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Motorists Prime Beneficiaries of Socialism 116

Toronto Traffic Jam

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.

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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.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/BehoovingMoving Steven Fleming

    Great article. I figure a cyclist, and their braking zone, occupies one hundredth of the area taken by a car and its braking zone, and pedestrians occupy far less again. Chicago sold the rights to collect on-street parking fees recently. This raises the specter of privatizing all city streets!

  • http://twitter.com/BehoovingMoving Steven Fleming

    Great article. I figure a cyclist, and their braking zone, occupies one hundredth of the area taken by a car and its braking zone, and pedestrians occupy far less again. Chicago sold the rights to collect on-street parking fees recently. This raises the specter of privatizing all city streets!

  • Kam

    Nice write-up Jim – I sense this one must have had to brew for some time ;)

    • James Schwartz

      Thanks Kam. In fact, this post came rather abruptly (though admittedly the thoughts in the post have been on my mind for a while). The spark that lit this fire was a recent comment from someone on another article that they would consider taking public transit except for the fact that it’s pretty much the same cost for them to drive. Then Herb over at ibiketo posted this article yesterday: “The Toronto Parking Authority exists solely to subsidize drivers of private automobiles”: http://www.ibiketo.ca/blog/toronto-parking-authority-exists-solely-subsidize-drivers-private-automobiles

      Really glad to hear you enjoyed the freedom/joy of a bicycle out in the Prairies. How has the experience been so far?

  • Kam

    Nice write-up Jim – I sense this one must have had to brew for some time ;)

  • Otto Khera

    Finally! Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what should have been in the mainstream and not-mainstream American media a thousandfold over the past five years or more. Instead, we get to hear the incessant, shrill cries of injustice and charges of ‘socialism’ from the very groups who are oblivious to the overarching, fundamental reality: automobiles count as one of the biggest socialist programs in the history of humanity. And this has resulted in all of the tell-tale manifestations of a failed socialist experiment: overcrowding (oversupply of cars), overconsumption of oil and roads/highways, very high externalities in the form of skyrocketing health care costs and pollution. And the most frightening and damaging — this massive socialist subsidization has stifled innovation and the market for alternative transportation modes. What other industry has a comparable to the spark plug or combustion engine — technologies that have remained essentially the same for over 100 years. We all need to wake up from this carbon monoxide induced slumber and shake out the cob webs — because there’s lots of cost cutting and innovation to be done! Out with the old (cars); in with the new (alternative transportation/multi-modal transportation/ human-powered hybrid transportation; new transport systems).

  • Otto Khera

    Finally! Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what should have been in the mainstream and not-mainstream American media a thousandfold over the past five years or more. Instead, we get to hear the incessant, shrill cries of injustice and charges of ‘socialism’ from the very groups who are oblivious to the overarching, fundamental reality: automobiles count as one of the biggest socialist programs in the history of humanity. And this has resulted in all of the tell-tale manifestations of a failed socialist experiment: overcrowding (oversupply of cars), overconsumption of oil and roads/highways, very high externalities in the form of skyrocketing health care costs and pollution. And the most frightening and damaging — this massive socialist subsidization has stifled innovation and the market for alternative transportation modes. What other industry has a comparable to the spark plug or combustion engine — technologies that have remained essentially the same for over 100 years. We all need to wake up from this carbon monoxide induced slumber and shake out the cob webs — because there’s lots of cost cutting and innovation to be done! Out with the old (cars); in with the new (alternative transportation/multi-modal transportation/ human-powered hybrid transportation; new transport systems).

  • http://twitter.com/vabike VA Bicycling Fed.

    Let’s not forget the fuel taxes that everyone screams about being too high, don’t even pay for half the cost of our roads, let alone other costs. The rest has to come from general funds.

    • James Schwartz

      Strange, my original draft had a mention of the fuel tax that is dwindling due to more fuel efficient/electrified vehicles. I’ll add it back in there somewhere. Also, I covered the high costs of car ownership in another post: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/05/americans-work-2-hours-each-day-to-pay.html

      This article was intended to bring some perspective to the high cost of car ownership. Namely, that it would actually be a lot higher if not for government subsidization.

      • bobzaguy

        Just the cost of buying a car has exploded.
        In 1966 I bought my first new car, a Mustang, for just under $3000! It was a convertible, so it was about $500 more than the hardtop.
        Today, that same car would be MSRP: $22,145 – $30,845!
        An increase of almost 10 times! I am sure that I have never made, and never will be able to make, anywhere near 10 times my 1966 salary! I’ve never made anywhere near a quarter of a million dollars a year!

