she passed probation at her current job. You know what? I live in dread of losing my current job and needing to fork over money from savings to get a car to work a shitty job in the suburbs, since most of the jobs for which I am qualified are out in various edge cities.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, valkyryn, I think that's part of what I wanted to say, but didn't say. There is really only a small minority in the US who have ever had the opportunity to experience a reasonable non-car commute. I think this helps maintain the status quo because so many people don't actually know if or how much they might appreciate it.
posted by snofoam at 6:08 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let me tell you about my moral superiority through fuzzy math and just world fallacies!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:14 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


whenever i visit dc or nyc i always get a little depressed when i get back from masstransit deprivation and envy. both cities i've lived and worked in i have tried to not need a car. doesnt work. very often the limited bus routes would leave me stranded if i missed the bus at 430pm or 7pm depending on the job, with no other bus stop for miles nor a walkable distance home.

i could get to work an hour early or 20 min late. and i had to get the only bus home or be screwed.

i hate driving and would gladly not but the busses dont work like that here.
posted by sio42 at 6:16 AM on October 11, 2011


For those of you who have the perfect non-car commute now: what would you do if your place of employment moved to a location that's not easily bus/walking/bike accessible? Would you just find another job?

I would certainly start looking.

We all have priorities to balance. I've found that a short commute (20 mins by bike) greatly increases my happiness, health and time with my family. Thus, a short non-car commute is more valuable to me than a yard or a driveway. My wife and I even decided that our kids would be better off in a low-ranked urban public school system if it meant that they'd get two extra hours with us every day that we would've spent commuting.

I like my job a lot. If it moved to the suburbs, I'd grit my teeth and lease a car for a few months while I looked for a new job. I'd likely accept a pay cut in the range of %15-20 if it meant I could keep my commute time down.
posted by xthlc at 6:24 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


that all require structural solutions, and yet that we insist on addressing as issues of individual choice

This is the nut of the matter. I lived for a number of years without a car in two different cities in California. It was always a hassle-- whether it was riding my bike at night in the rain or waiting for a bus at 2:00 a.m. on a deserted street. I tried my best to live without a car where a car was necessary and I was miserable. I even found a job within walking distance of my apartment in Los Angeles, but I was screwed when I wanted to go visit my mom who lived in Long Beach.

Then I lived in London for a while and what a pleasure that was! I would love, LOVE to live like that again with undergrounds and buses and taxis that go everywhere. But short of moving to San Francisco or New York I would not be able to re-create that and I could never afford to live in either of those cities.

My mom is 74 and she spent some time this summer visiting me here in NC and her relatives in Illinois and Iowa. She was looking for that little town where she would no longer have to drive-- where she could walk to the grocery store and to church and to the library. There isn't any place like that around here. She made the decision to stay in her home in Long Beach, but what happens when she can no longer drive? I guess she will go into a retirement home.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:30 AM on October 11, 2011


I think this helps maintain the status quo because so many people don't actually know if or how much they might appreciate it.

I'm thinking more that the status quo has as much to do with geography as it does with human agency. It just doesn't make sense to run a robust mass transit system that only a few hundred people are going to use. And that describes the situation for the vast majority of municipalities in the country. The population density of the US is only about 87/mi^2, while the density of Europe is 181/mi^2. Given the sheer amount of land that's available, it would take some real governmental intervention, unlike anything we've ever seen, to make spreading out more expensive than not, and this would be fought tooth and nail by people who 1) don't want to live in a tenement, and 2) don't want to see their cost of living go up.
posted by valkyryn at 6:43 AM on October 11, 2011


I managed to be car-free in Memphis and Nashville for years, until my office moved to a location that wasn't as convenient and I was forced to buy a car.

A group of my acquaintances seemed surprised, and I wormed it out of one of them that they had all assumed I was a convicted drunk driver who wasn't allowed to drive. I asked around and found lots of people who admitted that if a person didn't have a car, they seemed like a screw-up.

So all those car-free years I unknowingly had a reputation, not as a tree-hugger, but as a drunk driver. Sigh.

(I'm from Philadelphia and had lived for years in cities that had decent public transport and where not having a car didn't carry a stigma.)
posted by Toothless Willy at 6:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you live in a small Midwestern town and lose your job, you will quickly run through all potential employers in that town during your job search. With no car you would be unable to job search in neighboring communities, and would thereby disqualify for continuing to receive unemployment benefits. No car means no unemployment money.
posted by yesster at 6:52 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


For those of you who have the perfect non-car commute now: what would you do if your place of employment moved to a location that's not easily bus/walking/bike accessible? Would you just find another job?

I would certainly start looking.


Same. I'm an engineer and urban planner by training. When I finished grad school, I worked part time for two years while hunting for a job close to my home. Eventually I found it...in health care facilities planning (and now healthcare business planning).

For me it's a lot easier to get used to a new field than than an hour long commute. To a large degree, professional jobs are pretty interchangeable. Learn enough to be dangerous, then sit in front of a keyboard writing email, go to meetings, communicate with others, and occasionally come up with useful ideas. I recently took a new job 2 miles farther from home. It came with a 40% pay bump and the money barely makes up for the unhappiness associated with the doubling of my commute. Pleasant 25 minute walk past coffee shops and my kids' daycare versus an inconvenient bike ride, traffic jam-y drive or hour long walk along 4 lane roads? Not really worth it, considering I had enough money to get by on before.

You do not *need* to stay in a given field. Chances are, if you're that specialized, you're clever enough to be employable in another field. Above a certain economic strata, people make the choice to put career over lifestyle. I'd take a 50% pay cut before I signed on for a 60 mile freeway commute, no question. I'd move to a new city (or even a new country) before I'd spend 2-3 hours stuck in traffic every day.

Two extra hours in traffic? Two fewer hours sleeping would kill me. Two fewer hours cooking would mean takeout every night. Two fewer hours around my kids EVERY DAY? Over 18 years of my kids' time with me, that's the equivalent of about 1.5 years of their lives (assuming I'm awake 16 hours a day). No way. Living in a small apartment with no cell phone or cable TV, eating more beans and rice and moving the kids around in a bike trailer would be vastly preferable.

Long commutes are the most soul sucking part of modern life.
posted by pjaust at 7:01 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


we'll shrink our landmass or split off all the states into their own countries?

Not to negate your point, which is perfectly valid, but I'm not sure what they're trying to achieve with that map. That's neither Europe nor the European Union there. Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus are all missing if it's an EU map.

And if it's a map of the whole of Europe they were after then it's slightly bigger than they're making out.
posted by vbfg at 7:01 AM on October 11, 2011


I'm thinking more that the status quo has as much to do with geography as it does with human agency.

I don't really agree with you on this one. I definitely agree that right now the opportunities to live in a car-free lifestyle in the US are limited and realistically only some individuals can choose to do so at this time. On the other hand, our reliance on cars is totally a product of decisions we have made (government, corporations and individuals) to organize ourselves in a way that is dependent on cars.

If we had chosen to have less dependence on cars, we could have designed our cities differently. In fact, we largely re-designed our cities starting in the 1950s or so to make them more car centric. As difficult as it would be, we also have the ability to redesign our cities to be more amenable to public transportation.

It's also somewhat misleading to compare national population density. I don't think anyone has ever suggested building a high-speed rail network to link small towns in Montana. A lot of the population of the US is pretty urbanized, even though our urban areas are often quite sprawling.
posted by snofoam at 7:02 AM on October 11, 2011


The comments on this thread make me depressed, because I'm realizing that America will never be able to let go of our horrendously wasteful suburban lifestyles in my lifetime.

I still own a car, but don't drive it to work. For the past several months, I've been lending it to a family member who needs it for a (temporary) commute. I've had to make several lifestyle changes, although I'm lucky to live in a city with good public transportation (but not as good as it should/could be), and have the ability to ride my bike to work (I live in a closet and pay through the nose for this luxury, and it's totally worth it). Living without a car has been surprisingly easier than I expected it to be.

These lifestyle changes have occasionally been inconvenient (long trip = car rental, which is surprisingly still cheaper than owning even if you rent a car fairly frequently), but have also allowed me to get to know my city better, save on groceries and other consumer goods, and have literally put me into the best physical shape of my life. Biking to the grocery store really isn't all that bad.

