Friday, May 23, 2008

Finding a New Way to Get Home - What About Better Cars?

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.

- E. B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, The Elements of Style, etc.


The NY Times published responses today to Paul Krugman's May 19 column titled "Stranded in Suburbia". Basically, in the article, Krugman argues that US needs to deal with gas prices being higher by abandoning our stupid "suburban model" and structuring our nation more like, say, Germany. Germans have smaller cars, usually, and, usually, drive them less. That's how they deal with gas being $8/gallon over there. Behind both of these phenomenon is an infastructure where people 1) don't have to drive long distances to work and 2) can travel from point A to point B for other reasons by means of train. (Like, pleasure traveling, etc.)

Let's pretend for a second that the American government were interested in funding a dramatic expansion of public transportation, which, as one reader points out, is basically what the Krugman plan would require. (Hint: This is "big government" people). Lets also pretend that abandoning the 'burbs and making us more like the (urban) Germany wouldn't have massive, unwanted consequences for "the housing market supports much of the American economy" and those "many Americans [whose] most significant savings are in home equity."

Might there be some way to save . . . the car . . . as our primary mode of transportation? Consider:


To the Editor:

I disagree with Paul Krugman’s analysis, for two reasons.

First, Europe has a much greater population density than the United States, so it’s more cost-effective for European countries to build and maintain public transportation.

Second, the coming alternative-energy-powered cars will change everything, allowing widely used private transport to be cost-effective once again.

James W. Voelz
Des Peres, Mo., May 19, 2008

But will they? Tooling around in a Prius got me thinking - even if the next step from hybrid technology, cars that are purely electric like the Tesla becomes as practical and affordable as combustion based vehicles were at the end of the 20th century, would that really be what we wanted? We ask as someone that *loves* driving, but still. Even the mere fact that we have roads creates all kinds of problems: gridlock, tens of thousands of fatalities as a result of accident, that annoying problem of finding someone who will stay sober to go out with you. Not to mention that a national transit system would be cheaper then all the cars on the road and maintaining our vast network of roads. And better for the environment, too, even if all the cars in question were priuses (for real). We wonder if Krugman would respond that the burgeoning production of alternative energy fueled cars is taking people's attention away from a problem that actually requires an infastructural overhaul, not just a "better" type of car?

Also, Krugman is taking the day off today. Come on, Paul. We thought the truth didn't take vacations :(.

1 comment:

puja said...

"Second, the coming alternative-energy-powered cars will change everything, allowing widely used private transport to be cost-effective once again."

that reader is delusional - even though there's a lot of hype about the prius and other hybrid cars, they aren't being produced in the numbers they need to be to make actual impact.

you imply that high oil prices are actually a good thing, because they might compel the public to prioritize public transport. but seeing as how the 1973 oil shocks (where a lot of the arguments made then are exactly the same ones made today - renewables are the future, oil prices will never go down, we're too dependent on the middle east, etc. etc.) didn't spawn development of public transport, i doubt that high oil prices will do anything for the public today.

oh, re: thomas friedman a few days ago - i do think he's right (and prescient) in talking about transportation and its effect on american competitiveness. but i'll be writing a blog entry about that later.