The freedom of driving (or not) – a Toronto traffic jam by wyliepoon
Whether they like it or not, most motorists are socialists. The American media tends to generally associate the term socialism with social assistance such as welfare, but socialism comes in different forms.
That same media is also littered with driver self-pity over the high costs of driving and there is a false perception that driving is exorbitantly expensive. It is a bit ironic because drivers are actually the prime beneficiaries of socialism in North America, and our gas prices are among the cheapest in the world.
Note from author: I am an occasional driver and thus an occasional beneficiary of motorist socialism.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one definition of socialism is:
“any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”
From subsidies given to oil companies to produce cheap oil, to government bailouts/ownership of auto manufacturers, to road construction and maintenance on streets that cost nothing to use, to highly subsidized parking spaces, to government health care costs associated with pollution from automobiles, to the detrimental health that results from sedentary lifestyle that cars promote, to the vast government policing forces required to enforce our streets: it is undeniable that driving places enormous costs on our society, and this cost is highly subsidized by our government.
Unlike other forms of socialism that benefit society as a whole, the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested, our air polluted and the growth of alternative modes of transportation are stifled.
Furthermore, the perception that drivers somehow “overpay” for the privilege to use our streets is one of the root causes of animosity that some motorists have that reduces or eliminates their willingness to share a small part of the roads with bicyclists. In reality, people who seldom drive cars are subsidizing those who use the roads most.
In North America, driving is often far less expensive than taking a bus or a train, so there is sadly a financial incentive for people to drive rather than take public transit.
For example, if I were to rent a car and drive 3 of my friends from Toronto to Montreal (~1,120km round trip) for 4 days, it would cost me roughly $345 or $86.25 per person (~$120 for gas, ~$45 for parking, ~$180 for a 4-day car rental).
If we were to take a train instead of driving a rental car, it would cost us $623.76 (or $155.94 each person) – almost double the cost of renting a car and driving. If I owned a car, the cost would be even lower: $165 for gas & parking (or just $41.25 per person).
How many countries in this world can boast that driving a car is 26% of the cost of taking a train? And this calculation uses current gas prices at just under $5/US gallon – something many Americans would consider outrageous.
Related Articles on theurbancountry.com:
- The World Has Changed. So Can You. (April 2011)
- Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars (May 2011)
- We Are Addicted To Automobiles (May 2011)
- 25% Of Motorists Hate Their Commute (Jan 2011)
In North America, we tend to have a belief of self-entitlement that everyone should be able to afford to drive a car. The government’s motorist socialism helps make this a reality: In the United States there are 775 cars for every 1000 man, woman and child; compared to just 128 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people in China.
To illustrate how inexpensive gasoline is in the United States compared to China, we can compare the price of gasoline to the price of a meal at a restaurant.
In the United States, a litre of gasoline ($1.00 or $3.79/US gallon) is just 9% of the cost of an average meal at an inexpensive restaurant ($10.98). In China, one litre of gas ($0.946 or $3.58/US gallon) is 30.5% of an average meal at an inexpensive restaurant ($3.10).
Okay, okay, you’re going to say Chinese food is cheap. Well, take any other necessity and compare it: In the United States, a litre of gasoline is 43% of a loaf of bread, and in China that same litre of gas is 74% of the cost of bread.
To further illustrate this point, we can compare the cost of a litre of gasoline to that of a one-way ticket on public transit. In China a litre of gasoline ($0.946) is almost 3 times the cost of a one-way ticket on local public transport ($0.32). In the United States a one-way ticket on public transit ($1.94) is almost double the cost of a litre of gasoline ($1.00).
We have kept gasoline and driving in general artificially cheap in an effort to attempt to sustain the “American Dream”. Meanwhile, people are sitting in their cars for hours each day – stuck in traffic – wondering whether they’ve been sold on a false promise.
And despite the artificially low cost of driving, the average American still spends about 2 hours a day working to pay for their cars. The gas tax that was supposed to cover the costs of driving only covers a small portion of the overall costs and the gas tax is dwindling due to increased fuel efficiency and electrification of automobiles.
With the economy and our lifestyles suffering as a result of this false promise, we need to invest in alternative modes of transportation rather than living in an unsustainable hope of free, unlimited automobile use.
Instead of infusing more government subsidization into expanding our roads and providing incentives for more driving, we need to re-design our existing streets to provide safe and comfortable routes for bicycles and better public transportation so people have viable alternatives to cars.
Public transit needs to be more affordable than driving, and it’s high time we use variable road pricing to ease congestion and raise more funding to help cover more of the true costs of driving.