I'd like to first thank diarist mark louis for his strong stance on driving as it relates to our BP problem.
People can't think outside the box when it comes to cars. Somehow cars have become necessary, even when there are obvious alternatives. Or, Americans find cars romantic and/or nostalgic. But our fascination with these absurdly inefficient devices has got to stop.
I'm going to make a strong statement: In almost every instance where we rely on a car, we could be using an alternative mode of transportation.
I'm going to make another strong statement: There is no such thing as a green car, and there never will be.
And a third: There is no such thing as a safe car, and there never will be.
Finally: Cars may be the biggest drag on our budget, and the one we could most easily do away with.
Cars are unnecessary:
The simple reason people can't imagine doing without their car is that there are currently no viable alternatives (for many). But consider for a moment just how expensive your car is. A fraction of that cost, paid by car-owners and non-car owners alike could easily pay for a robust public transit system. It could also pay for a delivery service, freeing people of the need to own cars to haul groceries and heavy purchases.
A fraction of the money it costs to buy and maintain cars (and roads and police and, the big one, health costs associated with car accidents) wouldn't just by public transit, it would by NICE public transit. And not just in urban areas -- suburban and semi-rural areas as well.
Where public transit is simply too impractical, car share systems like Zipcar or rental car agencies could pick up the slack. In rural areas people would of course still need cars, but cars in rural areas aren't nearly the nuisance they are in densely populated areas.
It's obvious enough that cars are unnecessary in urban areas. People choose to drive them anyway because the decrepit state of public transportation, or for vanity. Perhaps something heavy, such as a piece of furniture, needs to be moved, but there a government-run delivery service could easily serve an entire city, and save a lot of headache. Same goes for groceries -- people could easily purchase their groceries in-store or online and have them delivered by a publicly-run service.
People in suburban areas have a harder time imagining life without cars, and understandably so. But it could be done -- it's not even hard to imagine how. In short, the costs of a few cars could pay for a bus and driver. Even a bus only carrying a handful of people at the same time is infinitely more efficient than a fleet of cars carrying the same number of passengers (especially if it's a smaller bus). We simply don't want to imagine that public transit could become a substitute for the car. But we should.
Cars aren't especially pleasant. Traffic and traffic control (stoplights, etc.) mean cars don't have nearly the speed potential of public transit -- every traffic light creates the delay of one car starting, then another, and then another... Driving is stressful. And, driving occupies your full attention (or it should), meaning you can't use your time in transit to do something productive or relax.
There's no such thing as a green car:
Hybrid cars are not green products, by any stretch. Producing their immense batteries basically off-sets any greenhouse gas reduction they produce. But forget the batteries.
Cars weigh a lot -- each has its own set of tires, its own engine, seats, chassis, etc. Most cars on the road have a single passenger -- the driver. No matter how efficient you make a car, there's no getting around the core inefficiency of one car per person. An old, heavy bus carrying 30-60 passengers is infinitely more efficient than the latest hybrid. Also, cities don't buy new buses all the time, meaning the construction of the vehicle itself creates a small carbon footprint.
Roads increase local temperatures significantly (vs. an unpaved area). In cities, they force people to live closer together than they would have to otherwise. Together with parking spaces and garages, roads consume space that could otherwise be used for parks, housing, or other recreational purposes. If we relied primarily on buses, rail, and bicycle, we could drastically reduce the amount of space used to facilitate transportation. In turn, this would make the majority of the world's population (who live in cities) much healthier.
OH, and cars are really, really noisy.
There is no such thing as a safe car:
The statics on car fatalities and injuries are staggering. Are you anti-gun? You shouldn't be -- it's a waste of time, as guns hardly kill a fraction of the people killed by cars. There are roughly 40-50,00 deaths each year from car accidents. Soon, car deaths will make even World War deaths look like peanuts. Worse? Youths are just as often the victims of car accidents.
The number of injuries is even more upsetting -- there are around 3,000,000 per year. Many of these are permanent.
There is simply no avoiding these injuries. It is impossible to deny a vehicle that is safe when someone doesn't where a seatbelt, or that doesn't kill pedestrians, or that will survive a crash at 65mph.
And, of course, we will never have a population of safe drivers. If people aren't drinking while driving, they're on their cell phones (talking and texting while driving actually kills more people than drunk driving does).
And who pays for all those hospital visits?
Cars are really f'n expensive:
It's in vogue to deride the excess of Wall Street execs, but the extravagance of cars puts even the greedy banker to shame. Let's begin with the medical costs associated with your car. There are 6,000,000 accidents each year. Even though those accidents cause a mere 3,000,000 injuries, most accidents require a paramedic to at least examine the victims. It's standard practice to hospitalize victims of car accidents even if they are fine because of the risk of spinal injury.
And then there's all of the non-accident-related medical costs. Asthma affects an increasingly vast number of children, especially in areas with high local air pollution like Mexico City and Los Angeles. Cars are a major contributer. People who drive generally get less exercise and suffer from higher levels of stress. Heart attack anyone?
Moving on, to allow cars to get from place to place, large roads, bridges, and parking facilities must be built and maintained. By comparison, buses and trains could get by with a fraction of the roads used for cars. All roads could effectively be single-lane. And of course, parking would be almost entirely unnecessary.
Then there's the police situation. People are unreliable drivers. When you see sirens, chances are someone's been pulled over. So, people are not only paying taxes to fund the police when they drive, they are paying tickets to fund them as well. What a waste of money and our limited police resources.
And last, but not least, the cars themselves. How is it that a family, barely making ends meet, can drop 20k or so to buy a vehicle? And then pay insurance on that vehicle? And pay tickets? And for parking? The fact is, they can't. Americans are in debt, and cars aren't helping.
We're losing everything to oil. But the worst part is that we're burning it for an almost entirely unnecessary reason -- to power personal automobiles.
Even if we used an entirely electric or hydrogen fleet, we would still have to contend with the myriad other problems outlined in my article, and the manufacturing and environmental costs associated with the new cars.
I know that even readers of this site, who are open-minded about environmental solutions, scoff at the idea that we can do away with cars. Many of you feel it would be unpleasant, or even impossible (even though it's obviously possible). But please, consider that you're stuck in an existing paradigm. That riding public transit could actually be MORE pleasant than driving even a luxury car. That cars are, in truth, as antiquated as the horse-drawn carriage.
Above all, consider just how unpleasant cars make life for the majority of people on this planet.