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The Real Cost of Driving

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The Real Cost of Driving

Old 07-21-02, 09:03 AM
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Originally posted by LittleBigMan
... Your point, as I understand it from previous posts, is that people drive because they prefer to. While this is obviously the case, one would have to wonder if they would still prefer to drive as much if the cost of doing so became prohibitive.
Obviously, no.

But where is the data to substantiate that the cost of driving exceeds the benefit of driving? Obviously this is not the case. So if the cost of driving is somehow reduced by "subsidization" of driving, just who pays for the subsidization? Taxpayers that drive !! So how hidden is this "subsidization" anyway?

My point (refined) is this: we can rail against the "cost" of automobiles as much as we want in an effort to reduce the prevelance of those "nasty" vehicles. We can refer to the statistics used on this thread to say "Ah hah, cars are more costlier than previously thought." But the value of driving far, far, far exceeds the costs of doing so, "subsidies" or no. And unless this changes, there's going to be a lot of windmill-tilting going on by some here.
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Old 07-21-02, 11:22 AM
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Originally posted by Andy Dreisch
With all these incentives then, why are bike-commuters so rare?
Perhaps because it is not practical for many to bicycle commute 20+ miles each way, drop off/pick up children and/or run errands and then still have time for family.
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Old 07-21-02, 02:13 PM
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But it all comes down to demand. We are an invisible group; the less-than-one-percenters. And far too often we have Critical Mass-type idiots representing us, which paints us as lunatics (not an indictment of posters here).
Unfortunately, in my area I'm also represented by thousands of scofflaws who won't stop for red lights, pay no heed to stop signs, won't cycle in a predictable fashion (eg, signalling turns)... aggravating. And I'm talking about adults, not children.

To shift gears, let's compare gasoline prices in the different countries we call home. Here in the US, evidence that automobile use is heavily subsidized can be seen in the typical gasoline prices of about US$0.40 per liter or less. You can use the CNN online currency converter here for comparison in your currency. My understanding was that most other countries don't candy-coat the gasoline prices the way the US does.

It isn't completely impossible to live without a car, but if one wants to buy two weeks' worth of groceries, one had better have a bicycle trailer, or else a touring bike with front and rear panniers (and I would know, having done this in college). I managed to bring home 53 pounds (33kg) of food one time, but it wasn't easy. So I think autos will be the first choice of most people for the forseeable future, although I expect we will see them evolve to use fuel cells and other clean technologies.
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Old 07-21-02, 03:38 PM
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Originally posted by Stor Mand
Perhaps because it is not practical for many to bicycle commute 20+ miles each way, drop off/pick up children and/or run errands and then still have time for family.
EXACTLY !!!

Which is why autos will remain as prevelant as they are. And which is why this thread, based upon hopes of the bicycle usurping the role of the auto in everday life ... is USELESS !!!
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Old 07-21-02, 03:41 PM
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Originally posted by mechBgon
Here in the US, evidence that automobile use is heavily subsidized can be seen in the typical gasoline prices of about US$0.40 per liter or less.
Wrong. This is instead evidence that the US has excellent gasoline production and distribution capabilties. Take away the taxes and you have a wonderfully inexpensive means of fueling the automobile!!
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Old 07-21-02, 03:47 PM
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Let's cut to the chase.

Cars and trucks have boosted the US economy tremendously over the last 50 years. The US government has encouraged paving our nation for this reason and continues to do so. No one can deny this.

We can't suddenly stop driving anymore than we can stop breathing. The point is, if we don't stop driving so much, we won't be able to breathe...
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Old 07-21-02, 04:19 PM
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Originally posted by Andy Dreisch

Wrong. This is instead evidence that the US has excellent gasoline production and distribution capabilties. Take away the taxes and you have a wonderfully inexpensive means of fueling the automobile!!
In a way, that's probably correct. I'm thinking of the US compared to, say, Germany. Apparently the cost of providing highways and the rest of the infrastructure that supports motor-vehicle use is not hidden away elsewhere, it's rolled into the cost of fuel for the vehicles that use the highway.