Even back when I was paying insurance/fuel/mainenance on my car (but not commuting) with it, I was saving buckets of money and sanity. For one, your insurance rates plummet when you only drive 5,000 miles a year (even further with companies like Progressive who actually check and confirm that you're not lying to them), and you're putting significantly less mileage and wear/tear on your vehicle. Dropping the car entirely has saved me even more money; my clunker that I didn't use to commute was still gobbling up a fairly hefty chunk of my income.

For the sake of intellectual honesty, although I agree with his premise, the author is 100% incorrect that you can drive *any* car for 100,000 miles with little to no maintenance. For starters, you're going to need oil (which is cheap but not free), tires, brakes, and "big maintenance" items like my car's timing belt, whcih needs to be replaced every 90k miles. That's also assuming you don't have any major engine or transmission problems, that you don't fail your emissions inspection (new Catalytic converters cost $1200; I know this from experience, and it's a painful repair to make), or that you don't have any other random incidental damages or failures. A few months ago, my power steering pump died of old age. It was a "cheap" repair by most standards, which meant about $300.

Now, my car is more expensive than most to repair, although brakes, tires, and catalytic converters are pretty much expensive items anywhere, and need to be replaced no matter how economical your car is, or how carefully you put on those 100,000 miles.

He's also incorrect that you can apply this logic to poor families. Housing costs are indeed too high for many low-wage workers to give up their vehicles. However, it's totally valid for a majority of middle-class families, who can easily give up one of their cars, or move to a nicer (but smaller) house or townhome downtown and give up both cars.

And, yeah. A lot of American municipal bus networks suck hard, and seem to have been designed with the sole intent of punishing poor people. I only only own a car because my commute on Hampton Roads Transit was completely destroying both my physical and mental health (their routes make no sense, and usually require multiple transfers with long wait times; the main road through Newport News has many bus lines running on it, none of which actually travel down the entire length of the strip; also, placing bus shelters in unshaded parking lots in a city where 110-degree summers are expected is just plain cruel. It was a common occurrence for the driver to pull over, turn the bus (and A/C) off, walk into a Burger King, eat breakfast, and get back on the bus pretending like we all hadn't seem what had just happened. Also, almost every line stopped by the parole office, and for some reason the buses were always packed with Eastern European teenagers.). Fortunately, as long as there's a will to do so, we can fix these things fairly easily once we stop designing bus networks as a means of punishment for poor people.

Also, if your job situation is volatile, don't expect to magically be able to remain in the same city perpetually. That's just silly. (I'd also tell you not to move to a city where there's a volatile job market, although that's just about everywhere these days, so my best advice is to not plant your roots too deeply, and to not buy a house if you don't have stable employment.)
posted by schmod at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I also find it intriguing that time in the car -- when you can, for instance, catch up on news or books or sing badly -- counts as bad, work time, but time biking counts as good, personal time. (My commute in the car is about half an hour. A bus would take me about an hour, as would biking, and then I could not do all my grocery shopping at lunch time, which is a lovely way to save my evenings.)
posted by jeather at 7:06 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The population density of the US is only about 87/mi^2, while the density of Europe is 181/mi^2.

That argument might make sense if the US population density was uniform, but the population density of 16 states (including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and California) are all higher than that European average, some quite considerably higher, and of course the population densities in some parts of those states are much higher still. The US is not all Wyoming.

Large areas of the US could easily support mass transit. Massachusetts and Japan have comparable population densities.
posted by pracowity at 7:10 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Your cities didn't end up this way by accident and they are not going to change by accident.

First step would be deciding that maybe poor people shouldn't be punished for being poor. Second step would probably be something like deciding that maybe HOAs aren't so great after all.

Yeah, I know, revolutionary concept alien to the majority of US voters. Nevertheless, you're gonna have to do it some day, may as well get started on it. Car culture is, long term, doomed. Change while you still can or get ready to starve.
posted by aramaic at 7:11 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Insufferable.....and I say that as a person who has pretty much done what he's suggested. I rode a bike until I was 30, then I bought a Civic hatchback in '93 and still drive it today. It's worked out well. The thing is, I live in Toronto. We've invested in transportation options that most smaller places don't have or can't afford on their tax base. With house prices what they are today, I'd never qualify for a loan on a mid-town property, so I'd be commuting.

On this issue, it's more about intelligently direct public works vs. the never-ending promise of lower taxation from the corporate-subsidized right than it is about personal choices.

So,... fuck that smug bastard.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you could afford to do it in the first place. At 400k difference that's a really, really big if (that's $2000-3000 in mortgage a month on top of what you'd be paying to live anywhere else -- talk about a let-them-eat-cake proposition.)

That's a pretty big flaw in the article. It values your time at $25 per hour, so if your commute is an extra two hour a day, that is $1000 extra a month that you would "save" by moving closer. But the idea that you can then apply that $1000 to your mortgage is nonsense, since it's not real money. And I don't even think it's valid to value non-working time at working pay rates, unless you are actually winning to work those extra hours you get back.
posted by smackfu at 7:13 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a 1%er telling us 99%ers that we can't figure out whether car ownership is a good choice for us.

Thanks for the wisdom, Overlord.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:16 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a 1%er telling us 99%ers that we can't figure out whether car ownership is a good choice for us.

Thanks for the wisdom, Overlord.


Ya know, the guy is insufferable and misses most of the important points, but he's not responsible for the status quo and he's not actually trying to pry the steering wheel from peoples' cold, dead hands.

I think the sentiment in your comment is actually similarly smug. Consider the folks who are genuinely poor and dependent on their old clunker to get to work, having trouble coming up with gas money and constantly worried about the next car problem that's going to cost them their job. Positioning car ownership as a choice ignores the very real problems that some people face.
posted by snofoam at 7:39 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


as someone who intensely loves all things automotive (i've owned so many cars I have lost count. and i also love fixing them and racing them and breaking them), I HATED commuting. I lived in a city with one of the best public transit systems in the country, but infuriatingly BOTH jobs I had while I lived there were not easily public transit accesible. well, one sort of was, but compared to the 15 minutes in the car, 1 hour on the bus was unacceptable.

there's a lot that this nerd is just dismissing about reality in this country, but that doesn't mean his article hasn't created a good discussion here. we SHOULD be paying the true cost of oil. sprawl is awful and it has had nothing but ruinous effects on our health by creating lives seemingly focused on shopping and consuming.

a whole lot needs to change about the place transportation plays in modern Western life.
posted by ninjew at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2011


Taken For a Ride.

Working as intended.
posted by Xoebe at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that you must have to really despise your spouse if you insisted that owning a house was more important than a 45 plus minute commute to work and back.
posted by pianomover at 7:50 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also in the bay area one rush hour fender bender will add 15 minutes or more to that commute calculation everytime.
posted by pianomover at 7:51 AM on October 11, 2011


In most cities in the US, even if you don't commute by car you really need a car to live well. (Try visiting friends in a suburb, or buying something from a mall, without one.) Once you have the car, it's a sunk cost; the marginal cost of using it to drive to work are very small.
posted by miyabo at 7:59 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought about this more on my drive to work. At this point in my life the thing I value the most is time with my wife. I don't care about the cost of commuting, I care about which option allows us to travel together or spend more time together in the morning or evening. My guess is that many people driving to work do so regardless of the cost, and care more about being able to get home fast in an emergency or drop off the kids in the morning. Selling bicycling or the bus to them won't be easy.
posted by Forktine at 8:01 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think someone with a non-car commute would give that factor more weight when making the decision than someone who had always had to drive considering a new place to work/live.

This happened to me. When my job was in the Downtown area, I had a twenty-minute bus commute, with almost door-to-door service. When our office moved, I was faced with an hour commute to get to work (and a two hour, ten minute commute to get home) that also included a half-mile walk.

I love my job. I enjoy it so much I really think I would work here for free (not that I would, but you know what I mean). I don't *want* to find a new field. I hope to stay here for as long as is humanly possible.

I also have a child that I want to spend time with. 3+ hours on the bus every day means 3+ less hours a day I can spend with him.

By car, my new commute is about what my previous bus commute was.

