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Reason Foundation

Hating cars

Ted Balaker
June 2, 2004, 9:42am

For a good example of the sneering disgust some have for cars, particularly big cars, check out this LA Times commentary, which begins by noting that Hummer's sales are slipping and hybrid sales are rising: Certainly, the fact that Prius sales are soaring and buyers are lining up suggests a change. Could this status slump compel shamed Hummer owners to hide their vehicles in the three-car garages of their McMansions? In 1908, when Henry Ford's Model T became the "machine for the masses," prophets saw it as a tool to improve the nation, offer freedom to the farmer "stuck in the mud" and provide a better life to citizens suffering the waste and pollution of horse transportation. Unyoked by this new freedom, they would command their lives and landscape. In time, however, the gains became losses; the car-as-tool was transformed into the car-as-trap. Advancing sprawl, squeezing pedestrian space, stripping streets of rails and funds for public transportation – thereby depriving the old, the young and the poor of mobility, access and amenities – the so-called vehicle of choice throttles our lives. Car-as-trap? At typical speeds, driving a car lets you access 700 square miles in 30 minutes, while transit allows you only 175. That means greater access to jobs, education–anything. Some trap. Worldwide, mobility improvements lead to improvements in standards of living, and welfare advocates have long noted that access to a car is crucial to moving the poor up the economic ladder. And advancing sprawl? You mean the five percent of America that's developed? Improvements in agriculture allow us to do more with less land, which means that millions of acres that used to be farmland are forests again. The author goes on to cite pollution problems, even though the EPA notes that during recent decades vehicle miles traveled have increased about 155 percent, while pollution has decreased by about 50 percent. Yes, we're driving more, but our cars are getting cleaner and cleaner. And the slipping Hummer is part of a larger trend. Ford discontinued its largest SUV (the Excursion) and will release the first SUV hybrid in a few months. The entire SUV market is experiencing a rather profound shift toward smaller, car-based models. What will happen as driving increases, but fuel efficiency and air quality continue to improve? That certainly complicates the worldview that places auto use at odds with environmental improvement. It'll be interesting to note who stands up to note the progress we've made and who continues to ignore it. That will help separate the environmentalists from those who are simply disgusted by cars.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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