        • Mario

          Just with inflation, $3000 is equivalent to about $20,000 today, so it doesn’t seem that Mustangs have risen too much more above inflation. It also depends on what they’ve been doing with the Mustang line – was it more of a low price car then, and now it’s more of a mid-range car in terms of pricing? I know they offer less expensive cars than that.

          With inflation, if your salary hasn’t risen about 7x your old one, then you’re falling behind (I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that most Americans are stagnant in terms of real wages while only the wealthy have seen a significant increase over the last few decades)

  • http://twitter.com/vabike VA Bicycling Fed.

    If you hadn’t made the same mistake in your reasoning that most Americans make, your argument would have been even stronger! Namely, accounting for the other costs of driving, in addition to just putting gas in your car.

    Insurance, tires, oil changes, and other maintenance and repair are very real, out-of-pocket costs, as sure as death and taxes. Most people are also paying loan interest, and for car washing; and in urban areas, for parking.

    Even the iRS gives us 55.5 cents a mile for car costs. Gasoline is only about a third of that, using the standard average figures. And we know the IRS doesn’t do us any favors!

  • James Schwartz

    Strange, my original draft had a mention of the fuel tax that is dwindling due to more fuel efficient/electrified vehicles. I’ll add it back in there somewhere. Also, I covered the high costs of car ownership in another post: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/05/americans-work-2-hours-each-day-to-pay.html

    This article was intended to bring some perspective to the high cost of car ownership. Namely, that it would actually be a lot higher if not for government subsidization.

  • James Schwartz

    Thanks Kam. In fact, this post came rather abruptly (though admittedly the thoughts in the post have been on my mind for a while). The spark that lit this fire was a recent comment from someone on another article that they would consider taking public transit except for the fact that it’s pretty much the same cost for them to drive. Then Herb over at ibiketo posted this article yesterday: “The Toronto Parking Authority exists solely to subsidize drivers of private automobiles”: http://www.ibiketo.ca/blog/toronto-parking-authority-exists-solely-subsidize-drivers-private-automobiles

    Really glad to hear you enjoyed the freedom/joy of a bicycle out in the Prairies. How has the experience been so far?

  • nitramluap

    Great article, James.

    Another benefit of redesigning our streets for pedestrians & cyclists is that they will return to a more human scale. We will no longer feel like avoiding the main streets due to the scale of the traffic flow – we might even find that businesses will slowly flourish; they will realise that being located on a busy road with lots of on-street parking actually isn’t very good for business!

    I look forward to they day that our cities more closely resemble their European counterparts – cities that matured before the horseless carriage.

  • nitramluap

    Great article, James.

    Another benefit of redesigning our streets for pedestrians & cyclists is that they will return to a more human scale. We will no longer feel like avoiding the main streets due to the scale of the traffic flow – we might even find that businesses will slowly flourish; they will realise that being located on a busy road with lots of on-street parking actually isn’t very good for business!

    I look forward to they day that our cities more closely resemble their European counterparts – cities that matured before the horseless carriage.

  • Chris Chapman

    Jim – I admire your tenacity and chutzpah for things you believe in, but you’ve made a bit of a leap of logic by equating subsidies with socialism. Socialism is about creating an entitlement society where any and all “wealth” is appropriated by the state and redistributed.

    In a socialist state, oil and gas would be publicly owned and operated and sold at a price considered fair by a central planning committee, irrespective of input costs. Similarly, automobiles, would be strictly controlled by the state in all respects – you would likely only be allowed to have one after a lengthy approvals process and even then that’s not a guarantee. You would need to demonstrate a real need for it.

    Because all modes of production are transitioned to the state, automobile manufacture will be simple – there aren’t market forces to respond to with respect to choice: Choice is an expression of individualism, and individualism is a cancer on the collective will of the people.

    Consequently, it would be prohibitively expensive and rare to own a vehicle in a socialist workers paradise.

    Oh, I see where you’re going with this… ;-)

    • bobzaguy

      Seems to me you are describing what is actually happening in today’s auto and gas world.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Chris, based on the definition of socialism that I provided in the article:

      “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”

      … a country doesn’t need to redistribute *any and all* “wealth” as you state in order to embrace socialism. Canada has many socialist aspects to it (universal healthcare, welfare programs, etc.)

      The government owns and administers most roads in the US and Canada and distributes these goods for a nominal (and often free) cost. The government also owns a portion of the US auto manufacturers ever since billions of dollars were spent to bail out these companies. This wasn’t a subsidy, it was government ownership of the production and distribution of goods (cars).

      The government also owns parking lots in most cities in the US and Canada and distributes these goods at a nominal cost.

      The list of “government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” goes on and on. And I didn’t even mention the trillions of dollars that the government spends on wars around the world in order to secure oil resources to ensure a steady stream of low-cost oil is being imported into the USA to ensure the cost of driving stays low.

