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Monday, April 25, 2005

Why Americans Prefer Cars Over Public Transportation

TTAC's Robert Farago skewers public transportation. Then TTAC's Colin Murchie skewers Robert Farago's piece. All good fun.

But the point is not necessarily which system of transport is more environmentally friendly, or even more cost effective. We are not necessarily economic creatures. Public transportation sucks because we have to be sitting flesh to flesh with strangers, who don't bathe, or have bizarre body ornaments, or are listening to Eminem so loudly on their headphones you can here every expletive two seats over.

Americans love cars, and are cool to public transportation because we love the freedom to go where we want, when we want, and with as few passengers as we want.

What we need is a compromise between individuality and efficiency. Fast public transportation around dense urban areas, and wide highways running in between them. Places to park your car on the outskirts if you are going to stay all day, and convenient (though expensive) parking if you just need to visit for an hour.

And (in Michigan) fix the effing potholes!


NextGenAuto said...

The automobile and individuality have probably had the most synergistic effect in america than anywhere else. Capitalism gave birth to the automobile, and I believe that the individualistic nature of our culture and the automobile fed off each other. A person could move farther away from where the grew up, away from their families or other groups they belonged to. This leds to even more increased individuality. If one was to look back at family structures and behavior before the widespread introduction of the automobile and the family structure one or two generations later, it would look a lot different.

Plus, it doesn't help that we are a wealthy enough country to afford to have individual transportation. Public transportation is probably the last resort for most Americans, and most likely those who take public transportation probably wish they didn't have to.

Anonymous said...

Americans are cool to public transportation because only in NYC is the density sufficient to make it workable. Everywhere else people are too spread out. Simple as that.


Anonymous said...

I own a brand new 2005 Ford Explorer Limited out here in San Francisco. However, I only use it on the weekends for joy rides and trips to my cabin in Tahoe with my wife.

During the week, my wife and I actually take the subway (BART) to work or I hop on the regional train (CalTrain) down to Silicon Valley for meetings.

Here a few reasons why:

1. Sometimes I like to have a few drinks after work. In fact, sometimes I walk to the ballpark after work and then I almost always have too many drinks. I don't like the idea of drinking and driving, so the subway is great for my lifestyle.

2. I like seeing people and interacting with them. I always have a better chance of meeting someone interesting on the subway then I do in my SUV.

3. I like to catch up on the newspapers in the morning or email on my blackberry--both of those activities are more dangerous in my SUV than on the subway.

4. It is cheaper to ride the subway than pay for gas, pay for parking, and put miles (and scratches) on the truck.

I think it comes down to personal, I like your take on compromise and I agree with your take on freedom and Americans loving their cars.

However, I grew up in suburban Detroit and have since travelled the world for business. When I read about "leaders" like L. Brooks Patterson indicating that Michigan will continue to widen freeways and not invest in public makes me wonder...I know how hard it is to recruit good people--even here in the Bay Area, with great weather and great opportunities--so, how does a business leader in Detroit recruit great talent to a sprawling place that gets snow in April and has no sense of a shared community and no public center?

Instead, just imagine a Detroit where Woodward...or better yet, Jefferson Ave and the river...were to the auto industry what Wall street is to the financial industry. A densely populated place where people have lunch, exchange ideas, share best practices, hang out and innovate.

It is not too hard to imagine, actually. When Detroit was at it's most innovative in the 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. Detroit was densely populated and people had to live with one another.

Imagine if DaimlerChysler HQ moved out of Auburn Hills to downtown. And then if Ford HQ moved from Dearborn to downtown. And then each moved their Canadian HQ to Windsor right across the river. The suppliers would follow and auto knowledge workers would get to enjoy whole new dimensions of work: a sense of community and (most likely) profit sharing.

Then when an executive is trying to recruit a top talent, who love cars, s/he would have to say, wow, this is the epicenter of my industry. I can touch it, see it and feel it. I better come to Detroit. Because anywhere else is just out of touch.

Unfortunately, building a car is not an individual undertaking. It takes a whole lot of people working together to pull it off. Yet, the whole physical space of Detroit is designed around "the individual."

Anonymous said...

You see lots of strange things in America. Little rings of paper for the toilet seat are a prime example. Why is that only needed in America and nowhere else in the civilized world? I think it comes down to race, wouldn't want to sit on the toilet those guys did, don't wanna share my bus seat with 'um either. I might have to ride a bus through "their" neighbourhood, to get to ours. That would be no good. Lets just keep building a donut of suburbs over and over again, as those people keep moving outward behind us, an in front of the rotting hole in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but we (meaning the middle class) will eventually repopulate the city centers and leave the poor folks riding buses for hours on end to get around in the outer suburbs. Seems to be the way things are going, anyhow. Will end up like much of Europe, where only the poor live very far from the city center.

Anonymous said...

"NextGenAuto said: and most likely those who take public transportation probably wish they didn't have to."

Aint that the truth. Public Transportation in Detroit SUCKS!!! You have cowardly bus drivers that are too chicken to tell obnoxious passengers to shut up. You have the crackheads and winos bothering you when all you want is to get to your destination. And then there are the long waits, sometimes more than an hour. There have been plenty of times where I just got frustrated by waiting for the bus that I just said to hell with it and not go. And getting to work on time? Forget it. No matter how much earlier you leave, you still wind up late.

I can't see why ANYONE would park their car to ride the bus.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

I remember someone once saying that Americans love to save a dollar, they will never shell out more for something if they can get the same thing for less.

I then told them, in the case of transportation, Americans WILL spend more money to get to the same place that a bus can take them.

Its called "opportunity cost". Sure a bus may save me money, but you have to weigh the money saved against the list of pitfalls of the majority of transportation systems (sans NY and Chicago). Astronomical wait times, annoying passengers, etc are enough to drive any person into getting a car, even if they could barely afford it.