We talk a lot on this blog about why people drive.  Frequent points are made concerning perceived freedom, the motorist’s willingness to “pay time to save money”, the undercapitalization of transit infrastructure, the low marginal cost of individual driving trips once a car is owned, the modal lock-in caused by low density development, etc, etc…

But I’ve been especially frustrated lately by 3 perverse incentives that don’t get as much press:

More after the jump…

(1. The continued illegality of usage-based auto insurance. Current Washington State insurance regulations require that the full cost of an annualized policy be stated up front, effectively negating usage-based pricing factors (other than moving violations).  Insurers and motorists thus have contractual frameworks in which risk is priced only as an all-you-can-drive buffet, actively penalizing those who own cars but drive comparatively fewer miles.  Sightline has continually lobbied for a regulatory change, Unigard won federal money in 2007 for a pay-as-you-drive (PAYD) pilot project in Seattle, and in early 2009 State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) introduced legislation (SB 5708) to correct this (with Bill Laborde of Transportation Choices Coalition testifying).  Yet the legislation stalled in Olympia, and since then the issue has slipped off the radar.  Ten other states, such as Texas, are way ahead of us on this.  Why can’t we figure out the privacy issues and get this done?

(2.  Employment discrimination based upon car ownership. Hundreds of job ads are posted every day in Greater Puget Sound that explicitly require the personal ownership of a vehicle.  (Recent examples here, here, here, here, here, and here.)  While many posts explicitly demand it, others use jargon whose implication is nonetheless very clear, such as “reliable transportation required” or “must have personal transportation.”  Employers are traditionally prohibited from discriminating on the basis of economic factors when they advertise for vacancies or hire new employees.  The defining standard is the BFOQ – the “Bona Fide Occupational Qualification” –  in which employers are prohibited from discriminating against candidates unless they can prove that the discriminatory requirement they seek to impose is an essential feature of the job.  (See Title 29, Chapter 14, §623, (f)(1) of the United States Code for an example based on age)  For delivery drivers and similar positions in which driving is required but a company car cannot be furnished, of course, such discrimination is appropriate.  But for Administrative Assistants in Columbia City?  Home Depot in Tacoma?  Non-profits in the International District?  Clearly the car-ownership requirement is both (1. a failure by employers to recognize that transit commutes can be reliably made, and (2. an attempt to pre-screen out a demographic which is, statistically speaking, disproportionately poor.  In most cases then, such discrimination is just unacceptable.

(3.  Driver’s Licenses as primary identification. In a country in which 75% of citizens don’t own passports and the prospect of a National ID Card stokes fears of totalitarianism, driver’s licenses have long been the de facto form of national and state identification.  In my experience, state-issued non-driving ID cards are commonly rejected or looked upon with suspicion by merchants.  (In the UK, by contrast,  it wasn’t until 1998 that ‘driving licences’ even had photographs.)  The celebrated rite of passage in which 16 year olds get their first license/vehicle establishes a behavioral inertia that most people never resist later on.  Suburban high school parking lots provide a depressing visual reminder of this.  (My old high school in Idaho even gives away a car every year to high academic achievers).

None of this is to say that “cars are evil.”  Just as criticizing gluttony doesn’t make one a hater of food, so too criticizing a “drive-everywhere” mentality doesn’t make one dismiss the impressive utility of cars.  We need them, for freight, for occasional trips, and for government and business fleets.  But these 3 hurdles (and there are many more) have a pernicious effect on our behavior by directly disincentivizing multi-modality and encouraging lock-in.  Whatever our infrastructure victories, and however much we improve the provision of transit in Seattle, we have to keep working on these issues as well.

167 Replies to “The Little Things That Keep Us Driving”

  1. ” Insurers and motorists thus have contractual frameworks in which risk is priced only as an all-you-can-drive buffet, actively penalizing those who own cars but drive comparatively fewer miles.”

    I know this isn’t your point, but my husband and I both have reduced auto insurance because we drive less than a certain number (700 I think?) of miles per year.

  2. I know that you’re looking at the smaller things that make it more attractive to drive, but honestly, I’m willing to bet that if you solve the biggest issues these would go away.