      There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

      I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      PS: I intentionally left government-funded wars and intervention in other nations out of the article because keeping the cost of driving low isn’t the primary driving force in US foreign policy. Rather, US intervention and wars are more motivated by corporate profits than anything else.

  • Chris Chapman

    Jim – I admire your tenacity and chutzpah for things you believe in, but you’ve made a bit of a leap of logic by equating subsidies with socialism. Socialism is about creating an entitlement society where any and all “wealth” is appropriated by the state and redistributed.

    In a socialist state, oil and gas would be publicly owned and operated and sold at a price considered fair by a central planning committee, irrespective of input costs. Similarly, automobiles, would be strictly controlled by the state in all respects – you would likely only be allowed to have one after a lengthy approvals process and even then that’s not a guarantee. You would need to demonstrate a real need for it.

    Because all modes of production are transitioned to the state, automobile manufacture will be simple – there aren’t market forces to respond to with respect to choice: Choice is an expression of individualism, and individualism is a cancer on the collective will of the people.

    Consequently, it would be prohibitively expensive and rare to own a vehicle in a socialist workers paradise.

    Oh, I see where you’re going with this… ;-)

  • Tkeen

    Most of the subsidies you describe benefit everyone, not just car owners, because most of the things we buy and sell have to be transported by fuel-burning machines, be they trucks, trains, ships or whatever, not to mention everything else made from oils, such as plastics. When oil gets more expensive, everything gets more expensive.
    Furthermore, since we cycle on roads, it follows that we cyclists benefit from their maintenance. (Except for the main highways, of course)
    If private car use was reduced in the cities, however, it would certainly benefit commercial traffic, since they could deliver their goods more quickly. The 401 is particularly bad – constantly overcrowded with trucks and cars during the week. Do we reduce the number of trucks to speed up the cars, or vice versa?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-DeLory/1027412607 Joe DeLory

      Cyclists pay for road construction in the form of general taxes.Through licensing fees we also pay for the roads I leave my car parked most of the time. Fuel taxes pay for some of maintenance cost of roads, but the rest of still pay our part. A bicycle contributes nothing to the degradation of the roads. But cyclist still share the cost of repair. Reducing private vehicle use by encouraging other forms of transportation will help relieve congestion and allow more efficient flow of goods.
      For those that wish to build more roads to relieve congestion, this is akin to fighting obesity by buying a bigger belt.

    • Tallycyclist

      It always baffles me at how ignorant a lot of people are in the US, especially when I read articles or blogs with comments along the lines of “cyclist don’t pay for roads” and “don’t belong there” and so on. I really wish those people would get what they ask for. Because if everyone was charged according to their usage, then all these drivers who drive their huge and heavy SUV’s and pick-ups everywhere would have to pay a lot more than they do now. The need to compensate for the immense damage they cause alone would be quite hefty, let alone all the other negative consequences we get from too many people driving.

      I agree with their statement that all users should be charged accordingly. That would be fair indeed.

  • Tkeen

    Most of the subsidies you describe benefit everyone, not just car owners, because most of the things we buy and sell have to be transported by fuel-burning machines, be they trucks, trains, ships or whatever, not to mention everything else made from oils, such as plastics. When oil gets more expensive, everything gets more expensive.
    Furthermore, since we cycle on roads, it follows that we cyclists benefit from their maintenance. (Except for the main highways, of course)
    If private car use was reduced in the cities, however, it would certainly benefit commercial traffic, since they could deliver their goods more quickly. The 401 is particularly bad – constantly overcrowded with trucks and cars during the week. Do we reduce the number of trucks to speed up the cars, or vice versa?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joe-DeLory/1027412607 Joe DeLory

    Cyclists pay for road construction in the form of general taxes.Through licensing fees we also pay for the roads I leave my car parked most of the time. Fuel taxes pay for some of maintenance cost of roads, but the rest of still pay our part. A bicycle contributes nothing to the degradation of the roads. But cyclist still share the cost of repair. Reducing private vehicle use by encouraging other forms of transportation will help relieve congestion and allow more efficient flow of goods.
    For those that wish to build more roads to relieve congestion, this is akin to fighting obesity by buying a bigger belt.

  • Pawnbroker1

    You might want to include the cost of international interventions that we engage in to provide a stable source of fuel. Those costs are enormous in lives and treasure.

    Don’t get me started on the way the US subsidized and supported central american bananas for the benefit of a few corporations. This included overthrowing governments using military and CIA resources. This isn’t such current issue but the banana’s history is quite bloody.

  • Pawnbroker1

    You might want to include the cost of international interventions that we engage in to provide a stable source of fuel. Those costs are enormous in lives and treasure.

