Car Culture on the Wane?

In a post titled “The Great Car Reset” creative-class guru Richard Florida documents the decline in young people getting drivers licenses.

7 responses to “Car Culture on the Wane?”

  1. Evaluating the decline in the percentage of miles driven by young people without considering the decline in the percentage of the population for that age group doesn’t tell you much.

    In addition, the difference may be that older people are driving more than they did in 1970. If you compare VMT figures from 1970 to today that is certainly the case, whether it accounts for the entire difference or not. What the numbers show is that 40 years ago there were a large number of older Americans who had not adopted the car culture, while young people had.

    As for drivers licenses, I think that is also problematic. My nephews and nieces aren’t getting drives licenses because their parents aren’t willing to pay the insurance. Again, the demographics show that the percentage of children growing up in poverty or families with limited means have increased. Its not that kids are abandoning the car culture, its that they can’t afford it until they are out on their own.

    This analysis looks like wishful thinking. (I especially liked the suggestion that car sharing was partially responsible for the decline.) If we expect to reduce dependence on automobiles, it is unlikely history is on our side. We need to provide attractive alternatives.

    At a real cost of over $.50 per mile just to operate the automobile, there are plenty of automobile trips that can be replaced with cheaper alternatives. The more difficult questions are comfort, speed and convenience.

  2. “Just Saying” is ‘saying’ pretty much everything I was thinking on this one.

    It is worth noting that even $.50 per mile is competitive with a lot of transit trips, such as short hops, intra/inter suburban ones without parking fees, or those involving more than one traveler. When considered from a marginal cost standpoint (i.e. the cost of driving vs. that of leaving the car in the garage), the automobile gets even more competitive.

  3. Just to be clear. The $.50 per mile is the average that the IRS uses. If you have an expensive new car or high insurance or low mileage, you are paying a lot more than that. And it does not count any public costs that everyone pays. Things like local streets, parking and traffic enforcement or any road expenses not fully funded by the gas tax. Financially, the automobile isn’t really very competitive where there are practical alternatives. But there are a LOT of trips where there aren’t.

  4. I don’t want to belabor this, but maybe there’s some misunderstanding.

    If, for whatever reason, a person has decided to own a car, the marginal cost of using it on a specific extra trip is much lower than the average cost (the $.50). An owner pays most of the depreciation, insurance, garaging, maintenance, etc. without much regard to actual use. (Some of the costs will rise significantly with heavy use.)

    In other words, if you own a car because you need it to get to work, it costs you very little more to use it to go to Freddy’s.

    Public costs are very real, but do most people seriously consider them on discretionary trips?

  5. As a practical matter, I doubt most people consider the cost at all when they take a trip to Freddy’s. But those costs still exist and are paid by someone. Most costs are ultimately related to use, whether tires or maintenance or insurance. The insurance company may not charge you more for taking a trip to Freddies, but the chances of you having an accident increase and that cost is included in everyone’s insurance.

    There may be some marginal costs that are not effected by the amount people drive. For instance a good chunk of depreciation may happen regardless since it is based on fashion as much as use.

    But you are right. The current system of paying for automobile use hides most of the marginal costs at the time the trip is taken. That is certainly a barrier to people choosing alternatives.

  6. Many of my friends – all of us upper 20s/low 30s – in NE Portland have shunned the concept that everyone needs an automobile. I’d much prefer to walk or ride my bike if possible.

    Cars aren’t really “cool” and aren’t equated with “freedom” to my generation and are seen simply as a tool to get places just like any other mode of transportation. They have their advantages and disadvantages, but there’s no point in getting too emotional about how you get from point A to point B.

  7. To agree with what Steve said, I’m now 30 and depending on where I lived and what I was doing in my life is what has determined if I had a car. I lived in urban Buffalo until 21, never had a car. In San Diego I needed one for work, and I owned a few cars from 21 until 29. I haven’t owned one in a year (but still regularly drive other people’s), but living in close in Portland makes that easy.

    If I still lived in Tualatin, San Diego, or some parts of upstate NY I’d need one. Here I have three bus routes within two blocks of me.

    It would be convenient to have one at hand, but the costs are just enough that I’d rather have the spare $200+/mo in my pocket if I don’t need one daily. I can rent a luxury car with a little luck/planning for $30/day, so I can save money by just renting once a week.

    It’s not as convenient, but to save $100 (or, some months as much as $350) is well worth it to not own a car.

    I keep my license up to date. I have friends without them, and when I see what they go through to move (for example) without being able to rent a truck it’s not worth it. Oh, and I like driving if it’s not stop-and-go type traffic. But I don’t need to own a car to do so.

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