Quote of the day: "it isn't the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation"
(Technically the line is part of the text of a San Diego Union-Tribune article, not a quote.)
San Diego County has just approved a long rang transportation plan ("Sweeping transportation, growth plan approved" and "SANDAG’s transit plan meets opposition," San Diego Tribune), that mixes road improvements equally budget-wise with various sustainable transportation projects.
The plan is interesting because it is required to meet State of California goals and objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics raise two objections on the plan, which covers the next 35 years (and will be regularly updated on a four year cycle), that: (1) the sustainable mobility improvements (rail, skyway gondola, bicycle, pedestrian) are staged towards the very end of the planning period and (2) because of this, and because of the plan's focus on road improvements, GHG reduction targets won't be met.
-- 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, San Diego County Association of Governments
-- The Circulate San Diego sustainable mobility advocacy group argues that the plan doesn't go far enough
Others, like El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, said it isn’t the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation. He said the people who spoke at the meeting in favor of a greater emphasis on mass transit were a special interest group representing one percent of the population, he said.
“The people of El Cajon drive cars. I’m guessing that some of the people in your cities drive cars as well,” he said.
As pointed out in a Businessweek article from last year, this is a result of the fact that the US is such a large producer of oil, "The Petro States of America." Note that it turns out that The Economist made the same point a couple weeks earlier.
Mayor Wells' belief is neither new nor surprising, but it's a constant reminder that people aren't considering the consequences of their beliefs and statements.
Choices have consequences.
Because of the reality that choices impose costs, I always counter that arguments promoting sustainable mobility using "choice" -- it's better to have more choice on how to get around -- miss the point, because our arguments should instead be focused on achieving optimal mobility, and one of the measures of optimality includes the costs to "the taxpayers" to build and maintain the transportation system that enables the mobility system we have.
It's even worse because in the current political environment, it is a struggle to raise the necessary funds for the maintenance of the freeway system through increases in the gasoline tax, which most elected officials oppose, especially at the federal level.
This is further complicated because the average citizen believes that they are paying for the full cost of the road system through gas taxes, even though this isn't the case, not by a long shot. It is estimated that to maintain a state of good repair as well as to pay for new projects, the federal gasoline excise tax should be at least 60 cents/gallon.
The cost to own a car both to purchase and to operate on an annual basis is significantly higher in most European countries than it is in the US. Slide from a presentation on car taxes in the Netherlands.
By contrast, in Europe the national government gasoline excise taxes are 20 to 25 times greater than in the US--although this includes what in the US is a separate state and local gasoline excise tax. The federal excise tax is less than 20 cents per gallon. Some countries impose excise taxes on car purchases that are as much as 100%. And it's much more difficult and more expensive to get a driver's license. Even in Norway, which like the US is a "petro state" although North Sea oil production is in serious decline, the combination of "road tax" and a tax on greenhouse gas emissions is 68 cents/liter or about $2.60/US gallon.