    For be the biggest reason I still have a car is the “pay money to save time” one (one you didn’t even mention).

    The fact of the matter, no matter how you cut it, is that except during rush hour, driving is faster than public transit. And time is a valuable limited resource. Although it may be expensive to drive, in my car I can accomplish some trips 75% faster than on equivalent public transit–and if we’ve talking at night, I can arrive places at least of 24 times faster (for example, go from Bellevue to Redmond at 12:30am on the 253 — the next bus to arrive in redmond is 6:40am, that’s a 6hr 10 minute transit journey versus 15 mins in a car).

    Now, during rush hour, transit is faster than driving (in a single occupancy vehicle). That’s why I take transit when I’m going to/from seattle during rush hour. But at all other times I can pay a little money to save a lot of time, and I expect most other people to make that same tradeoff.

    Moral of the story: until we have round-the-clock transit that is as fast as or faster than equivilant auto trips, you’re not going to be able to convince the majority of people to use transit. Things like driver’s licences and auto insurance prices are just incidental.

    1. The standard that transit is as fast or faster than equivalent auto trips is essentially unachievable except in the absolute densest cities with constant congestion and fully grade-separated transit. That may not be a city most of us want to live in, and I don’t think it will describe the Seattle region in my lifetime. I think a more reasonable standard is that the transit trip be reasonably convenient and reliable. For example, I usually use transit to come into Seattle during the rush hours and daytime. Between the two bus routes I can use, there is service at least every 15 minutes, and I don’t mind planning around that. However I’ve stopped using transit when I go to the theater or a restaurant. One of the routes drops to hourly at 9pm, and the other a bit after 10pm. I’m not concerned that the bus may take twice as long, but I don’t want to have to possibly wait 45 minutes at night after the theater gets out or a meal comes to a close.

      I agree that in many cases, as a motorist, I pay money to save time, but in many cases, driving isn’t really all that expensive on a marginal cost basis, if you already own and insure a car, and transit isn’t all that cheap in comparison. For two of us to go to a restaurant will cost $8-11 in transit fares depending on Metro vs. ST, peak vs. off-peak. That’s pretty much comparable to parking plus a gallon of gas for the 8 mile trip.

      The real problem in that cost example is that drivers aren’t paying the full costs of driving. Gas taxes don’t even begin to pay the costs of road construction and maintenance. Local roads are all paid via property tax or other sources, and the gas taxes we do pay (collected for all driving) don’t come close to covering maintenance costs of the state and federal highways they are used for. We also don’t pay anything for the environmental costs of car use – whether the air pollution and CO2 we release, or the pollution causes by oil extraction and refining (oil exploration is in fact tax-subsidized). And how about the noise and neighborhood-destroying feel of having arterials divide a neighborhood and make the pedestrian landscape unpleasant? So not only are many of our personal costs fixed, we don’t have to pay or even see the full marginal costs of driving. I think that’s a major reason the transit share in Europe is so much higher. You can’t discount the better service, but in many transit cities in Europe congestion is not all that high, parking about the same as in our cities, and driving is much faster – but with higher fuel prices and good transit available, people opt to use transit much more.

      1. A lot of this is wrong:

        A big chunk of state gas tax revenues goes to cities and counties to be spent on local roads.

        In Seattle alone, about $60 million or more each year is raised from parking meters, taxes on paid parking lots, and parking tickets.

        The sales taxes collected on auto sales alone amounts to around 20% of all sales tax revenues collected in WA at all levels.

        The sales tax revenues collected on auto parts, services, et al is another large source of revenue in WA state at all levels.

        Licences, fees, etc. on motor vehicles is another source of revenue in WA state.

        Trucks pay weight fees and other large licences fees, etc.

        There is a national tax on tires.

        Saying that revenues from motor vehicles does not pay for roads is just an accounting gimmick. Some revenues from motor vehicles go into the Seattle general fund (parking revenues e.g.), where they can be spent for anything. Just because these revenues from motor vehciles are not all earmarked specifically for roads, doesn’t mean all the revenues generated from motor vehicles does not equal or surpass all the money spent on roads.

