Krist Novoselic of Nirvana fame had a post on his Seattle Weekly blog some time back where he discussed driving and mass transit, I find this section particularly interesting:
Before Nirvana became popular, my individual transportation was what you would expect of a nearly broke bass player: Volkswagens from the 1960s. These well-built cars get great gas mileage and are easy to fix. I once bought a 1965 VW bus that didn’t run for $100. I put another cheap used engine in it and drove it all over! Eventually I drove it from Tacoma to Los Angeles for the session at which Nirvana recorded Nevermind. Instead of driving it back, I sold it for $400. (Check out the prices an old VW bus is getting today.) Back in those days, I didn’t even have a credit card, the state didn’t mandate car insurance, and gas was around a dollar a gallon. My personal transportation costs were very small.
The costs of driving have risen really dramatically in the past few decades, and if you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that mass transit has become increasingly popular the same time frame. In the last couple of years, vehicle miles traveled by car has decreased. In 1990, you could buy a car for $100, fix it yourself and pay $1 a gallon to drive it. Today, you need insurance, registration fees have increased, parking costs have gone way up, and gas is much more expensive. New cars are so complicated and computerized, that the majority of people can’t change their own oil anymore, much less replace the engine in their car. Obviously cars are a lot safer and have better features, but they have also become much more costly to maintain.
I think this highlights something a lot of highway proponents are missing. They often argue that you increase highway capacity and reduce congestion and everything will be dandy. Beyond the fact we know that building new highways doesn’t reduce congestion, congestion isn’t the only thing that has made driving less attractive: it’s also become much less affordable. So a lot of people are naturally switching to transit. Over the coming decades, these trends are going to continue: cars going to get ever more complicated, gas is going to become more expensive again, and as governments scramble to raise funds to pay for road construction, tolls are going to become more common and other fees are likely to appear. Even if we could somehow build our way out of congestion, not likely, we’re still going to need more and better transit options, along with better bike lanes and carpool services, just to keep commutes affordable.