All afternoon I have been trying to figure out what that O’Tool “give-them-a-free-car” post (“Lack of Autonomobility …”)was about. I have narrowed it down to two:

Someone is trying to trash O’Tool’s rep by posting something not just “outside the box” but outside the realm rational thought.

If you want a quick view of how silly the “buy-them-a-car” approach to urban mobility is, the following is what I recall of the scenario run in the late 60s by opponents of METRO. Everyone projected to ride METRO by 1985 could get a free VW with the then projected cost of METRO. However, by 2005 the cost of the roadways to provide level of service D for all the drivers would be more than the cost of METRO. So you would have twice the total outlay, no METRO system and lots of 20 year old VWs.

You can confirm the validity of this result by consulting the TAMU data on urban mobility if METRO went away today.

Bottom line: Large urban agglomerations do not work without shared-vehicle systems. Large urban agglomerations are necessary for contemporary civilization. Even Houston and Dallas have come to this conclusion.

The second theory behind the post is that Randal O’T is preparing us for his real proposal. Give every household without a car $40,000 a year so they can afford a car, gasoline, insurance and a place to park it 70 miles from where they work.

Think of all the people who make money from this scheme! Think of all the land owners who could cash in on their “right” to have their land developed for urban land uses.

Bottom Line: Unless there are Fundamental Changes in human settlement pattern we would have to give $125,000 to every household so they could live close to where they work. Defensable urban settlement patterns along the lines of the strategies we out line in tomorrow’s column would cost a lot less. No one ever said quality urban environments were cheap, however.



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  1. As I remember it, the argument was that for the price of metro you could give every family in the city their very own metrobus. With a little carpentry they could live in the bus and save a considerable amount of urban rent every year.

    Level of service D carries more vehicles and provides more VMT than metro can ever hope to provide, and provides it in far more places. LOS D means the road is carrying 70 to 90% of capacity, usually 1800 to 2000 vehicles per hour or 76,500 VMT. For two lane country roads you can cut those numbers in half and divide ehe highway costs per mile by 8. From 1982 to 1994 government spending per passenger mile of highway remained around $0.015 per mile while transit spending per VMT increased from $0.37 to $0.47. The extra zero in highway costs is not a mistake.

    What would Metro cost if it had to provide equivalent service, meaning equivalent speed, frequency, comfort, and locations?

    30 years later Metro fares don’t even cover the operating costs. This shows that shared vehicle systems don’t work, and consequently large urban agglomerations don’t work either: that is why they are so expensive to run.

    With modern technology able to provide averyone a place to work at home, there is no longer a need for 19th century style urban agglomerations which today are nothing more than energy sinks and a locus for pollution and crime.

    My six vehicles don’t cost me anything like $40,000 a year, nor do I have to live 70 miles from where I work. On the other hand, if I wanted to be able to walk to work, it would cost me more than $40,000 a year more than it does to drive from where I currently live.

    I don’t have any desire to have my land developed for urban uses, but I have even less desire to have someone’s vision of property dynamics devolve into a scheme for controlling what I wish to do.

    If one of the things I wish to do is to make some money, that hardly makes me so different from anyone else that I should be chastized for same. If the idea that someone wants to make money ever becomes a valid argument for public policy to control them, then our society would pretty nuch stop.

    Look at O’Tool’s argument another way. It is well known that increasing wealth increases congestion costs. People without cars cause very little congestion, so if you want to prevent congestion, just make us all poor. As it happens, without traffic and roads, that is pretty much what is likely to occur – we’ll all be poor and trying to walk our way out of a catastrophe.

  2. If Metro went away today, the roads would be pretty much as crowded as they are now. The reason being that they are nearly as crowded as possible with metro, so without mero it couldn’t get much worse.

    On the other hand, what would urban mobility look like if cars went away today? For starters you wouldn’t be able to get to most of the places you want to go. The day after tomorrow someone would invent the auto, and no one would ever ride Metro again, until such time as the roads were so full of autos that the people who wish to drive them would be willing to pay some people to ride the Metro.

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