So, sorry, bus, car wins.
posted by Lucinda at 8:02 AM on October 11, 2011


That argument might make sense if the US population density was uniform

No, it makes sense as it is. The argument is that there is so much available space in the US that the marginal cost of just using more of it is going to be cheaper than it would be in Europe. On a micro-level, this may not be true for particular areas, e.g. New Jersey, but on a macro level, it really is.

This was true before cars were invented, and it's still true today. We could certainly do with more mass transit in a few areas, but generally speaking, the US just isn't set up for that kind of thing, and never really was.
posted by valkyryn at 8:03 AM on October 11, 2011


Actually, valkyryn, that argument still doesn't really make sense to me. For example, if you look at how we invest in roads and subsidize gas, we made/make plenty of choices that also contribute to making our sprawl more economical. People also make lifestyle choices that involve, for example, sacrificing time for space. It doesn't make sense to me that we are simply victims of geography with no agency in the matter.

Also, the argument that urbanized areas are somehow an exception in the US is incorrect. 82% of the population lives in cities or suburbs. The current design of most of them is highly dependent on cars, but the fact that there are very large areas in the US that are very sparsely populated doesn't contradict the fact that most of the people live in essentially urban areas.

Also, some older urban areas in the states were designed with a central core and commuter trains that went out to compact suburbs that were clustered around rail stations. So, it's not true that this model never existed in the US.
posted by snofoam at 8:18 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or in other words, it seems like you are implying that our actions were driven by some sort of geographic forces, a manifest destiny on a local scale. This seems to ignore many other possibilities, like a powerful automotive industry influencing decisions that increased the market for their product.
posted by snofoam at 8:26 AM on October 11, 2011


In most cities in the US, even if you don't commute by car you really need a car to live well.
That's my situation. I don't drive to work and have mace not-driving-to-work a pretty big priority, but I'd be unhappy if I didn't have a car. My car is 15 years old, and my insurance is dirt cheap because I drive it so little, but it's something. My shopping options would be really limited if I were dependent on the bus and my bike to buy groceries and stuff. But I actually think that's what he'd recommend, even if he's a little confused about what kind of a used car one can routinely buy for $5000. Like I said: I think he's right. He's just also smug and clueless.
Also, some older urban areas in the states were designed with a central core and commuter trains that went out to compact suburbs that were clustered around rail stations. So, it's not true that this model never existed in the US.
Right, and if we were willing to invest in the transit infrastructure we could totally build new developments on a similar model. The issue is what you do with the existing housing stock, because an awful lot of houses in the US were built between World War II and now, and I don't think we can just knock them all down and start over again.
posted by craichead at 8:29 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, I would also say that geography is an enabling factor, even though I don't think it makes sense to blame geography for our decisions. One could also say that the most important differences is that we built a lot of cities post-automobile, compared to areas that were urbanized hundreds of years ago in Europe. But we still chose where and how to build our urban areas.
posted by snofoam at 8:38 AM on October 11, 2011


There seems to be this notion floating around this thread that if we raised gas prices to "true cost" (which seems to be poorly-defined but definitely higher), then we'd be like Europeans and living a blissful car-free existence. The problem is, it's simply untrue that Europeans tend not to own cars. World Bank figures show that the US has 451 passenger cars per 1000 people, versus 502 for Germany and 495 for France. Yes, it is true that the American population includes more young people who aren't licensed drivers (thus inflating the denominator), but this doesn't help matters, since people with children are almost certainly more likely to feel that the costs of car ownership are worth it. You might quibble some with the data, but the idea that there's a easy, carless "European solution" out there I do not think is supportable.

Nor is it clear to me why people think that raising the price of oil (a policy I don't oppose) would lead people to abandon driving in large numbers. It seems to me far more likely that people would shift to smaller cars--from Expeditions to Explorers, from Explorers to sedans, etc. That would probably be a good thing, but it's substantially different from not owning a vehicle at all.
posted by dsfan at 8:45 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


there is so much available space in the US that the marginal cost of just using more of it is going to be cheaper

The extent to which this is true is largely a political (re: non market) happening. The physical realities of 21st century construction and energy costs may exacerbate this fragile decision.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:45 AM on October 11, 2011


For example, if you look at how we invest in roads and subsidize gas, we made/make plenty of choices that also contribute to making our sprawl more economical.

Except that the American population already had a pronounced tendency towards sprawl before the invention of the automobile, suggesting that these investments and subsidies, at best, exaggerate a pre-existing trend rather than create a new one.
posted by valkyryn at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2011


exaggerate a pre-existing trend rather than create a new one

Jinx. Although we're learning in this country that what we like and what is good for us may be rather disparate things.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:49 AM on October 11, 2011


I would love to take the bus/rail to work. Have done so when my car's battery died.

The problem is that it turns a 30-minute round trip into a 75-90 minute round trip. I can leave my garage at 6:13 in the morning and be at work at the usual time of 6:30. The margin of error is +3/-0. If I were to take public transit, I would have to start walking to the bus stop at 5:55 or earlier. If the bus comes a minute early and I miss it, then wait 8 minutes for the next one, plus I miss the light rail connection.

Coming home, forget it. live in the subtropics (Gulf Coast). Standing for an unpredictable amount of time in 90-degree, 90% humidity is not worth it.

It's not the walking I mind. I love to walk, and most days I probably walk 3-4 miles at work. It's the 30-45 minutes I gain per workday by not taking public transit.
posted by etherist at 8:49 AM on October 11, 2011


When they finally come out with portable fusion reactors and driving a car becomes free, Europe will be jealous of our massive freeways and spread-out suburbs and lack of wasteful, expensive, time-inefficient trains and public transportation systems.

What's taking them so long? It's making us look bad.
posted by eye of newt at 8:50 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


World Bank figures show that the US has 451 passenger cars per 1000 people, versus 502 for Germany and 495 for France.

I'm not sure what they counted, but perhaps they didn't include light trucks? From wikipedia:

According to the US Bureau of Transit Statistics for 2008 there are 255,917,664 registered passenger vehicles. Of these, 137,079,843 were classified as automobiles, while 101,234,849 were classified as "Other 2 axle, 4 tire vehicles," presumably SUVs and pick-up trucks. Yet another 6,790,882 were classified as vehicles with 2 axles and 6 tires and 2,215,856 were classified as "Truck, combination." There were approximately 7,752,926 motorcycles in the US in 2008.
posted by snofoam at 8:50 AM on October 11, 2011


Those of you who are passionate about the no-car lifestyle should read Corbyn Hightower's Blog

She and her husband were 1%-ers who both lost their jobs (I believe they were both in sales) and had to severely downsize their lifestyle. One thing they did was choose to sell their SUV and buy bikes for the family (they have three preschool age children). She considers herself someone who is promoting a carfree lifestyle, but reading many of her blog entries (in particular the recent one about the 37 mile bike trip, the one about riding bikes to a school event in the pouring rain, and the ones about getting lost for hours while out with her kids) present a pretty great picture of the challenges most families would face without a car (and I believe they're both still either un- or self-employed, which means no work commute.

Look, I live in Portland, Maine. I know a lot of people who live here without a car. Most of those people are under-employed, mainly because their employment options are limited to what they can reach by bus or bike, and those are not a wide range of options.

Plus, we have snow and ice and unsafe walking conditions here at least five months of the year. I often get the impression that people who so strongly advocate for a car-free lifestyle live places where there isn't any serious snow. Snow makes a huge difference.
posted by anastasiav at 8:54 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except that the American population already had a pronounced tendency towards sprawl before the invention of the automobile, suggesting that these investments and subsidies, at best, exaggerate a pre-existing trend rather than create a new one.

I think you are conflating two different things. When we were a predominantly agrarian nation, we totally sprawled across the continent. On the other hand, I don't think there's evidence of the kind of urban/suburban/exurban sprawl that was facilitated by automobiles. The older cores of most cities that predate the automobile are not very big.
posted by snofoam at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2011


I'm not sure what they counted, but perhaps they didn't include light trucks?

