We get what we pay for.
I don’t have a smartphone. I am personally against paying twice for internet connection. I feel more and more like a luddite with each month. I have an ipod, so I enjoy the palm sized tricorder apps, but I have not gotten over that recurring price. At $30 a month minimum, I could easily spend more in the two year service contract that I would on the phone retail. So I resist.
One thing I haven’t resisted is the car. I resisted it for a while. It was collegiate environmentalism, rather than adult thrift, that kept me out of traffic. I also enjoyed the freedom of being able to move around Atlanta under my own power.
I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 22, I didn’t plunk down thousands of dollars for an ancient Volvo until I was 25. But I have continuously owned cars since then. The car was the only practical way to move between graduate school, God’s country in Atlanta, and my study sites. Later, I used the car to live the most urban existence I have ever had, 5 blocks from downtown Greenville, SC. To do this, I commuted 40 miles a day to and from work at that same graduate school.
The car was freedom.
A decade later, my wife and I live a depauperate life with one car for two adults. But we live somewhere that I would not do without that car. It has a “Somewhat Walkable” walkscore of 52, but the main road is a US highway and there are two ways out on the same highway by car. I’m here to tell you it is not really fun walking in my neighborhoods and on errands. Not Brooklyn fun, not Candler Park fun, and not Greenville fun. I could get out two more ways on bike. Maybe I could knit my legs and unterbits back together to return to an all-bike diet of travel, but I would not welcome the thought. I am not going to speak for my wife, either. Marriage is a loving compromise. The heroism of our youth is just silly in the light of committed adulthood. So we have a car, and two underused bikes.
And we pay a lot for it. We’ve got a new Hyundai now, and we’ll probably spend $8000 on it in the first year of purchase, parts, tuneups, service and depreciation. Americans spend $1.5 trillion dollars every year on owning and operating cars just to be in traffic. The gas tax, from which governments build and maintain 2.5 million miles of roads, is just 2% of that $1.5 trillion.
And it is worth it. Just to be able to move freely on the roads for the distances covered by the roads. Between things built drivable distances from each other, but too far for anything else. It is also compulsory. To be able to move freely on the roads for the distances covered by the roads, we need at least one car.
Just as the smart phone is worth $720 to many people for a two year contract, the car is worth $17,000 for two years of use for me and millions of other Americans. If anything is going to be a “killer app” in transportation, it has to offer a better value than traffic.
Nice parking job there.