        Another good example in our area is the MVET revenue which goes to ST and spent on light rail and buses, etc. That money is generated by motor vehicles, but not spent on roads. That is just accounting — that money would pay for a lot of roads if it were not spent on trains and buses.

      2. But don’t overstate your case. Keep in mind that even though fuel tax and licensing fees are required to be spent on roads, these only pay for about half of our road budget – the rest comes from the general fund. Yet there are plenty of road lovers that claim that roads pay for themselves, and many road haters that claim the opposite. I’m not saying I know the answer to this – the analysis would be complex, and the answer probably depends on where you draw your boundaries. But counting little pieces like tax on licenseplate holders while missing the larger road subsidies seems inconsistant at best.

      3. “The sales taxes collected on auto sales alone amounts to around 20% of all sales tax revenues collected in WA at all levels. The sales tax revenues collected on auto parts, services, et al is another large source of revenue in WA state at all levels.”

        You really believe that people wouldn’t spend that money on something else if they weren’t spending it on maintaining their car?

      4. If they spend it on transit tickets, passes, etc. they pay ZERO sales tax, gas tax, license fees, etc. on their trainsit fare. So, while car drivers are helping pay for schools, police, etc. with the sales taxes they pay on their means of transportation, transit users are paying ZERO taxes when they pay for the small fraction of the cost of their transportation that their fares represent.

      5. That’s one of the silliest responses you’ve ever made, Norman, especially as it doesn’t even address Zed’s point in any way, shape, or form.

      6. You still didn’t answer my question. If someone doesn’t have to pay to maintain a car do you think the money they saved just disappears? Of course not. It goes right back in to the economy, just the same as if they had spent it on car parts. If I didn’t have to pay $1000 last month to replace the left front control arm on my car I probably would have bought a new TV. The sales tax going to the state would have been the same.

        “transit users are paying ZERO taxes when they pay for the small fraction of the cost of their transportation that their fares represent.”

        A transit fare is a tax, it’s a fee paid to the government in return for a service. Why would you pay a tax on a tax? When you went to college did you pay sales taxes on your tuition? Did your tuition pay the entire cost of your education? Or was it “subsidized” by other tax payers?

        Everyone in this region has the opportunity to use public transit and get their money’s worth out of it, if they don’t that’s their problem.

        BTW, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people in this region who use transit also own cars. I own three of them, so I guess I’m subsidizing my own bus rides.

      7. What, if you don’t have a car, you don’t spend money on transit? The money you spend on transit is not taxed. How can you fail to grasp this very simple point?

        Transit fares are not taxes. Paying for a service is not a tax. If you can’t understand this, it’s not wonder you don’t understand my entire point.

      8. You apparently don’t even understand your own point. The question that I asked is pretty clear, and yet you still haven’t answered it.

      9. “Transit fares are not taxes.”

        According to Black’s Law Dictionary

        A tax “is not a voluntary payment or donation, but an enforced contribution, exacted pursuant to legislative authority” and is “any contribution imposed by government […] whether under the name of toll, tribute, tallage, gabel, impost, duty, custom, excise, subsidy, aid, supply, or other name.”

        Sounds like a transit fare is a tax to me.

      10. lol Ask Sound Transit if the fare you pay to ride Link is a tax.

        Fares are not taxes.

        Difficult to believe that anyone can’t grasp this very simple concept.

        When I drive my car, I pay for gas, which is taxed. When you travel on transit, you don’t pay for gas — you pay a fare, which is not taxed.

        This is about as simple as it could possibly be.

      11. Is it only a matter of semantics? The Seattle bag fee was called a bag tax by opponents and some people claim the gas tax is a user fee for roads.

      12. So the fee you give the government when you fill up your car is a tax, but the fee I give the government when I step on the bus isn’t?

      13. Exactly. The roads are built for the public good. They are open to everyone. I ride my bike to work on the roads which doesn’t contribute to the gas tax used to support them. A bus charges a fare to use it. That’s a user fee just like paying to take your car on the ferry.

      14. “So, while car drivers are helping pay for schools, police, etc. with the sales taxes they pay on their means of transportation, transit users are paying ZERO taxes when they pay for the small fraction of the cost of their transportation that their fares represent.”