Yeah, that's why I said that one could quibble with the data. If you go to the "motor vehicles" part of my link, you get 809 for the US vs. 673 for Italy, 598 for France, and 593 for Japan (which surprised me). I'm not sure what accounts for that large a discrepancy--light trucks I'm sure is a large part of it but I'd be surprised if it is that much. This number includes among other things freight trucks, which are a totally different animal, and so it's also an imperfect metric. I certainly don't mean to suggest that the US couldn't be on the higher end (indeed, given that the US is somewhat richer than Europe it would be surprising if this weren't the case). I simply wanted to point out that the difference between Europe and the US regarding car ownership is relatively small, not a drastic lifestyle difference on average.
posted by dsfan at 8:58 AM on October 11, 2011


I simply wanted to point out that the difference between Europe and the US regarding car ownership is relatively small, not a drastic lifestyle difference on average.

Clearly you have never lived in Europe.
posted by snofoam at 9:03 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I say that playfully, but honestly.)
posted by snofoam at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2011


for the geographic thing: South and Central American countries have the same low population densities, but much of the population still rely on public transit.

I'm very pro-public transit and anti-sprawl, partly for environmental reasons and partly for selfish reasons (I don't know how to drive). But getting people out of cars is so very hard. I wish I knew how to drive; lots of times (mostly coming home super late) I wish I had a car. It's a luxury like chocolate to get a ride somewhere: nice seats, no waiting, no transfers, no walking on either end.

I think you will only get people out of cars if it's really too expensive or uncomfortable to drive. Even then, I know people who drive in tiny European cities (and who complain that 1/2 the downtown is blocked to vehicle traffic during the day). Because it's more luxurious and convenient for them.

humans are very driven by immediate rewards, not long-term benefits.
posted by jb at 9:08 AM on October 11, 2011


Yeah, but not driving a car would be bad for my emotional health. I lived in Washington DC for 3 years and commuted via the metro and bus, and it sucked. With public transportation, you can't go where you want when you want, you are reliant on their schedule, when shopping you have to carry bags with you everywhere, and you're stuck on a bus or a metro car with a bunch of other people, some of whom are loud and/or smell. Worst 3 years of my life, mostly due to lack of a car.

Now, whenever I have to go somewhere, I just walk out my front door and get into my car. Its very satisfying, and I appreciate it a lot more after having to rely on public transportation earlier in my life.
posted by JasonM at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Go to the Moon? Can do!" -America, 1960s

"Rethink the way we build cities? COMPLETE IMPOSSIBLE AND OUT OF THE QUESTION!!!" America, Today.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:51 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Go to the Moon? Can do!" -America, 1960s

"Rethink the way we build cities? COMPLETE IMPOSSIBLE AND OUT OF THE QUESTION!!!" America, Today.


In fairness, the latter is a lot more difficult and expensive than the former, and our country's financial situation ain't what it used to be.
posted by The World Famous at 9:55 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


and you're stuck on a bus or a metro car with a bunch of other people

Don't be afraid of other people. Being with other people is why we are here. That, and being outside. I haven't used a car regularly in about 25 years and I think it's great. Subways are great. Buses are great. Trains are great. You hop on, you get where you want to go, and you hop off. You aren't stuck having to stow (or pay for) that big pile of steel and rubber. And when it's time to move, you think about where you would like to live in terms of being able to walk to stores, walk to school, walk to work. We can walk out into the woods two or three minutes from here one way or walk five or ten minutes the other way and be at a shopping mall or grocery store, or be on the bus or tram or train to somewhere else entirely, like downtown or the next city or the airport or the sea.
posted by pracowity at 10:00 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, if it's too expensive to turn the steering wheel to navigate away from the cliff we are careening toward, let's just stomp on the gas and get it done with, I guess.

I wonder if future historians will be able to pinpoint the exact time the American "can-do" spirit died?
posted by entropicamericana at 10:01 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


for the geographic thing: South and Central American countries have the same low population densities, but much of the population still rely on public transit.

This is an example of how average population densities have very little to do with mass transit. Latin America is enormously more urban than is the US. That is, in most countries there, people are more concentrated into urban areas than here. And, people are poorer; their carlessness is more imposed than a choice.

Think of Wyoming: public transit would work great if all 500,000 or so inhabitants lived in one dense town. But with many of them scattered in small towns, ranches, and mining operations, not to mention how sprawled the two or do urban areas there are, public transit isn't all that workable, which it's a pity for the many people there who are too poor to buy a reliable car.
posted by Forktine at 10:18 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Besides extremely high urban density, Central and South America also have low mobility, like you live in your small town and you work in your town and you don't really need to ever go to the next town except every couple of months so why would you need a car for that? Especially since you are so poor you can't afford one anyways.
posted by smackfu at 10:31 AM on October 11, 2011


I'd love to be able to walk or bike to work, but here's how things look in my life right now:

1) I drive to work, which is a 10-20 minute drive depending on things. I work 2nd shift, so I can dodge rush hour pretty frequently, saving about 10 minutes on the times I can.
2) My boyfriend busses to work. He works substantially closer to where we live than I do, but his commute is, depending on the bus routes that day, literally anywhere from 30-100 minutes long to travel about 3.5 miles. It's insane.
3) Walking or biking would be great for him, sure, except for the fact that he's got a herniated disc in his lower back, and his job requires that he stand pretty much all day. He also has to look nice and there are no shower facilities or anything there, so... Bus it is.
4) We're going to be moving in a few months. We'll be moving closer to his place of work so that he can walk, but I'll still be driving. There is absolutely no way to bus to my place of work, and I'm in a relatively large metro area (Minneapolis/St Paul).
5) I keep my eyes out for a better job in a better location, but the article author's smug assertion that anyone can just get a better-located job at-will is infuriating. I'm glad to have work at all, frankly.

So yeah. Y'all in the thread talking about how we can't properly do long-term thinking need to back on up off that. Things aren't necessarily as easy as you seem to think they are.
posted by kavasa at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The older cores of most cities that predate the automobile are not very big.

This doesn't actually prove anything either way. Population before the introduction of the automobile wasn't all that big either. We were already spreading out pretty thinly. Once our population really started to grow--US population has almost tripled since 1920--this trend didn't go anywhere, and you saw suburbia. So, basically, we were doing what we were doing before, only now there are a lot more of us.
posted by valkyryn at 10:36 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cities are dense if they are built when cars did not exist, or in places where private transportion is too expensive. It has nothing to do with geography or population density - it's about technology/economics.

I was aware that South/Central American countries were poorer, though I doubt that they are more urban than Canada - which is quite urban, more than the US. But my point was that geography is not the factor, it's the availability/cost of transport. Europe has expensive gas; outside of Canada and the US, the Americas have expensive everything (compared to wages). So the car culture and urban sprawl of the US, Canada, as well as Australia, New Zealand, is not geographically determined, but economically determined. It can be changed with changing economics (first - increasing the price of gas).

But yes, not without pain -- unless we act to mitigate that pain, like build a hell of a lot of decent subsidized housing close to work places. (Also not blocks of subsidized - but subsidized mixed in with private market, so you don't get ghettos).
posted by jb at 10:47 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If car culture were geographically determined, we would see sprawling suburbs in places like eastern Russia, western China, most places in Africa - which all have relatively high to very high ratios of land to people. Notably, none of these places have the wealth to sustain private transport.
posted by jb at 10:49 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Y'all in the thread talking about how we can't properly do long-term thinking need to back on up off that.

Long-term thinking is long-term thinking. You won't get everything now. But if you're average, you will move a few times and you will change your job a few times in your life. If every time you and everyone else moves or takes a new job you are all thinking in terms of living closer to work, good schools, and good mass transit, you will all slowly get your lives around to where you want them to be, where you aren't driving many miles every day just to earn a living or get your children to school.
posted by pracowity at 10:52 AM on October 11, 2011


If car culture were geographically determined

Ah, but don't you realize that America is special?
posted by pracowity at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2011


Cities are dense if they are built when cars did not exist, or in places where private transportion is too expensive.

What can you offer as examples of cities built after cars were invented that are less dense than cities of comparable size built before the automobile? Do you consider expansion and/or development of existing cities after the advent of the automobile to be part of that calculation? Or do you consider the part of the city built before cars and the part of the city built after cars to be one single city for the purposes of your analysis?