    Don’t get me started on the way the US subsidized and supported central american bananas for the benefit of a few corporations. This included overthrowing governments using military and CIA resources. This isn’t such current issue but the banana’s history is quite bloody.

  • Gclarke

    James in the UK your headline would read; “Public Transportation Prime Beneficiaries of Socialism: Private motorists support public transportation via outrageous petrol taxes”. High petrol prices and still people love their cars.

    In January 2009 the average price of a US gallon of gas was $1.79. As of today, the average price nationwide is $3.58.

    However according to MarketWatch — About 10% more Americans plan to travel by car during the Labor Day weekend, according to the American Automobile Association. Some 31.4 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles from home, up from 28.5 million a year ago, the AAA said.

    All good points James but its a long, long up hill climb to move people away from their love of cars.

    I do like your picture with the bus, trolly, and taxi stuck in traffic … and the poor cyclist shoved to the curb. It says it all!

  • Gclarke

    James in the UK your headline would read; “Public Transportation Prime Beneficiaries of Socialism: Private motorists support public transportation via outrageous petrol taxes”. High petrol prices and still people love their cars.

    In January 2009 the average price of a US gallon of gas was $1.79. As of today, the average price nationwide is $3.58.

    However according to MarketWatch — About 10% more Americans plan to travel by car during the Labor Day weekend, according to the American Automobile Association. Some 31.4 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles from home, up from 28.5 million a year ago, the AAA said.

    All good points James but its a long, long up hill climb to move people away from their love of cars.

    I do like your picture with the bus, trolly, and taxi stuck in traffic … and the poor cyclist shoved to the curb. It says it all!

  • Montrealize

    @ James

    You forgot the humongous cost of waging wars to secure said oil. This is by far the biggest of all the costs involved in subsidizing the car culture.

    @ Chris

    Yours is an extremely norrow version and vision of socialism.
    The initial definition of the concept is large enough that the car culture is indeed one of the most successful socialist project ever!

  • Montrealize

    @ James

    You forgot the humongous cost of waging wars to secure said oil. This is by far the biggest of all the costs involved in subsidizing the car culture.

    @ Chris

    Yours is an extremely norrow version and vision of socialism.
    The initial definition of the concept is large enough that the car culture is indeed one of the most successful socialist project ever!

  • hobbes80

    The biggest motivator behind Automobiles in the US is not just how cheap they are, it is the freedom and independence it provides to the driver.

    Sure, they benefit from the many government initiatives that you astutely pointed out in your article, but the government benefits from it as well. The cost of a public transit system to TRULY enable every American would be so astronomical in price that it would be impossible to afford both from the perspective of those building it and from those paying to utilize it. Even the cities in this country with decent public transportation make it difficult to utilize them.

    I have a coworker who lives 35 miles from the office. He takes public transit to save wear on his car. The trip in rush hour by car is about an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic. The trip by transit is 3.5 hours. He takes a bus to the nearest metro, the metro into DC where he changes trains, metro out to the last stop where he takes a bus that gets him to a bus terminal, then he takes a second bus from there. Missing a bus/train anywhere in the mix adds 10-30 minutes depending on the time of day.

    THAT is why people drive. Socialist or not, folks will pay more money for convenience. That is why as the cost of driving goes up, people will still drive because it empowers them… though I suppose that could be considered “socialist” by very loose definition.

    • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com Mr.S.

      You don’t prove a point by extreme example, which what that commute is. For your one I can claim dozens of examples of commutes people drive that have good transit or an easily bikeable distance. In any case, ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. Look to the stats: you’re still wrong for most people’s commutes.

      • Gclarke

        From the Scorecard On Prosperity 2011 -
        Toronto Region Moves To Number Eight From Fourth

        Lessons for Toronto -

        Attracting more choice riders to take public transit for their commute is key to relieving the region’s congestion. Focusing on the customer experience and making the transit experience more pleasant is critical in attracting these riders – and an integrated system backed by a regionally integrated fare card plays a major role in improving the transit customer experience. A recent Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario report found that lack of fare integration was seen by choice riders as a significant barrier keeping them from taking public transit.

        International experience confirms it is important that the roll-out of the PRESTO card continues across the entire Toronto region. At the same time, integration of GTHA fares – so that customers don’t have to pay full fares on each transit system they use per trip, but pay a reasonable fare for their journey – should also take place. Limited fare integration already exists in the GTHA – such as the agreement whereby GO riders can pay $0.50, rather than full fare, to take a York Region bus to GO Transit stations – but full regional integration needs to take place in conjunction with the PRESTO roll-out.