        Norman, this argument only comes close to working if you conveniently leave out the fact that transit is a public good, just like schools and police departments and parks. When we use transit, we pay an additional fee to help offset the operating costs of this public good, a fee above and beyond the share we already pay to fund transit as taxpayers. Whether you label this additional fee a “fare” or a “tax”—although it both—is a matter of semantics and utterly irrelevant to the debate.

        As Zed pointed out, anyone who goes car-free will spend the money saved on something else, and that sales tax is every bit as good as the sales tax generated from purchasing and maintaining a car.

        But of course this is all much ado about nothing, as you are once again setting up straw men. The percentage of transit users that don’t own a car is small, and Zach’s original post never advocated getting rid of your car—just driving it less. You are setting up a false dichotomy between drivers and transit users that for the most part exists only in your head.

      15. I gave the legal definition of a tax above. Doesn’t say anything about accessibility or public good. Plus you pay property taxes and other taxes to support roads, aren’t those guaranteeing your access to the roads for uses other than driving? The roads are owned by the public, you pay a gas tax to drive on them. The buses are owned by the public, you pay a fare to ride on them. The gas tax is optional, it’s not levied on every citizen, just like bus fares. If I don’t buy gas I don’t pay the gas tax, if I don’t ride the bus I don’t pay a fare. I’m still not seeing much differentiation between the gas tax and a bus fare, except for the wording one chooses to use when making an argument. Gas tax, user fee. Bus fare, user fee, transit tax. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

        And it wasn’t even part of my original point, it was something Norman brought up to try to get out of answering my question about sales tax revenue generated by car maintenance.

      16. Plus you pay property taxes and other taxes to support roads, aren’t those guaranteeing your access to the roads for uses other than driving?

        No, I’m free to use the roads even if I’m deliquent on my property taxes. They’re free to anyone.

        The gas tax is optional, it’s not levied on every citizen

        No, it’s not optional. It’s an indirect tax paid by everyone who buys gas at the pump. Doesn’t matter if I’m taking that gas home to mow my lawn or put in a dirt bike. I pay the tax. It’s no more optional than sales tax. The State could take the portion of new sales tax raised from taxing candy and earmark it for health care but it would still be a tax. Likewise the premium someone pays for being enrolled in Washington Basic Health is a user fee. Here’s a question. Oregon requires a service station employee pump your gas (no self serve). Oregon has a lower state gas tax but price per gallon is traditionally about the same. Is the added cost of this government regulation a tax?

      17. This is getting ridiculous.

        Any money that comes out of your pocket and into the government’s is a tax.

        FYI, you can get a refund of the gas tax on the gas that you put in your dirt bike or lawnmower. You can get a refund of the “driving fee” that you paid when you bought that gas if you can show that you used it for a purpose other than operating a motor vehicle on a public road. That “gas tax” is starting to sound a lot more like a “user fee.”

      18. Any money that comes out of your pocket and into the government’s is a tax.

        Starting to sound like a Tea Party supporter ;-)

        FYI, you can get a refund of the gas tax that you put in your dirt bike or lawnmower.

        Yes, you can get a tax refund. If you get a refund because ORCA overcharged you it’s not a tax refund. The catch 22 is that if you apply for a rebate of the gas tax they then deduct use tax (aka sales tax) from your refund (substitute one tax for another). So, unless you’re mowing a golf course it’s hardly worth the paperwork required. You get refunded $0.375 and get charged $0.20 in use tax. Essentially the gas tax was designed to be act line a user fee and since the vast majority of the fuel bought at the pump does go toward driving on the roads it sort of works out that way. But it’s an indirect tax because the actual use of the road isn’t charged for and it’s only indirectly correlated to how much “use” you get out of the road. For example, if you buy a new Nissan Leaf you won’t be paying any gas tax but are still entitled to the same amount of road use as someone buying gas for their Civic. For a while, don’t think it’s still true, the State was actually giving people a rebate (paying to drive) for using propane in their vehicle.

      19. Unbelieveable that there are people who believe that bus fare or train fare is a tax. That is just ignorant. Like I said, ask Sound Transit if they consider their fares to be a tax. They don’t. Noboby does. Except a few people on this blog, apparently.