If every time you and everyone else moves or takes a new job you are all thinking in terms of living closer to work, good schools, and good mass transit, you will all slowly get your lives around to where you want them to be, where you aren't driving many miles every day just to earn a living or get your children to school.

Assuming there are good schools anywhere near where good jobs in your field are available, sure.
posted by The World Famous at 11:00 AM on October 11, 2011


This blog is not especially informative or well-thought out. It reeks of early-20s overconfidence in a few skills, and misunderstanding about the real complexities of the world. For a more glaring example, check out this recent post about rental properties where he gets completely schooled by a rental property investor and then comes back with "yeah, well, but my case is different because I have awesome home repair skills!".

I'd hate to see the repairs this guy did. I anticipate a future post on how easy it is to do your own lawyering and home dentistry.
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 AM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, this works for those it works for. That's not everyone. You may think it's great and wonderful and adds inches to your sex organs and money to your wallet, but I had enough of it decades ago.

Me? I'm supposed to be at work at 6 AM. I can get to work in about 20 minutes driving. I'd need to walk two miles in the dark, then hope the bus is on time (and it runs every 30 minutes, would take me about a half-hour on the the bus) - then I'd have to transfer to catch another bus that'd get me about a quarter-mile from work.

Yay. One size doesn't fit all. It won't work for a lot of people. And the thought that 'well, if you had to you could do it!' is accurate - but a lot of us have gotten to the point where we DON'T have to, because we DID have to in the past and thought it sucked great big blue donkey testicles. One model of transportation, no matter how much you might like it, won't work for everyone - and the rebuilding of cities to support it (and concentration of the population therein) isn't likely to happen.

So we'll just agree to disagree, 'k? You take your way, I'll take mine, and we'll get along just fine...
posted by JB71 at 11:10 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I live about an hour commute away from work. I live in a suburbia and my work is downtown. This means massive traffic, probably 20 stop lights each way, and also the X factor of construction projects. It's bad.

The kicker is this company has the complete ability to allow workers (at least most of them) to work from home (It's a technology company with lots of computer based work). I can easily do my job from home and still be productive, on call, etc etc.

I am sure this is the case for a good deal of workers in a variety of industries. Plus with technology continuing to evolve, its making it more and more stream lined. But most company's will never admit this would be a good idea. The fact is most employers don't really know what their employees do all day or what their responsibilities consists of, and if they are all in an office, at least everyone can pretend to work and they have visual confirmation that Bob from accounting is sitting infront of his computer.

Make telecommuting more common place and that will get cars off the road and increase worker morale!
posted by amazingstill at 11:11 AM on October 11, 2011


What can you offer as examples of cities built after cars were invented that are less dense than cities of comparable size built before the automobile?

I only visited once, but Phoenix struck me as fairly good example of a low density post-automobile city.
posted by smackfu at 11:11 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


When my old employer's office moved from downtown to a bedroom community across the bridge I was ready to quit since I don't drive and wasn't interested in being dependent on someone else's reliability as a carpool. So I helped to get 25 other people to say they would ride a shuttle and we helped pilot the first bus route out there. The two towns now cooperate on a public transportation network that mostly ships people the other way - into town, but which still has the route we started.

But, you know, moan moan nothing can change and we're smug for thinking it can.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:12 AM on October 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, you might, or the transmission might fail after 5 minutes. Buying a $5k used car and expecting to drive it for four or five years without major repairs is a ridiculous premise.

I don't know what sort of fucked-up bullshit second-hand car market you've got in your neighbourhood - maybe one where they only sell Detroit Iron, VWs, Jags, or Fiats - but I've never paid more than US$5000 for a car, and I've never had them require major repairs. But then, you know, I'm happy driving unsexy stuff like Corollas and Camrys, where 100,000 kms on the clock is just getting warmed up.

That's a pretty big flaw in the article. It values your time at $25 per hour, so if your commute is an extra two hour a day, that is $1000 extra a month that you would "save" by moving closer. But the idea that you can then apply that $1000 to your mortgage is nonsense, since it's not real money. And I don't even think it's valid to value non-working time at working pay rates, unless you are actually winning to work those extra hours you get back.

Indeed. And have an employer that doesn't treat it as unpaid work. Mine will pay me to work extra hours, but only if they need the work done, not because I'm sitting in the office for an extra two hours a day. Nor am I convinced my quality of life would be improved dramatically by working an extra two hours a day (either at my main job or a second one).
posted by rodgerd at 11:15 AM on October 11, 2011


Ah, but don't you realize that America is special?

It is special in the sense that it has a massive network of federally-funded roads that came into existence by way of a combination of jobs programs, economic development, and cold war military mobilization efforts. When other major industrialized nations were busy in the 1950s rebuilding entire cities that had been leveled, the United States, free from any of that sort of destruction, was putting people to work building roads.

I can easily do my job from home and still be productive, on call, etc etc.

True, but the wage and hour and other legal implications of having people work from home, be on call, etc. are a huge deterrent for employers.
posted by The World Famous at 11:16 AM on October 11, 2011


I don't know what sort of fucked-up bullshit second-hand car market you've got in your neighbourhood - maybe one where they only sell Detroit Iron, VWs, Jags, or Fiats - but I've never paid more than US$5000 for a car, and I've never had them require major repairs. But then, you know, I'm happy driving unsexy stuff like Corollas and Camrys, where 100,000 kms on the clock is just getting warmed up.

As it turns out, Detroit is in the United States.

This "location of Detroit" is a thing I would like to mention since depending on where you live in the US, it does have an effect on what you can get and for what price. Believe you me. I happen to drive used Corollas, and prefer them, so I'm aware of this.

Also you have neglected to translate km into miles (100,000 miles is approximately 161,000km, I think). 75,000miles is about what my parents have gotten out of their past (not basic model) Fords and Chevrolets before major repairs were necessary. I am sure there are many counterexamples to this, and we just got a streak of off-luck.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 11:26 AM on October 11, 2011


I can't drive. Visual disabilities. I had to walk or take buses most of my working life. I did have a time when I was telecommuting. That was very good. It's not an option for most working people.
I have lived on way less than this smug fellow,AND raised two children on that.
I had occasional help from others
too and helped others.
I probably know a lot of ways to
stretch my money that that blogger
doesn't know. I rented. At least one
move was to be closer to a job I
did at night. Coincidentally, it made things cheaper.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:27 AM on October 11, 2011


(There is a special place in hell, though, for the people who talk all loud about how ridiculous and wasteful pickup trucks are, and then ask to borrow yours when they have something to move.)

To be fair, it's possible there is a consistent viewpoint here. There are people who argue that if you only need a truck occasionally, it's wasteful (for varying definitions of "wasteful") to own it full-time. In this case, such a person would rent a truck, or--yes--borrow one from a neighbor who may or may not be "justified" in owning one.

As is the case with such arrangements, it is more inconvenient to have to borrow or rent a truck when you want to use one; it requires some planning. The same goes for going car-free.

Personally? I drive an ancient SUV. It gets 12 MPG. Totally wasteful. More convenient than renting. But I usually bike commute, and I only put about 2K miles per year on the car, so I figure that anything I buy is going to depreciate faster than the use I put it to.

To answer the earlier question about job/commute priorities: I would drive if I had to, but I give priority to closer locations in job searches.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2011


2) My boyfriend busses to work. He works substantially closer to where we live than I do, but his commute is, depending on the bus routes that day, literally anywhere from 30-100 minutes long to travel about 3.5 miles. It's insane.
3) Walking or biking would be great for him, sure, except for the fact that he's got a herniated disc in his lower back, and his job requires that he stand pretty much all day. He also has to look nice and there are no shower facilities or anything there, so... Bus it is.
4) We're going to be moving in a few months. We'll be moving closer to his place of work so that he can walk, but I'll still be driving. There is absolutely no way to bus to my place of work, and I'm in a relatively large metro area (Minneapolis/St Paul).


kavasa, can you or your boyfriend ride a scooter or motorcycle?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:33 AM on October 11, 2011


No. The elephant in the room is the heavily subsidised price of fuel in the United States that makes a 50 mile commute economically viable. Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will find European solutions.