      • hobbes80

        Unfortunately, the case I explained above is not an extreme example. There are 30 people on the floor I work on. Of them 3 can bicycle in (myself included), 4 have commutes less than 10 miles, and the remaining commute more than 15 miles. Of those, more than half would double or triple their commute on public transportation. Add in the issue of the sales folks who need to get to meetings at customer sites, and it becomes wholly impractical for them to rely on public transportation.

        Not too mention we gear public transportation from suburbs to the city… Here are some statistics:
        http://www.slideshare.net/marcus.bowman.slides/us-commuting-statistical-analysis
        Granted they are 3 years old, but it has only gotten worse.

        • Ben Gustafson

          It sounds like your office is in a location that is not easily reached by public transportation. That proves nothing about the viability of public transportation.

    • Ben Gustafson

      Of course your coworker’s commute sucks – he lives 35 miles from the office!

  • hobbes80

    The biggest motivator behind Automobiles in the US is not just how cheap they are, it is the freedom and independence it provides to the driver.

    Sure, they benefit from the many government initiatives that you astutely pointed out in your article, but the government benefits from it as well. The cost of a public transit system to TRULY enable every American would be so astronomical in price that it would be impossible to afford both from the perspective of those building it and from those paying to utilize it. Even the cities in this country with decent public transportation make it difficult to utilize them.

    I have a coworker who lives 35 miles from the office. He takes public transit to save wear on his car. The trip in rush hour by car is about an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic. The trip by transit is 3.5 hours. He takes a bus to the nearest metro, the metro into DC where he changes trains, metro out to the last stop where he takes a bus that gets him to a bus terminal, then he takes a second bus from there. Missing a bus/train anywhere in the mix adds 10-30 minutes depending on the time of day.

    THAT is why people drive. Socialist or not, folks will pay more money for convenience. That is why as the cost of driving goes up, people will still drive because it empowers them… though I suppose that could be considered “socialist” by very loose definition.

  • http://hanlonsrzr.blogspot.com/ Mr.S.

    You don’t prove a point by extreme example, which what that commute is. For your one I can claim dozens of examples of commutes people drive that have good transit or an easily bikeable distance. In any case, ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’. Look to the stats: you’re still wrong for most people’s commutes.

  • Gclarke

    From the Scorecard On Prosperity 2011 -
    Toronto Region Moves To Number Eight From Fourth

    Lessons for Toronto -

    Attracting more choice riders to take public transit for their commute is key to relieving the region’s congestion. Focusing on the customer experience and making the transit experience more pleasant is critical in attracting these riders – and an integrated system backed by a regionally integrated fare card plays a major role in improving the transit customer experience. A recent Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario report found that lack of fare integration was seen by choice riders as a significant barrier keeping them from taking public transit.

    International experience confirms it is important that the roll-out of the PRESTO card continues across the entire Toronto region. At the same time, integration of GTHA fares – so that customers don’t have to pay full fares on each transit system they use per trip, but pay a reasonable fare for their journey – should also take place. Limited fare integration already exists in the GTHA – such as the agreement whereby GO riders can pay $0.50, rather than full fare, to take a York Region bus to GO Transit stations – but full regional integration needs to take place in conjunction with the PRESTO roll-out.

  • hobbes80

    Unfortunately, the case I explained above is not an extreme example. There are 30 people on the floor I work on. Of them 3 can bicycle in (myself included), 4 have commutes less than 10 miles, and the remaining commute more than 15 miles. Of those, more than half would double or triple their commute on public transportation. Add in the issue of the sales folks who need to get to meetings at customer sites, and it becomes wholly impractical for them to rely on public transportation.

    Not too mention we gear public transportation from suburbs to the city… Here are some statistics:
    http://www.slideshare.net/marcus.bowman.slides/us-commuting-statistical-analysis
    Granted they are 3 years old, but it has only gotten worse.

  • http://firefeeder.blogspot.com/ Stratplayer

    And yet, there is an actual movement on the econo-libertarian right to privatize every thoroughfare in America:

    http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf

    I expect that the overwhelming majority of ostensible tea party types would find themselves horrified at the constriction of personal physical liberty and the strangling of economic dynamism perpetrated by the road-rentier class under such a system. The reflexive government haters among us ought to be very careful what they wish for.

  • stratplayer

    And yet, there is an actual movement on the econo-libertarian right to privatize every thoroughfare in America:

    http://mises.org/books/roads_web.pdf

    I expect that the overwhelming majority of ostensible tea party types would find themselves horrified at the constriction of personal physical liberty and the strangling of economic dynamism perpetrated by the road-rentier class under such a system. The reflexive government haters among us ought to be very careful what they wish for.