        When you pay a fare to ride a greyhound bus, is that fare a “tax”? lol

      20. Is Greyhound a government organization whose fares are imposed by a legislative body?

      21. “A big chunk of state gas tax revenues goes to cities and counties to be spent on local roads.”

        Could you state what you mean by a “big chunk”? I’m a city council member of a small community and so far the vast majority of our roads budget is paid for with property taxes. We have a line item for gas tax revenue, but as long as I’ve been on the council that item has been “0”. Seattle gets only 4% of their roads budget from gas taxes.


        Fuel Taxes
        The 18th amendment to the Washington State Constitution dedicates motor fuel tax collections to “highway purposes”. Revenue generated from the gas tax is distributed to counties, cities and state accounts. The state receives about half of the total revenues collected. These are the funds which support the WSDOT highway programs as well as the Washington State Ferry System, which is deemed a state highway system by constitution. Highway construction, maintenance, preservation, administration and debt service on highway construction bonds are all funded by these revenues.

        The other half of the fuel tax revenues are distributed directly to cities, counties and other agencies for roadway programs that are not part of the state highway system.

        I would say that “half of the fuel tax revenues” is a “big chunk”. Wouldn’t you?

      23. Many small towns and counties have state highways that run through them and my guess is that those gas taxes would be used to maintain those roads. My point is that gas taxes contribute little, if any, revenue towards the maintenance of “local roads”. I have yet to see a dime come through our towns finances. I’m responsible for checking the financial reports, so I’d know.

        If you can point me to a program where a city or county can actually maintain “LOCAL roads”, not state highways, with gas taxes, I’m all ears. The current revenue situation makes every nickel and dime we can scrape together very useful.

      24. As I wrote, a significant portion of state gas tax goes to cities and counties for city and county roads. What is difficult to understand about that?

      25. “a significant portion of state gas tax goes to cities and counties for city and county roads”

        STATE highway 203 runs through Monroe, Duvall, Fall City, and Carnation as well as King and Snohomish Counties. To the extent that city and county road departments do maintenance on STATE highway 203, they will receive reimbursement from gas tax revenues. I’m asking you for a specific example of substantial gas tax revenue paying for maintenance of a “LOCAL”, or “city and county” as you state above, road. Again, the city of Seattle, which has several state highways within it’s borders, only received 4% of it’s total road budget in the form of gas taxes – that’s hardly “a significant portion”

      26. That depends on how much Seattle residents pay into the gas tax fund to begin with. The State’s portion of the gas tax is only 36 cents per gallon. Half that goes into State funding. Seattle gets more that their share of this (major ferry routes, 520 rebuild, AK Wy viaduct, etc.).

      27. Norman, a lot of what you’ve said is wrong or irrelevant.

        The federal gas tax revenues for the highway trust fund are inadequate to fund just the maintenance of the roads they cover. There have been repeated transfers from general tax revenues to highway purposes at the federal level. And gas taxes are generated on all gas purchased, not just that use on these roads. Much of my driving is on local roads which don’t get any federal funding.

        Truck taxes and fees, while substantial, don’t come close to covering the damage they cause to roads.

        The fact that there are substantial sales tax revenues related to auto purchases is all fine and good – that’s a major part of how we fund our state and local governments, and there’s no provision that says the sales tax from any category only covers that category. I pay sales tax on my landscape maintenace bill, and on home repair costs, and they’re not dedicated to anythng. Sales taxes fund our general government including schools and transit, and that’s the system we have. Singling out auto-related expenses to be only spent on roads is not consistent with our tax system.

      28. Here’s a little light summer reading put together for Congress by the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission: “Paying Our Way: A New Framework for Transportation Finance”

        Regarding highway spending, the Commission found that “In 2006, some 58 percent of total highway funding came from user fees, which included both tolls and indirect user charges in the form of motor fuel taxes and vehicle-related fees.”

      29. What about the large amount of gas tax revenue which goes to transit? Just because a lot of tax tax revenue is not spent on roads, does not mean that the amount of gas revenue collected does not equal the amount of money spent on highways.

        I.E. they collect a lot of gas tax and spend lots of it on trains, then say they have to take money out of the general fund to pay for highways. Use ALL the gas tax revenue for highways, and don’t spend a large part of it on things other than highways, such as trains and buses.