No, we won't. Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will:

a) suffer and keep buying gas, because they live up in the mountains or way out on the plains, and the European solution doesn't include a trolley that hauls hay or firewood for you, or gets you and the hundred people who live in your isolated town to and from work in a bunch of other isolated areas... and it's not like most rural people can afford to move if gas is that expensive, either

b) suffer and keep buying gas, because they live in a depressed area where there are no jobs, and the European solution doesn't include a trolley that can get you out to your job in the middle of the big city without taking two or more hours each way to do it

c) keep commuting, because houses cost between 200k and 400k more ($1500-3000 more per month) where they work, and "European levels" of tax still aren't anywhere close to $40-60 per gallon (at a 50 mile one-way commute)

d) get lucky enough to have a useful mass-transit/carpool solution or to be able to move close to work, do so, and hope that situation never, ever changes

e) if they can possibly afford it, buy cars which don't run on gas. Or a motorcycle.

In the long or the short run, e) is by far the least disruptive (and therefore most likely) solution to this problem given our existing population patterns and infrastructure, and it has nothing to do with Europe. Attempts to make Americans adopt urban living en masse via punitive economics are likely to cause tremendous suffering, and given the obvious alternatives, I don't think they'll even work to drive the desired behavior.

Meanwhile, if we subsidized electric cars more than we subsidize gas... but wait, that won't sufficiently punish people who don't live in the city, so that can't be the solution!
posted by vorfeed at 11:51 AM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, let me see if I get this straight:

1) The US public pays for the US government.
2) The US government pushes down the price of oil somehow, as an invisible subsidy. Let's assume this is military spending or such.
3) The price of a barrel of oil is constant through the world.
4) This means that European consumers also get the "subsidized" oil.
5) European governments then tax the heck out of that oil after it is refined into gasoline.
6) European government use that tax income to pay for their mass transit.

So, in summary, the US public is subsidizing European mass transit.
posted by smackfu at 1:31 PM on October 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Raise the tax on fuel to European levels (to a price which reflects the real cost of oil) and Americans will find European solutions.

Raise the tax on fuel and Americans will vote in yet another oil-industry president who will tell them everything's gonna be okay and things will continue to suck. Particularly in our "government is bad" era, trying to dictate efficiency by force will only generate an astonishing backlash.
posted by sonascope at 2:00 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I'd want to live close enough to walk to work if said work was at a power station, nuclear power plant, chemical processing plant, oil refinery - work which involves large levels of pollutants or toxins.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:14 PM on October 11, 2011


I'm not sure I'd want to live close enough to walk to work if said work was at a power station, nuclear power plant, chemical processing plant, oil refinery - work which involves large levels of pollutants or toxins.

Good thing those are a small minority of jobs. Also when I did work at a nuclear power plant the culture of carpooling was very entrenched - barely anyone drove to work on their own because everyone agreed that having to drive an hour each way sucks and why not let someone else do the driving 3 days out of 4.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


What can you offer as examples of cities built after cars were invented that are less dense than cities of comparable size built before the automobile?

New Haven, CT is a small city which was established in the 17th century (1639); its population peaked in 1950, and has gone down since then. The city is extremely walkable, with narrow streets on a grid-based street design, even outside of the immediate downtown area. Also a fair number of street front shopping, as opposed to shopping set back within a parking lot. I can't drive, and functioned pretty well; I could have used a downtown department store, but that lack was more to do with economic problems in the city than design (there was the space, but no one was it in).

Waterloo, Ontario is a city of comparable size (just under 100,000 to New Haven's about 120,000), first settled in about 1804 but which has developed primarily in the late 20th century (population of only 11,991 in 1951, when New Haven had just over 160,000). It is a very car-oriented and suburban city, with wide highway-like streets. I don't know as much about everyday life in Waterloo, but a friend who lived there talked about how difficult it was to live without a car. That said, he was forced to out of necessity, but after he moved to Columbia, Missouri - a city of 108,000, first settlement in 1818 but again with most of its population growth after 1950, just like Waterloo (up from 31,000) - he said he really couldn't function (even badly) without a car, and proceeded to get one.

Now, we could point out that New Haven is really only part of a greater metropolitain area which includes several other cities (total pop not known); Waterloo, though, is also part of a greater metropolitan area (of about 450,000) and both are in relative densely populated regions (CT and southern Ontario). But the density and also layout (part of being pedestrian, cycle and public transit friendly) differences between the two cities is astounding.

Even within my own city of Toronto, I can see that pre-1950 and especially the pre-1900 development is much denser than the post-1950s development. Rob Ford - the car adoring mayor of Toronto - represents Rexdale (post 50s construction) for a reason.
posted by jb at 3:18 PM on October 11, 2011


Sorry - New Haven's estimated population in 2010 was closer to 130,000 than 120k; Waterloo's population including temporary residents is actually 120k.
posted by jb at 3:20 PM on October 11, 2011


anastasiav: "Plus, we have snow and ice and unsafe walking conditions here at least five months of the year. I often get the impression that people who so strongly advocate for a car-free lifestyle live places where there isn't any serious snow. Snow makes a huge difference."

Aha! But if we paid as much attention to plowing sidewalks and bike lanes as we did to car lanes, this would not be an issue (why don't we plow sidewalks!?!?). Also, it's possible to safely bike with some amounts of snow on the ground. I didn't think this was possible until I did it, but bicycle commuting with snow on the ground is 100% doable. I wouldn't want to do it for a particularly long distance or do it every single day (very few populated areas get snow *every* day), but yeah. Totally possible and safe. Just like driving, safety's not much of an issue once you know how to handle snow/ice.

valkyryn: "The older cores of most cities that predate the automobile are not very big.

This doesn't actually prove anything either way. Population before the introduction of the automobile wasn't all that big either... Once our population really started to grow--US population has almost tripled since 1920--this trend didn't go anywhere, and you saw suburbia.
"

Actually, many densely-populated cities depopulated during that period. While the national population was exploding, urban populations were plummeting. (And not without reason -- living conditions in cities were often deplorable). I posit that we fled to the suburbs not because cars are awesome or because we're antisocial (although we later developed both tendencies), but rather because early 20th-century cities sucked.

rodgerd: "I don't know what sort of fucked-up bullshit second-hand car market you've got in your neighbourhood - maybe one where they only sell Detroit Iron, VWs, Jags, or Fiats - but I've never paid more than US$5000 for a car, and I've never had them require major repairs. But then, you know, I'm happy driving unsexy stuff like Corollas and Camrys, where 100,000 kms on the clock is just getting warmed up."

Funny you mention that. I'm beginning to think that the $5k Camry/Corolla is a strawman, because everywhere I've lived, those cars held their value absurdly well. If you want a $5k Camry, odds are it's going to be at least 10 years old, have 120k miles on it, and need new brakes and tires, which can easily add another $1.5k to the price.

Even reliable cars need brakes and tires just as often as the rest of us do (except for the very-very high-end). Maybe used car markets are different elsewhere (where?), but those reliable bargain clunkers have never seemed to exist when I've been in the market for a vehicle.
posted by schmod at 3:23 PM on October 11, 2011


Aha! But if we paid as much attention to plowing sidewalks and bike lanes as we did to car lanes, this would not be an issue (why don't we plow sidewalks!?!?).

Everywhere that I've lived that had snow did plow the sidewalks. But cars have four fairly-wide tires and don't have to worry about falling over on their sides if they slip a little bit. Cars have to worry about the big slides. A little slippage doesn't make them crash the way a little slip makes a bike or a pedestrian tip over. A little patch of ice that a car will just drive right over is far more treacherous for someone on two wheels or two feet.
posted by The World Famous at 3:31 PM on October 11, 2011


Where I live, outside Toronto, ploughs the sidewalks too. Unlike the road, there are no drains/slopes in the sidewalks, so the snow tends to go through thaw/freeze cycles. They are also not as clear at intersections as the roads are, not very fun for walking to school. Hey Forktine, can I borrow your truck to take me kids to school?
posted by saucysault at 3:37 PM on October 11, 2011


Do you consider expansion and/or development of existing cities after the advent of the automobile to be part of that calculation? Or do you consider the part of the city built before cars and the part of the city built after cars to be one single city for the purposes of your analysis?