  • bobzaguy

    Seems to me you are describing what is actually happening in today’s auto and gas world.

  • bobzaguy

    Just the cost of buying a car has exploded.
    In 1966 I bought my first new car, a Mustang, for just under $3000! It was a convertible, so it was about $500 more than the hardtop.
    Today, that same car would be MSRP: $22,145 – $30,845!
    An increase of almost 10 times! I am sure that I have never made, and never will be able to make, anywhere near 10 times my 1966 salary! I’ve never made anywhere near a quarter of a million dollars a year!

  • Mario

    Just with inflation, $3000 is equivalent to about $20,000 today, so it doesn’t seem that Mustangs have risen too much more above inflation. It also depends on what they’ve been doing with the Mustang line – was it more of a low price car then, and now it’s more of a mid-range car in terms of pricing? I know they offer less expensive cars than that.

    With inflation, if your salary hasn’t risen about 7x your old one, then you’re falling behind (I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that most Americans are stagnant in terms of real wages while only the wealthy have seen a significant increase over the last few decades)

  • http://twitter.com/MonsieurOblong Monsieur Oblong

    I disagree with one statement here:

    “the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested…”

    Clearly the congestion is a sign of success. And you also fail to prove that the other consequences outweigh the benefit, namely, that people actually get around. If you don’t want to sit in traffic, do what I did, and move close to work. But if you choose to sit in traffic, obviously you prefer it to the alternatives (though, as you note, the alternative may be sub-par public transit that has been hurt by motorist socialism).

    • dr2chase

      Congestion is a sign of an under-priced common resource. The “tragedy of the commons” is not a sign of success, it is a sign of mismanagement. People’s choices are sticky (I cannot easily choose to own a car today, not tomorrow, and then own it again the next day) and are often influenced by what other people are doing. Housing choices are even stickier.

  • http://twitter.com/MonsieurOblong Monsieur Oblong

    I disagree with one statement here:

    “the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested…”

    Clearly the congestion is a sign of success. And you also fail to prove that the other consequences outweigh the benefit, namely, that people actually get around. If you don’t want to sit in traffic, do what I did, and move close to work. But if you choose to sit in traffic, obviously you prefer it to the alternatives (though, as you note, the alternative may be sub-par public transit that has been hurt by motorist socialism).

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Chris, based on the definition of socialism that I provided in the article:

    “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”

    … a country doesn’t need to redistribute *any and all* “wealth” as you state in order to embrace socialism. Canada has many socialist aspects to it (universal healthcare, welfare programs, etc.)

    The government owns and administers most roads in the US and Canada and distributes these goods for a nominal (and often free) cost. The government also owns a portion of the US auto manufacturers ever since billions of dollars were spent to bail out these companies. This wasn’t a subsidy, it was government ownership of the production and distribution of goods (cars).

    The government also owns parking lots in most cities in the US and Canada and distributes these goods at a nominal cost.

    The list of “government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods” goes on and on. And I didn’t even mention the trillions of dollars that the government spends on wars around the world in order to secure oil resources to ensure a steady stream of low-cost oil is being imported into the USA to ensure the cost of driving stays low.

    There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

    I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    PS: I intentionally left government-funded wars and intervention in other nations out of the article because keeping the cost of driving low isn’t the primary driving force in US foreign policy. Rather, US intervention and wars are more motivated by corporate profits than anything else.

  • JeffS

    Road subsidies: 1 cent per passenger-mile
    Mass transit subsidies: 75 cents per passenger-mile

    Who were you calling a socialist?

    • dr2chase

      I’m not sure you’re accounting properly for all subsidies — for example, the Iraq war cost about $.50-$.70 per gallon of gasoline during the most of the previous 10 years. Parking places in urban areas as double-subsidized; first, they are underpriced (as urban real estate), and second, their use is restricted to parking only (I could not erect a folding coffee shop in a parking space and feed the meter quarters for the duration of my business day).

      Beyond direct road subsidies, there are externalized or hidden costs; these estimates seem to all exceed $4 per gallon: http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/subsidies.pdf
      (Some of these estimated costs are borne by motorists in the form of time wasted in traffic jams or time and medical costs lost to crashes; however, the estimates that include these are in the $15-$24 range.)

  • JeffS

    Road subsidies: 1 cent per passenger-mile
    Mass transit subsidies: 75 cents per passenger-mile

    Who were you calling a socialist?

