Our car-oriented transportation system is totally unfair

DSCN9790The Atlantic Cities had a great post earlier this week on why the U.S. is strangled in car traffic while Europe is not. The reasons vary, but one thing stands out: in America we throw vastly more government money at cars.

Probably the biggest, and least equitable, factor mentioned in the article is outright government subsidization:

Over the last 40 years, gas taxes, tolls, and registration fees have covered only about 60 or 70 percent of roadway expenditures across all levels of U.S. government. The remainder has been paid using property, income, and other taxes not related to transportation. These subsidies for driving reduce its cost and increase driving demand in the United States.

This is a problem no matter how you look at it.

Obviously more demand for driving creates environmental problems and degrades the physical quality of the city — no one likes walking through a parking lot, for example. But it also means that everyone is paying for big highway projects, for example, regardless of how much they use them.

Imagine for example, a lower income worker who lives near and uses transit possibility out of nessecity. Or, conversely, a higher income earner who has chosen to live in a transit-oriented neighborhood. Why should either of these people have to pay directly for roads that they’re not even using? (Clearly, they pay the gas tax when they purchase goods and services.)

And that’s just the outright subsidization of car infrastructure. The article also mentions several other factors — zoning, the interstate system, etc. — that also act as either direct or indirect subsidizes for a particular slice of the private world.

Two things stand out to me about this system: First, that it’s really quite contrary to our American values of fairness. And second, that it wasn’t inevitable; after all, Europe became what it is today through a series of conscious decisions.

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