It wasn't a calculation so much as an observation, and I could have said "neighbourhoods" instead of cities. Within a city, you can definitely see differences between pre-1950 and post-1950 development, it's just that many of our famous large cities (New York, London) were already very large by 1950. Their post 1950 neighbourhoods are so far out that few people see them.

I don't know that much about Los Angeles - but for a city of almost 4 million (in a metropolitan area of well over 12 million), people say that it's very hard to get by without a car, whereas in Toronto (2.5 million for the city, 5.5 million for the Greater Toronto Area) is a very walkable and pedestrian friendly city and one can live comfortably - even an upper-middle class lifestyle - without a car, provided you live within its pre-1950 development areas. In c1900, Toronto's population was about 200k, while Los Angeles (bigger today) had only 100k.
posted by jb at 3:38 PM on October 11, 2011


"The older cores of most cities that predate the automobile are not very big.

This doesn't actually prove anything either way. Population before the introduction of the automobile wasn't all that big either... Once our population really started to grow--US population has almost tripled since 1920--this trend didn't go anywhere, and you saw suburbia."


Rome had a population of about a million at its peak, Edo (Tokyo) was about a million in 1721, and London was about one million people in c1800. All of these were VERY LARGE cities (modern Toronto is only 2.5 million). But they were also very densely settled, because travel was difficult and people needed to live within walking distance of their workplace (if they didn't work directly out of their homes).
posted by jb at 3:41 PM on October 11, 2011


Everywhere that I've lived that had snow did plow the sidewalks.
Huh. I've lived in two snowy municipalities in recent years, and in both places it's up to individual home and business owners to shovel the sidewalks in front of their property. The city plows sidewalks in front of city-owned land, but on residential streets the shoveling is really uneven.
posted by craichead at 3:44 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I posit that we fled to the suburbs not because cars are awesome or because we're antisocial (although we later developed both tendencies), but rather because early 20th-century cities sucked.

Well, we do have tens of thousands of years of living essentially as rural people - with only a few thousand years (and then only a small percentage of the population) living in cities.

But that said, suburbia is not anything like a pre-modern rural existence; it is as artificial and much more recent than city living.
posted by jb at 3:48 PM on October 11, 2011


I can speak to Waterloo, ON as I live thirty seconds from the city boundary to Waterloo in Kitchener, car-free. You should know that although Waterloo has 120K residents, it is immediately adjacent to Kitchener which has twice as many; the regional municipality (read: county) has over 500K residents.

There is, and it is difficult to emphasise this too much, tremendous densification redevelopment happening here right now along the main corridors. Single family dwellings and old factories are coming down and 10+ story condo towers are going up. Fifty years of suburbanification is being dismantled faster than one could believe, especially now that we've got approval for Light Rail Transit along the King St corridor. Our main line buses are disastrously crowded; the expresses often leave people standing at rush hour.

It feels right now like the see-saw is tipping back to sanity, and it's a really nice feeling. But only because I live on the corridor; I can get a bus within five minutes of walking out my door. I can walk Uptown in 15 minutes and Downtown in 20; my partner walks 30 minutes to work and values that exercise/decompression time; I walk 25 minutes to my studio and love it as well; we can walk to the farmer's market, and walk to grocery stores; we can take the bus to the malls; if we need to buy lots of groceries or transport big art, there's the car-share.

None of these things would work, however, if we didn't live on the corridor. Because the suburbs are fucking isolated. Buses run out there 30 minutes at best. There's nowhere to eat, nowhere to shop, nowhere to go except powercentre malls. It's really like a "real" city with a vibrant downtown core comprising the old neighbourhoods of Kitchener and Waterloo connected by King St, surrounded by a tumour of suburbia that no one really likes but keeps existing because there aren't enough places to live downtown where everything is happening.

Honestly the only reason the region is turning around is because places like Google, Open Text, UW and all these other tech companies are bringing in thousands of people and paying them a shitload of money which is just aching to be spent on high walkscore condos. But until they can move incore, people will live out in the burbs and drive to work.

And next week two more century homes get razed for another condo development just up King Street....
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:46 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to hear it's improving; the person I knew lived out in the 'burbs near UW.

My point was just that Waterloo is a very different shape from New Haven, though it is growing while New Haven was (until recently) shrinking. Late 20th century built Waterloo is car-shaped; pre-1950 built New Haven is walking shaped.
posted by jb at 5:50 PM on October 11, 2011


"kavasa, can you or your boyfriend ride a scooter or motorcycle?"

I have to use freeways (yay the surburbs) so I'd have to use a motorcycle, which would basically mean selling the car (I can't really afford to pay insurance on a car + motorcycle). And then I'd be screwed in the winter. :x I also don't really know much the safety classes etc cost.

BF is already doing the walk/bus thing, and once we move that'll be even more ideal, since we're definitely going to move somewhere very close to his workplace.
posted by kavasa at 7:20 PM on October 11, 2011


It's going to be different for everyone.

I've wrestled with this question myself. For a while I took public transport which came to $2000 per year, 150 minute commute per day. I got a car plan through work, which worked out to be $4000 per year, total cost, commute now about 70 minutes per day. And then I got a really nice car which worked out to be $6000 per year, total cost.

Humans are really adaptable. I honestly don't feel any difference in terms of time or money between all three scenarios. Public transport was a longer commute, but I could nap on the train because it was a long journey. Driving is more expensive, but because I get home earlier I'm more inclined to cook, so that saves money.

I'm of the opinion that, in the example constructed in that article, if a person managed to save $125k over 20 years or somesuch through not having a car, they would have contrived a way to spend it all in that 20 years.
posted by xdvesper at 8:30 PM on October 11, 2011


Reading down all of the comments here, it looks like a lot of people think public transportation could never work for them because the current state of public transportation in their town is not good.

But the state of these systems can be improved. People just have to keep pushing for what they want, and there needs to be more experimentation until crowd-pleasing systems are developed.

One thing I'd like to see tried is two-tier bus service. When you buy train or plane tickets, you buy first class or second class tickets. They call them different names (maybe "economy" and "business"), but they amount to the same thing: if you pay more you get a nicer seat and better treatment than you do if you pay less. No one whines about this arrangement. You all climb into the same vehicle and go to the same place, but some people are in first class and some people are in second class. It's a matter of how much money you have to spend on tickets.

Try that with larger commuter buses, such that there are two distinct areas in one bus, maybe doubledeckers with class separated into upper and lower, or two distinct classes of vehicle running the same routes. You pay a smaller amount to ride the second-class bus (or to ride in the second-class section of each bus) or you pay a larger amount to ride the first-class bus (or to ride in the first-class section of each bus). If you don't have the cash, you ride the second-class bus.

Similarly, I'd like to see different prices for different times of the day. Rush hour tickets might cost twice as much as slow-time tickets. If you get enough people to leave earlier or later, you improve service without having to add vehicles.

And make some of the more popular bus stops into little snack bars and news stands, so people heading out to the bus have a destination and waiting area. If you go to the bus stop a little early, or if the bus is a little late, it doesn't matter because you can get a snack, a drink, and a paper, and you can sit down.
posted by pracowity at 12:36 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing I'd like to see tried is two-tier bus service. When you buy train or plane tickets, you buy first class or second class tickets. They call them different names (maybe "economy" and "business"), but they amount to the same thing: if you pay more you get a nicer seat and better treatment than you do if you pay less. No one whines about this arrangement. You all climb into the same vehicle and go to the same place, but some people are in first class and some people are in second class. It's a matter of how much money you have to spend on tickets.
Ugh

My bus route goes through some of the richest and the poorest neighborhoods in my town. It goes through a neighborhood where the houses cost a half a million dollars, where many of the inhabitants are doctors who work at the local teaching hospital. Then it shoots out to a new development on the outskirts of town, populated by striving middle-class families. Finally, it comes back to my neighborhood, which is dominated by a trailer park. Many of the people in the trailer park are cleaning staff, nurses' aids, and food services workers in the hospital where the doctors work. The neighborhood is mixed but predominantly Latino.