  • Ben Gustafson

    Of course

  • Ben Gustafson

    It sounds like your office is in a location that is not easily reached by public transportation. That proves nothing about the viability of public transportation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rusin/542128614 Paul Rusin

    Fine and dandy of you have a short trip, or live within biking distance of your job. But what of those driving 20,30, even 60 miles one way to get to a job? What is the incentive to bike 20,30, or 60 miles one way daily, and how many people could actually do it. Further, is it cheaper to put food in a mouth to bike 60 miles, or gas in a vehicle to drive that distance? I’d say the cheaper is the gas guzzling automobile. What incentive would I have to work in Toronto if I lived in London, Ontario? What incentive to work in NYC if I lived in Albany. Some do make this commute daily, most by train. So I think you are a might off base here. The subsidies you discuss are merely matters of opinion, and can be skewed to be seen your way, just as I have skewed my points to be seen my way. It is a matter of choice, i.e., freedom. Further, there is no evidence that it is automobiles that cause obesity, but overeating, foods which are not grown in a manner conducive to the body having been grown in nutrient rich soils replenished by organic matter. Instead, a great deal of organic matter ends up in landfills, Which is a story for another day. Fact is, our depleted soil causes us to crave nutrients, and a poor diet on top of that, sugar heavy, allows the numbers of obese to grow, pun intended.

    • nitramluap

      Well those folks are going to have to move closer to their workplace (or vice versa) – assuming they have jobs in the near future… things are going to get really interesting in the coming months.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rusin/542128614 Paul Rusin

    Fine and dandy of you have a short trip, or live within biking distance of your job. But what of those driving 20,30, even 60 miles one way to get to a job? What is the incentive to bike 20,30, or 60 miles one way daily, and how many people could actually do it. Further, is it cheaper to put food in a mouth to bike 60 miles, or gas in a vehicle to drive that distance? I’d say the cheaper is the gas guzzling automobile. What incentive would I have to work in Toronto if I lived in London, Ontario? What incentive to work in NYC if I lived in Albany. Some do make this commute daily, most by train. So I think you are a might off base here. The subsidies you discuss are merely matters of opinion, and can be skewed to be seen your way, just as I have skewed my points to be seen my way. It is a matter of choice, i.e., freedom. Further, there is no evidence that it is automobiles that cause obesity, but overeating, foods which are not grown in a manner conducive to the body having been grown in nutrient rich soils replenished by organic matter. Instead, a great deal of organic matter ends up in landfills, Which is a story for another day. Fact is, our depleted soil causes us to crave nutrients, and a poor diet on top of that, sugar heavy, allows the numbers of obese to grow, pun intended.

  • nitramluap

    Well those folks are going to have to move closer to their workplace (or vice versa) – assuming they have jobs in the near future… things are going to get really interesting in the coming months.

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  • Tallycyclist

    It always baffles me at how ignorant a lot of people are in the US, especially when I read articles or blogs with comments along the lines of “cyclist don’t pay for roads” and “don’t belong there” and so on. I really wish those people would get what they ask for. Because if everyone was charged according to their usage, then all these drivers who drive their huge and heavy SUV’s and pick-ups everywhere would have to pay a lot more than they do now. The need to compensate for the immense damage they cause alone would be quite hefty, let alone all the other negative consequences we get from too many people driving.

    I agree with their statement that all users should be charged accordingly. That would be fair indeed.

  • dr2chase

    Congestion is a sign of an under-priced common resource. The “tragedy of the commons” is not a sign of success, it is a sign of mismanagement. People’s choices are sticky (I cannot easily choose to own a car today, not tomorrow, and then own it again the next day) and are often influenced by what other people are doing. Housing choices are even stickier.

  • dr2chase

    I’m not sure you’re accounting properly for all subsidies — for example, the Iraq war cost about $.50-$.70 per gallon of gasoline during the most of the previous 10 years. Parking places in urban areas as double-subsidized; first, they are underpriced (as urban real estate), and second, their use is restricted to parking only (I could not erect a folding coffee shop in a parking space and feed the meter quarters for the duration of my business day).

    Beyond direct road subsidies, there are externalized or hidden costs; these estimates seem to all exceed $4 per gallon: http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/subsidies.pdf
    (Some of these estimated costs are borne by motorists in the form of time wasted in traffic jams or time and medical costs lost to crashes; however, the estimates that include these are in the $15-$24 range.)

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  • http://www.gapsecuritydirect.co.uk/category/motorbike-security/motorbike-tracking/ Kevin

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  • http://www.2290tax.com/IRS-Form-2290.php irs form 2290

    “the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested”- this statement and a whole lot more blew my mind, Jim. I do wonder how it’s possible for people who seldom use the streets to be paying more taxes than those who do.

  • http://www.2290tax.com/IRS-Form-2290.php irs form 2290

    “the benefits of motorist socialism are outweighed by our roads being overly congested”- this statement and a whole lot more blew my mind, Jim. I do wonder how it’s possible for people who seldom use the streets to be paying more taxes than those who do.

