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Sean-Paul Kelley Headshot

Is Our Long National Obsession With Cars Finally Ebbing?

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One thing I have never understood about Americans is their love of cars and I am from Texas -- SUV country par excellence.

To me a car is like a prison sentence, once all the real costs are figured into the purchase. First there is filling it up. Easily $50 right now, $2600 a year. Then there is oil for the engine, $5 every couple of weeks, maybe every other month or so. Then there are state taxes, $100-$200 a year, maybe more in other places. Tolls? $1.50 each way once a day equals $60 a month, just for the twenty or so business days when using toll roads. Then there is the upkeep. On an American car I'd assume on average over a year it comes out to maybe $1000. On foreign cars, especially European luxury models? Much higher. Then there are inspection stickers, or exhaust fees for some states: $200 a year in some places, $30 in others. And don't forget the insurance racket: $1500 a year? Maybe less, maybe more? Finally, we come to the price of the car in the first place. I think it's pretty hard to get into a car for less than, say, $14,000, so maybe a minimum payment of $400 a month for five years, so about $4800 a year? What's that come out to for a year: $10,000 just to drive one car! (Just imagine having two teens in the house?)
People Walking
Wouldn't you rather save $8,000 a year and only pay $2,000 a year in infrastructure taxes to ride the subway? Or an excellent bus system? And improve our national rail network? As a part of the bargain you would walk more, get exercise, be healthier and as another bonus spend more time in closer quarters with your fellow Americans, building communities, making new friends, the chance meetings of people reading the same book on the metro or bus?

Or, keep spending $10,000 a year on cars, building ever more far suburbs, locking ourselves in gated communities, shutting out our fellows, and fighting oil wars in the Middle East?

Seems like a simple choice to me. But then again, I'm here in Singapore. I walk to work. I walk to eat dinner down at the food stalls and meet new friends. I walk to go get a bit of coffee. I walk to the store to get a new iron, and ironing board and carry it with me back to my flat. (Or, you can always ride a bike!)

Of course, there are always valid excuses, but the "I have four kids and need a big SUV" isn't even close to being valid. Now, if you work on a farm? Or live in a deep rural community, sure, you need a car. But city dwellers? Not on your life.

What am I missing, that old, time worn, hackneyed excuse that a car equals the open road and freedom? Codswallop if you ask me! Have you ever ridden a train across country? Trust me when I tell you it is much more relxing and edifying than driving, tense traffic and big rigs blowing by you at the speed of light. And when it comes to trains versus planes? Well, there is simply no comparison.

Like I said, I've never understood our national obsession with cars. And financially it's beginning to look a lot less attractive.

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