A two-tiered system on my route would basically look like the buses in the segregated South: white people in the front and people of color in the back, in the humiliating seats for people who are marked out as second class. I don't understand what purpose that could possibly serve, except to protect vicious rich people from ever having to interact with their working-class neighbors as equals, and the symbolism is a little bit too disgusting for me. Segregated bus seating has a history in the US in a way that segregated plane seating doesn't.
posted by craichead at 4:30 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand what purpose that could possibly serve

As things stand now, you have the rich people zooming by in their cars and the poor people standing out at the bus stops waiting for the bus. The goal would be to get people who can afford cars to nonetheless take the bus, so that everyone is at least on the same bus route, literally and figuratively.

I know it's sometimes easier to reject the good because it isn't perfect, but that leaves us with the status quo, where bus service tends to come in one variety: minimal. People with just a little money would rather go into debt driving a shitty car than depend on what they see as the infrequent, unreliable, noisy, dirty, dangerous city bus, leaving mainly poor people to support the whole thing. You need to do something to destabilize that.

Offer people some nicer alternatives and you might win over some more paying customers. When they stop driving and start riding the bus, they cease to be enemies of public transportation and go over to the side of the public transportation ecosystem, the side of building better bus stops and bus stations, cutting car lanes and adding bus lanes, expanding bus routes into the suburbs, and reducing automotive congestion that slows down the bus. After they leave their cars behind, they might even realize they could save another buck by riding in the perfectly good second-class seats.
posted by pracowity at 5:29 AM on October 12, 2011


Offer people some nicer alternatives and you might win over some more paying customers.

Absolutely. The social stigma attached to riding the bus is incredible, even for people who could use it to get to work faster. Stuff like iPhone apps, express routes that require you to pay in advance (keeping the drunks/crazy people off), WiFi on longer routes, electronic signs indicating your location and nearby destinations, clear and detailed signs at the bus stops indicating exactly where the buses go.... But as a government-funded service, it's very hard for transit agencies to provide these things without being accused of either wasting government money or being elitist.
posted by miyabo at 6:12 AM on October 12, 2011


To be fair, it's possible there is a consistent viewpoint here. There are people who argue that if you only need a truck occasionally, it's wasteful (for varying definitions of "wasteful") to own it full-time. In this case, such a person would rent a truck, or--yes--borrow one from a neighbor who may or may not be "justified" in owning one.

I'm all for people renting trucks instead of owning them. In fact, whenever someone asks to borrow mine, I helpfully provide them with the names of the rental places in town that offer trucks. I put that in the same category as being car-free: don't expect your friends to subsidize your carfree existence by giving you rides on rainy days.

I don't understand what purpose that could possibly serve

I sat in on a really interesting presentation by a transit planner once; a major focus of her work was trying to figure out ways to get middle- and upper-middle-class people to ride the bus, and it turns out that that is not an easy task at all. There's basically a hierarchy of transit preferences: everyone prefers driving their own car, then down the list you get to light rail, bicycles, etc, and way at the bottom you find riding the bus. "Captive" riders (eg the poor, disabled, elderly, or children) are going to ride the bus no matter how slow or dirty it is. "Choice" riders (eg people who have other transportation options) are only going to get on the bus if it meets their needs in very specific ways. Here (pdf) is a paper discussing an attempt to expand the pool of "choice" riders, and looking at the factors driving those decisions, for example.

The point being, getting people out of their cars is a lot more complicated than just raising gas prices or adding bus routes. And though I think there is a lot we can learn from Europe, I think that people can sometimes cherrypick the best case examples (eg bicycle commute numbers in Copenhagen) without acknowledging that a lot of people there choose to drive cars, just like here, though those cars tend to be considerably smaller, and driving patterns are very different.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 AM on October 12, 2011


That's really interesting to me, because I actually live in a place where middle-class people take the bus. They take the bus even though they share the same routes as genuinely poor people. I think there are a lot of reasons that works. The major employers in my town subsidize employees' bus passes and charge a lot for employee parking, so that even pretty well-off people see substantial savings if they ride the bus. The bus system is very well-run, and the buses are always on time. We do have free wi-fi on the bus, although I'm not sure that's a big factor. I use it, but I don't see a lot of other people using it, and my sense is that the richer people on the bus are more likely to have smart phones and not need the wi-fi. We also have one of those systems where you can track the next bus on your computer or cell phone, which cuts down on time waiting at the bus stop. Basically, it's a well-run system, and there are a lot of incentives to use it.

I just don't think that segregated public transit is going to fly in the US, because there are too many negative connotations. There are probably other things that can be done to de-stigmitize transit, though. One thing we can do is look at communities where middle-class people do take transit, because there are definitely examples of that in the US.
posted by craichead at 6:53 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even middle class people are pretty cheap. If there were buses with first and second class sections, I could imagine they would look like British commuter trains: empty first class sections, even when second-class (aka regular) is bulging at the seams.
posted by jb at 9:05 AM on October 12, 2011


empty first class sections, even when second-class (aka regular) is bulging at the seams.

Sounds like they're either pricing it wrong or not offering anything first class about the first-class section. The goal obviously should be to find a pricing and features level that fills every seat in first class without crowding it enough to lower passenger satisfaction.

In any case, I don't think you could really arrange first and second class seats all in one little bus (unless it was a doubledecker). More realistically, you would run two different classes of bus on the same route and passengers would wait for the kind of bus they wanted to ride (or just take the first one that came along if they were in a big hurry and the price difference didn't matter enough this once). On the basic bus, you'd pay a low rate to just get where you're going. On the extras bus, you might get newer coach with nicer seats, more room, a snack, wifi, etc. You could make it as fancy as a private limo ride if that's what it took to get people out of their cars and on to the bus in numbers that significantly lowered car traffic.
posted by pracowity at 10:12 AM on October 12, 2011


I live in one of America's closest approximations to the ideal for non-car culture: I can commute to work in under half an hour either by transit (subsidized!) or by bike. I rent an inexpensive place a few miles from downtown. I don't have a car. I am happy. I know I am lucky.

Yesterday, during an entirely unrelated conversation,* a coworker (who lives far out in the suburbs and drives everywhere) stated with conviction that DC should have its home rule revoked solely because the District government has the audacity to arrest people for driving with expired tags. Once again, I am reminded, people are very attached to their cars.

*I think I said that I couldn't "call my representative" about something since I don't have one.
posted by psoas at 10:28 AM on October 12, 2011


Once again, I am reminded, people are very attached to their cars.

Yes, they're so attached to their cars that they don't like the idea of being spending the night in jail for having an expired tag. Cyclists, on the other hand, are completely happy to be arrested and spend the night in jail for minor violations that have nothing to do with how they were riding their bike. Right? Or are they so attached to their bikes that they don't want to go to jail?

I guess it's nice that DC goes to the trouble of reminding me a couple of times a year why I shouldn't miss living or working in the District.
posted by The World Famous at 10:38 AM on October 12, 2011


There's a difference between disliking a local law enforcement practice and declaring that the residents of that jurisdiction should be thus (further) disenfranchised for the mere fact of living there.
posted by psoas at 4:08 AM on October 13, 2011


More realistically, you would run two different classes of bus on the same route and passengers would wait for the kind of bus they wanted to ride (or just take the first one that came along if they were in a big hurry and the price difference didn't matter enough this once).

They ran a system like this in Manchester - you could take the Stagecoach buses (cleaner, more regular) for about £7 per week, or you could take the Magic Bus (ran less frequently, often required reassembling the seat before you could sit down) for £4 a week. I quite liked the Magic Buses as they were essentially the buses from my childhood repainted - somehow nicer than the too plastic and steel newer ones.
posted by mippy at 8:58 AM on October 13, 2011


There's a difference between disliking a local law enforcement practice and declaring that the residents of that jurisdiction should be thus (further) disenfranchised for the mere fact of living there.

Yes, but that's attributable to the fact that the DC metro area is populated by a large population of complete morons, not to people's strong feelings about their cars. When I lived in the District, I had a co-worker who argued repeatedly and adamantly that the District should not have representation in Congress because - and I quote - "The District belongs to all of us!" This co-worker was, of course, a Maryland resident who lived roughly 100 yards from the district and whose entire commute (save those 100 yards) was through the District. Ugh. Like I said, DC reminds me a couple of times a year why I shouldn't miss living or working there.
posted by The World Famous at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2011


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