        Accounting gimmick.

      30. Norman. Do you just make this stuff up?

        “All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes”

        Section 40 of Section II of OUR STATE CONSTITUTION.

      31. Read the link I posted above, Matt. If you don’t understand that much of the WA state gas tax is used on city and county roads, that is your ignorance.

      32. “What about the large amount of gas tax revenue which goes to transit?” Tell me, Norman, exactly how much of our state tax revenue goes to transit.

  3. Here is how to get to good transit. Make it fare-free. Currently, due to undue fossil-fuel influence in government, we are forced to subsidize the auto and sprawl through our taxes. Fare-free does not force anything. Those who are on the margin will ride more. More riders means more political power for transit. Riders will demand better and more frequent service. That will attract more riders. This cycle will make a gradual change away from auto-system dominance. Once the critical mass of the auto-system falls below a tipping point, the autosprawl subsidies will become more apparent and more unpopular.

      1. Does anyone know the total cost of fare collection among Puget Sound agencies? Between administration, Link fare checkers, 750k TVM’s, etc etc…that’s a figure I’d be very interested in seeing.

    1. I wonder if we actually charge for transit more to create a way to ration service. As it exists the buses are pretty packed. Without charging they’d be overstuffed after the first few stops.

      Of course the real answer is to fund transit well. But good luck with that.

    2. Freeways are “Free” and look where that has gotten us – mired in congestion. Lowering off-peak fares to a nominal rate may be worth pursuing, but making all transit “free” will simply shift more demand to the rush hours and increase unnecessary trips.

      A better solution is to make driving more expensive through congestion fees, tolls, carbon taxes, or mileage/weight fees. Using those funds for improved transit and congestion relief projects (HOV improvements – NOT new GP lanes) should garner support even from road users since congestion would improve. Anybody been to London lately?

      1. The “free” in freeway doesn’t mean the cost. It’s an arcane term for limited access. You can drive “freely” without the burden of intersections or, more importantly, private driveways coming out to the road. Contrast Aurora.

      2. In most of the country that is not the case; a Freeway does imply “free” of cost. In Chicago, interstates are “Tollways”, nobody calls them “freeways” because they are not “free”.

      3. There are some freeways in Chicago that don’t have tolls, they call them expressways (Dan Ryan, Edens, etc.)

      4. Speaking of which, it was very confusing when I moved here (Chicago) that highways/freeways/expressways were referred to by name. And that the same freeway could have different names in different parts. For example, I-90 north of downtown is the Kennedy expressway. South of Downtown it is the Dan-Ryan.

        In New York they have an amazing (and stunningly beautiful) system of “parkways” most of which have names.

        Maybe Washington state should hold a contest for naming different freeways (or different parts of the same freeways).


      5. As long as nobody say “the” before the letter and or number I’m happy. It’s so totally the Californian :=

      6. The word freeway came from the west coast, where the highways they replaced (like 99) were also free. “Expressway” and “motorway” were older terms. The Futurama and 50s Disney clip used the term “expressway” for the kinds of roads that barely existed yet but would later be called freeways. I believe the Pasadena Freeway was the first one called a freeway. “Tollway” and “turnpike” are east coast terms, and if some places back east call the free ones freeways, it’s because of the widespread misunderstanding of the term’s original intention.

    3. Well, that kind of fiats away another problem that’s endemic to our transit situation – systematic underinvestment for transit in support of new/bigger/faster roads – we could only do fare free if the transit budget fully covered operating costs. I’m all for it, but it’s a political non-starter.

  4. Smash a taillight and dent the corner on your car: $700 for replacement and paint, time wasted getting estimates and for the repair job. Smash a taillight and dent the corner on a bus you are on: just a little late for your next appointment as you change buses and go on.

      1. You also have the thousands of State Troopers, county and city police units dedicated to traffic enforcement that are part of the car economy. Not to mention that instead of 2 or so people having to stop and report an accident, you have 50+ people that are delayed because of a fender bender. Or when those pesky cars turn left on MLK and get t-boned by Link hundreds of people both on that train and in the rest of the system that are inconvenienced. Is the solution to ban cars so that the buses and trains have lower risk of accidents? ;-)

    1. That particular type of risk assessment is one that humans are especially bad at – most people say, “Well, yeah, it’d expensive if my car got stolen/vandalized/crashed into, but I’m just going to not do that and we’ll be fine.”

