Monday, January 5, 2009

Escape your Car

Apologies to Fritz if he was already planning an extended blog on this WSJ article.

"In 2007, the most recent year that numbers are available, the American Automobile Association figured its members paid about $7,800 a year on average to own and maintain their cars. That figure dropped to about $6,200 for small-car owners."

My wife and I do own one car. I like to prattle on that "I sold my car" and "It's her car", but I do benefit from ownership of one car, even if the only time I ever drive it solo is because I dropped her off somewhere or am going to the airport to pick up someone who I worry will be utterly confused by BART and end up in Dublin.

This sort of data is very relevant for those who complain over and over that removing travel lanes and *gasp* parking in San Francisco will be devastating to local businesses because people won't patronize those businesses. Consider the flipside with some back of the envelope calculations. 8 million or so people in the Bay Area, call it 3 million households. Let's say 2 million of them have multiple cars. If they all get rid of one of them, that is 1.2 BILLION extra dollars that they could be spending on all sorts of crap from local businesses. Even if they spend some of that on Taxis (which don't have to be parked...) we still get a huge boost. Sure, gas stations would lose some business, but they don't make their money on gasoline anyway.

Nobody has more parking than big box retailers at malls. And they are going out of business left and right. I point this out and the deniers say that it's just "The Economy". Exactly - it's The Economy, Stupid. More money in people's pockets is more important to business than parking is to business, unless you are GM/Ford/Chrysler. While the loss of those jobs certainly hurts Michigan and well, all of us, the sooner we wake up and smell the coffee, and start to make smarter choices, the sooner we become more competitive.

Cars with better mileage do not solve this problem. Read the article. "It's hard to imagine gas prices will to remain at today's panic-level $1.60 per gallon for long. But even if they do, that will only cut the AAA's figures by about $400 annually." If prices dropped to ZERO, drivers would still be out over $5k per year to keep a small car. That would be the same as if everyone started driving electric cars powered by solar panels. You still have to pay for the steel frame, transmissions still go out, batteries die, insurance must be paid, etc...

Sure, the state would lose some serious tax revenue (note Oregon's strange proposal to start taxing miles instead of gas due to a worry Hybrids will cause gas tax revenues to drop). But if people spend that money on skis and computers instead of gasoline and insurance - skis and computers have sales tax baby.

I love seeing such heretical stuff published in one of Rupert's rags.

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