  • irs form 2290

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  • Alix

    “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.”

    Really now. It cost me $68 for a monthly pass good for both the bus and the Metrolink plusn I ride my bike, which is free. How is this more expensive than owning a car?

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      If you look at the example I gave, I was referring to longer bus/train trips. However, if someone already owns a car, even local trips are sometimes less expensive by car than by public transit if you just consider the direct trip costs (depending on the parking costs). Having said that, the overall cost of car ownership is clearly more than a public transit pass – that’s not what this article was comparing. I already covered the costs of car ownership in another article called “Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars”: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/05/americans-work-2-hours-each-day-to-pay.html

  • Alix

    “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.”

    Really now. It cost me $68 for a monthly pass good for both the bus and the Metrolink plusn I ride my bike, which is free. How is this more expensive than owning a car?

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    If you look at the example I gave, I was referring to longer bus/train trips. However, if someone already owns a car, even local trips are sometimes less expensive by car than by public transit if you just consider the direct trip costs (depending on the parking costs). Having said that, the overall cost of car ownership is clearly more than a public transit pass – that’s not what this article was comparing. I already covered the costs of car ownership in another article called “Americans Work 2 Hours Each Day To Pay For Their Cars”: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/05/americans-work-2-hours-each-day-to-pay.html

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    There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

    I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

  • http://www.avalonplumbingnola.com/ Plumber Orleans New

    There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

    I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

  • http://www.avalonplumbingnola.com/ Plumber Orleans New

    There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

    I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

  • http://www.avalonplumbingnola.com/ Plumber Orleans New

    There are plenty of services that I think the government should provide to contribute to the greater good of our country, but roads and driving isn’t one of them.

    I’d love to see all of it privatized without government subsidies so people would have to pay the true cost of driving. It would also free up billions and billions of dollars that could be invested in public transit. With drivers paying the true cost of driving and with better transit, people would make different decisions about where they live and how they transport themselves. Bring on libertarianism for our streets :)

  • BrettBuen

    Motorist socialism? Sounds a bit fancy, eh? That is probably the reason why most cheap vehicle delivery UK finds it worthy to be doing business in that part of the globe compared to the US.

  • Daryl Grimes

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  • Tracy Mcdonalds

    Although I have no problem with libertarian philosophy, I simply beg to disagree that roads and driving shouldn’t be at the forefront of government spending. I’ve thought about this after completing my form 2290 electronic filing and I realized that bulk of the tax spending the government is doing is to ensure that a car-loving country like ours get the most from that.

  • Mina Johanson

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  • Monty Pennington

    I could remember one time that our aunt had a bad case of road rage because of one huge traffic jam. She was stuck in traffic and was delivering my sisters grand piano to her new flat as a gift. She couldn’t even get out of the block because of the congestion. She gave up and luckily her friend recommended a great firm that did furniture removals in Perth. My sister was elated! She didn’t expect it to be there so fast.

  • Kimberly Mullin

    There’s actually form 2290 electronic filing which will provide convenience to all the taxpayers and will hopefully encourage them to pay the taxes regularly.

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  • Brian

    You’re overlooking the fact that a significant amount of the costs we pay for roads is for the transportation of goods we all use. Virtually any time you go to the store to buy clothes or food or electronics, you are buying something that travelled on a road at some point in its life cycle. Interstate goods of course travelled the farthest, but even locally-grown and made products had to get to a store, in sizable quantities, through some kind of automobile. So it’s not like we drivers are free-riding on bikers who “don’t use the roads.”

    Secondly, and most importantly, you talk about government “subsidizing” driving, like government is some third party “out there” that is benevolently (or perversely, depending on your perspective) paying for us to drive more. Who do you think funds the government? State and federal highway spending is enormous and consists of taxpayer funding, whether it be from the gas tax or those governments’ other means of collecting revenue. If they could cut that funding altogether and dramatically reduce taxes or create popular new “tax credits” (handouts), they’d absolutely do it. But people would flip their shit if the government stopped funding roads or tried to convert them all to bike trails and subways–because people in the U.S. fundamentally like driving and ROADS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT, to both the economy as a whole and people’s individual livelihood. Not everyone lives in New York City; people who live in anything other than large metro areas (most Americans) rely on cars because mass transit would be prohibitively expensive to build to get them where they need to go.

    If you want to advocate mass transit and alternative forms of energy, great–I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who is not at least theoretically in favor of that in some form. But your argument to get there makes absolutely no sense–that all government administration of infrastructure is socialism, that drivers do not pay, significantly, for the privilege of driving, and that implementation of European-style mass transit and bicycling could be anything other than economically crippling in a country as large and spread-out as the U.S.