That is probably a gross oversimplification, but I'd suspect their nation is also quite efficient at distributing gasoline, and nevertheless the price of gasoline (in the customary US units) is apparently $3.50 to $3.75 per gallon, compared to $1.50 per gallon in the US. As a taxpayer in the US, I help pay for the cost of highways whether I drive or not. Hope that explains my line of thought a little better...
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Old 07-21-02, 05:59 PM
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First, let me agree that we are not going to get rid of cars. I use them all the time--today, for instance, to go scuba diving (after a 12 mile bicycle ride for exercise).

To answer an above question, the subsidy for auto accidents is $820 for each of us in the United States. The point of this thread is not to "outlaw" autos, but to point out the hidden costs of this enterprise.

In the safety profession, we many times map out the "hidden costs" of accidents. This is invaluable for management of a company to make decisions concerning accident prevention. If we can show that an engineering control of a workplace hazard can prevent a $500,000 injury/fatality, then management of that company is much more likely to spend the money. This study is therefore a tool each of us can use to apply to specific hazard situations for both cars and bicycles, to get changes made and make the ride/cummute by either method less costly in terms of both human lives and money.

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Old 07-21-02, 06:32 PM
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Originally posted by LittleBigMan
... We can't suddenly stop driving anymore than we can stop breathing. The point is, if we don't stop driving so much, we won't be able to breathe...
Sorry, LBM. Don't buy it. Modern automobiles are amazingly clean-burning and will become even more so as pressure on manufacturers to create even cleaner cars increases. To me your pronouncement seems a little extreme. But I guess we can agree to disagree. This is my opinion -- not a knock on yours.
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Old 07-21-02, 06:54 PM
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Autos are still a major cause of pollution in this country .Problem is they are so scattered and widely owned they are not a popular or cost-effective target to regulate.I think LBM made some good points.
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Old 07-21-02, 08:29 PM
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Originally posted by Andy Dreisch

Sorry, LBM. Don't buy it. Modern automobiles are amazingly clean-burning and will become even more so as pressure on manufacturers to create even cleaner cars increases. To me your pronouncement seems a little extreme. But I guess we can agree to disagree. This is my opinion -- not a knock on yours.
Andy, what are the highest parts-per-million concentrations of ozone and particulate matter for San Jose during the last month?
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Old 07-21-02, 09:17 PM
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Originally posted by Andy Dreisch

Wrong. This is instead evidence that the US has excellent gasoline production and distribution capabilties
Even though most of it is imported from the Middle East.

Originally posted by Andy Dreisch
Sorry, LBM. Don't buy it. Modern automobiles are amazingly clean-burning and will become even more so as pressure on manufacturers to create even cleaner cars increases.
I disagree. Many people rave on about how 'clean' their cars are, but I for one am not prepared to lock myself in a room with one as yet.

Originally posted by Andy Dreisch
But where is the data to substantiate that the cost of driving exceeds the benefit of driving? Obviously this is not the case. So if the cost of driving is somehow reduced by "subsidization" of driving, just who pays for the subsidization? Taxpayers that drive !! So how hidden is this "subsidization" anyway?
The basic problem with these sort of subisidies is that those who drive less end up paying the same amount as those who drive more. Hence those who only drive when they find it absolutely necessary are paying for those who drive distances that would be faster to walk. I find it amazing that many of these drivers would happily partake in a communist system here, when they criticise any country that adopts one in other facets of life.
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Old 07-21-02, 10:00 PM
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Here's a couple of other things I didn't post earlier tonight.

--A few years ago, when I was in Hong Kong, the price of gasoline (which was bought by the liter there) was the equivalent of about $8 per gallon.

--We buy crude oil from overseas, and manufacture the gasoline here.

--The cleanest-burning gasoline engine will not pollute as many nitrous oxides, and carbon monoxide. It will still produce as much, or more, carbon dioxide. The perfectly-burning gasoline engine produces CO2 and water. This will help the ozone problem, but not the greenhouse effect of increasing carbon dioxide levels worldwide. I read yesterday of huge losses of glacial ice from the Alaskan area--cause so far undetermined. Undetermined???

I told above about needing my car to go scuba diving today. I actually had the opportunity to participate in a fish counting exercise in the Tacoma area (I'm from Beaverton, Oregon). But I started thinking about the driving, the risks from driving 6 hours to the dive site, to do one dive for under one hour to count fish for a national database, and the amount of CO2 I'd be releasing into the air to do it. I couldn't justify it on either basis. So I dove a local river where there has been some drownings, and gave the lifeguards a rough idea of depth, hazards and currents for the area. Driving time was about an hour. I figure that I saved the environment about 5 hours of drive time, and the subsequent CO2 load that would cause.

