America’s love affair with their cars continues unabated as auto sales continue to increase making that industry and oil companies richer each year. Cars are among our most expensive and cherished possessions.
But there are costs associated with car ownership that we tend to put out of our minds. There is the averaged cost of gasoline which typically runs $350 a month and insurance which cost about $100 a month and maintenance (oil changes and fluids, tires, batteries, repairs, routine checkups, etc.) costing about $200 per month, car registration of about $25 per month, car payments averaging $250 a month all together costing about $900 per month or roughly $30 per day. Add to that toll fees, parking and garage fees , auto club fees, car extended warranty fees and other items and the cost could be much higher.
Then there are non-monetary costs like time lost stuck in traffic instead of with your family or getting work done. Add to this the stress of being stuck in traffic jams, anger when someone drives too slow or dart unexpectedly in front of you and the anxiety of whether to step on the gas or slow to a stop when a signal light turns yellow or being at a two way stop sign intersection trying to decided when to dart safely across the intersection or trying to find a parking space in a crowded parking lot or forgetting where you parked your car. Then there is the occasional vandalism, fender bender and more seriously accidents that can endanger your life and be costly. All sound familiar?
Yet we have grown so accustomed to these costs and situations that we still insist on driving our cars even though there are often better though less familiar ways of commuting. But lack of parking is the factor that most often forces people to take public transportation. Large cities like New York and San Francisco have fairly well developed public transportation systems that citizens use for their daily commutes due to the lack of public parking. Some people don’t even own a car.
Public transportation, using efficient low or no carbon emitting technology, can play a major role in reducing the use of cars and pollution. Of course one would be giving up the convenience of getting into the car at one’s doorstep but if most people used public transportation, convenience would be far less of a problem since buses would be stopping at just about every major block.
Public transportation is prolific abroad especially in Europe, South East Asia, and South America. The reason is that gasoline is not subsidised in those countries so it is quite expensive, almost double the cost of subsidized gas here. Many poorer countries than us have extensive high speed rail systems. Their metro-lines branch out to every location from interconnecting underground rail systems many 5 layer deep. Some of the subways stops have shopping malls, grocery stores and all kinds of other conveniences so that commuters can shop or do business on their way home from work or elsewhere.
Public transportation in America has largely been a failure compared to just about everywhere else in the world because of our dependence upon cars. Most developed nations and developing nations with extensive public transportation systems have high speed rail while we are struggling to put in our first with no certainty that is will happen.
There are a number of other reasons why we still drive cars. The subsidies and preferential tax treatment oil companies receive makes gas seem cheap like subsidized milk. Without such subsidies, which we ultimately pay through taxes, it would be much more expensive. Cars are still affordably priced for most people starting at as little as $12,000 in easy installments. The fuel economy of cars is getting better each year compensating for the increases in gasoline prices. The cost of ownership is high but people put it out of their minds as they do tax subsidies. For most it is much more convenient than public transportation because of transit’s low ridership makes it uneconomic to develop more extensively. Its a chicken and egg scenario. Due to our love affair with cars the road infrastructure is extensive and well maintained through taxes. Parking accommodations are good in most places. So we persist in driving our cars.
Yet public transportation offers so many advantages. It is overall cheaper than owning and driving a car. It is generally more reliable in getting you from point A to point B on time. It is far less stressful. You can relax, read a book or newspaper or get some work done most of the time. Many have free WiFi so you can do email or social networking. There is far less pollution. Car maintenance is not an issue. Shopping for new cars is no longer relevant. Driving stress is eliminated and no worries about finding a parking spot or forgetting where you parked. There are some problems with older transit systems but the newer ones are quite comfortable and safe. As ridership improves so will service and comfort unlike driving a car. The more people drive a car the more traffic congestion, stresses, accidents, and pollution all contribute to a shorter and less productive life.
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