What I hope to do is to raise the level of consciousness of both the risks of driving personally (and those costs to all of us), and the environmental impacts.

By the way, we are now in an air pollution alert for ozone in the Portland Metro area for tomorrow. Portlanders have been asked to limit driving, and to not mow lawns or use aerosol cans tomorrow and until this alert is lifted (KOIN News this evening).

John
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Old 07-21-02, 10:45 PM
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Very enlightening info John.

My own 1988 wagon, similar to this one, is anything but a paragon of efficiency (14/21mpg city/highway), and the saving grace is that I don't drive it much or far (it does easily pass WA emissions tests for CO and oxides of nitrogen, thanks to a professionally-rebuilt carbuerator). Wish I could afford a lightweight sedan with a 4-cylinder engine, but I've got to make do with what's paid for.
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Old 07-21-02, 11:40 PM
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The basic problem with these sort of subisidies is that those who drive less end up paying the same amount as those who drive more. Hence those who only drive when they find it absolutely necessary are paying for those who drive distances that would be faster to walk.
You hit the nail between the eyes Chris. Someone who drives 30K miles a year essentially pays the same as someone who drives 30. Definitely an issue with me, and if I knew of a way to have everyone pay their share I would do it. Just like if the police come to your home 10 times in a month, and I see them once every 10 years, you can't charge people per visit. It is a cost borne by everyone regardless of use. Maybe I should drive more, get my money's worth?
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Old 07-22-02, 01:00 PM
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Originally posted by RWTD
Autos are still a major cause of pollution in this country .Problem is they are so scattered and widely owned they are not a popular or cost-effective target to regulate.I think LBM made some good points.
Some of you may not believe it but the air quality around most cities is better now than it was 100 years ago.
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Old 07-22-02, 01:55 PM
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Maybe on the East Coast and in London...I don't think you can compare it that way on our coast. We weren't using coal for heating then.

A good way to look at that would be to read about bicycling in the 1870's. I've got one book, and when I find it I'll post it, which covers an around-the-world ride during that time period. Air quality was just one of the things commented upon in those pages.

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Old 07-22-02, 02:38 PM
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I ride my bicycle for exercise and fun. My vehicles generally provide me with neither. Yet trips to the store or other errands likely involve stops during other driving events such as to and from work. Occasionally, when cycling, I will stop for an errand.

I do not have a guilt complex during my drives, nor do I ponder my contribution to the environment when cycling. Each has its purpose and each has its costs and benefits.

I would take issue with the notion that the 30 mile driver pays equally to the 30K mile driver. The greater the number of miles driven the greater the gas tax paid, the higher the insurance costs, the more rapid the depreciation and turn over of the vehicle and the higher the sales taxes paid on parts over the life of the vehicle.

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Old 07-22-02, 05:54 PM
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The greater the number of miles driven the greater the gas tax paid,
Carl you are absolutely correct. I neglected to include that in my post. Good point. The insurance/depreciation really only affects the car though, not so much the road which is what I was referring to.
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Old 07-22-02, 06:34 PM
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Originally posted by Stor Mand
Some of you may not believe it but the air quality around most cities is better now than it was 100 years ago.
I would believe that during the winter, people had to heat their homes by burning coal. But your statement fails to take into account the size of cities 100 years ago. Today, ozone pollution (which does not occur in winter) covers vast areas.

Atlanta 100 years ago, for example, was tiny compared to what it is today. The "greater metro Atlanta" area includes small towns
further than 12 miles from the city itself. Automobile pollution covers these huge areas because of urban sprawl.

No, I am not convinced of the accuracy of your statement that the air quality around most cities is better now than it was 100 years ago. Where did you get this information?
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Old 07-22-02, 09:07 PM
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Originally posted by Stor Mand
Some of you may not believe it but the air quality around most cities is better now than it was 100 years ago.
Not in this country it's not.
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Old 07-23-02, 02:52 PM
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The problem with all these statistics is you are attempting to jump to conclusions about individual behavior and motives.

Thus, "99% [or whatever] of all auto trips are less than 20 miles from home." So what? That means they can be done by bicycle instead? No way. Try taking a bike to bring the kids to a soccer game, pick up groceries, swing by the ATM to get some badly needed cash, run into CVS for a few prescriptions, pick the kids back up and bring them home for dinner. THATS what alot of those 20 miles are.

And stop the cackling about 'subsidies' to the auto industry since the roads are built by the states/feds. ORIGINALLY all the money for roads came from tolls and fees; then they switched to the gasoline tax. Of course, politicians being politicians, the gas tax now goes for many many functions that have nothing to DO with roads, so if anything, gas taxes are subsidizing god knows what! Just as cigarette tax revenues and settlements are SUPPOSED to go exclusively to nonsmoking efforts. Yeah, right!

The railroads were granted massive land rights-of-way as they expanded westward. Many of them still have this land on their books at a fraction of its true worth. Passenger railroads are failing because they provide half the service at twice the cost; if the Bush administration puts a nail into the coffin of amtrak it would be none too soon.

And by the way, if roads don't pay for themselves we can always reinstate user fees. We certainly have the technology to put scanners along major boulevards that will scan cars as they go by. You'll never see it. Once the public employee unions that work toll roads smell their jobs in danger, you can kiss that idea goodbye. It took forever just to get scanners on the Mass Pike and NY thruway.


Don't think for one minute there isn't a substantial minority of activists that would indeed like to ban cars. If the constitution guaranteed our right to "keep and ride automobiles," we'd have lost the choice to have a car already! The vision of the future these people see is everybody on buses and trains driven by public employee union hacks who can bring our urban areas to a standstill whenever they have some grievance like having their wages grow less than five times the inflation rate. Look at how london or NY grinds to a standstill when they have some piddling little beef.

The vast majority of transportation miles are for the carrying of commercial goods and services. Maybe cyclists can be pizza delievry boys--except when it rains. Till then grudge us greedy capitalists our delivery trucks, vans, and automobiles. I will use my bike for recreation, touring, and training; exactly the uses for which it was designed.

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Old 07-23-02, 03:51 PM
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Originally posted by Roughstuff
...snip...Thus, "99% [or whatever] of all auto trips are less than 20 miles from home." So what? That means they can be done by bicycle instead? No way. Try taking a bike to bring the kids to a soccer game, pick up groceries, swing by the ATM to get some badly needed cash, run into CVS for a few prescriptions, pick the kids back up and bring them home for dinner. THATS what alot of those 20 miles are...snip...
This is the all-or-nothing thinking that I often see in response to suggestions of reducing auto use. Nobody is saying that all trips under 20 miles should be done by bike but many certainly could be. There's also public transportation, carpooling, walking, etc. Also, how about using a bike for part of the trip you describe above: Drive to the soccer field, park the car, then take the bike for the rest of the errands.

I've not found it practical (yet) to completely rid myself of my car. However I've drastically reduced the mileage that I drive. I ride my bike to work usually 4 days a week and do most of my other errands by bike or on my way home from work on the day that I drive. I now make, on average, two car trips a week - both probably over 20 miles. Furthermore, I've found that the benefits of reducing my car use greatly outweigh the costs.
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Old 07-23-02, 06:22 PM
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Originally posted by Jupe


Also, how about using a bike for part of the trip you describe above: Drive to the soccer field, park the car, then take the bike for the rest of the errands.
Sure man!! Hop in the car, drop the kids at the game. Whip the bike off the roof, run and buy ice cream and coke for an after game party. I run a freezer off of my bicycle drive train to keep it frozen while I park in the hot sun (locked of course!!) and go to CVS. I'll take my mom's prescription, hang it off the handlebars in a neighborhood where any package worth more than 2 bucks is ripped off in seconds, while I go to the ATM and get enough cash to buy another bike, since i thought a 2 minute visit to an ATM wouldn't need a darn lock. Now me and the kids can all walk home happy since i lost the car keys in the bicycle handlebar bag. Did i forget to mention the rain?

NO ONE said you can't use a bike sometimes to do SOME things. But given that most driven road miles are COMMERCE and SERVICE related, a bike is a poor, poor choice.

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Old 07-23-02, 06:49 PM
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The fact is, most cars during any commute contain exactly one person: the driver.

As for toting kids, of course, there is almost no other way to do this than by car. Then again, in my old neighborhood, you could bike or walk to the park where the little league games were held.

My parents refused to drive me anywhere. Never hurt me a bit. I just learned to have fun without shopping at the mall.
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