  5. Another factor is how easy and young we make driver’s licenses available.

    What if we made the legal driving age 18 and stopped providing parking at high schools? Statistics clearly show that the accident rates of drivers under age 18 are 3-4 times higher than that of older drivers. Perhaps it would require better transit service near high schools. Perhaps some of the youths would learn to use transit, and may it would start to change the car culture a little.

    U.S. driver’s licenses are also ridiculously easy to get. In many countries in Europe and Asia, the courses required and the rigor of the tests make it both more expense to get a license, and ensure that drivers have developed a higher skill level before they get a license.

    1. Out of curiosity, is anyone aware of any studies looking at driving accident rates based on how long someone has been driving rather than the age at which they start driving? I’m wondering if accident rates for those under 18 are higher because they’re under 18 or because they’ve only been driving for 1 or 2 years. Driving is a pretty complicated activity that (usually) gets better with experience

      1. I’m sure the insurance companies have looked at this. As far as I know none of them charge based on number of years having a license but they all vary rates based on age and gender. Once you have insurance with a company you are usually eligible for a “safe driver” discount if you go a year without a claim or traffic ticket. The longer you’re insured with the same company the better your rates tend to be but that’s because they know you pay your bills and aren’t a scam artist. All companies charge more if you drive more than an “average” yearly total or have a long commute to work. None charge more for not driving enough miles to stay in practice or gain experience.

      2. Age and gender represent dynamic pricing, yes, but they’re not usage-based factors. Low-mileage discounts are a big step in the right direction, but I’m talking more about pay-by-the-mile rate structures, not merely a small discount if you fall under a certain threshold.

      3. Many insurance companies do consider length of driving history in their pricing models, it definitely does have a significant correlation with frequency of loss. Some companies simply won’t accept people licensed less than a year. Others roll the length of driving history and length of prior insurance history into one factor.

      4. I know driver experience is a factor, but in Tom Vanderbilt’s book (How We Drive) he talks about specific behaviors/tendencies/thought processes that are more common in younger drivers having to do with attention splitting. Even without texting or being on the phone, driving requires a large amount of attention splitting and that level of executive function continues to develop into early adulthood.

    2. “Statistics clearly show that the accident rates of drivers under age 18 are 3-4 times higher than that of older drivers.”

      The critical question here is: Is it age or experience that makes the difference?

      I think a common concern with raising the driving age is that you would simply push that 3-4x accident rate from 16-17-year-olds to 18-19-year-olds. This could actually undermine safety as 18-year-olds are much more likely to need to drive to work, while 16-year-olds can gain experience before they “have” to drive.

      Do you know of any research that tries to separate out the age v. experience question?

      I’m also all for more education and stricter testing, but driving, like any complex activity involving physical coordination cannot be learned from a textbook. It requires experience.

      “…Perhaps it would require better transit service near high schools. Perhaps some of the youths would learn to use transit, and may it would start to change the car culture a little.”

      Easy for an urbanite to say, but changes to driver’s license age requirements would have to occur at the state level, and transit, walking and biking, while viable in an urban setting, are not an option in rural areas. Teenage car use is also used for more than driving to school and dating. Many teens hold part-time jobs and use the car to help their parents run errands or chauffeur younger siblings. These activities build character and responsibility while relieving the burden on parents. This is especially critical in low-income households.

      A more workable approach would be to provide free transit passes to everyone under 18 in urban areas and then begin charging fairly steep parking rates to park at high schools. I would also recommend eliminating “school bus” service except in neighborhoods in which regular metro service is not available. This would serve to create the “transit culture” that you are referring to without unfairly burdening those in rural areas or undermining opportunities for teenagers to take on responsibility, work a part-time job and gain driving experience.

      1. “then begin charging fairly steep parking rates to park at high schools.” I’d do this at all schools, not just urban ones. Sure, driving may be a necessity for many rural situations. But not all, and sociallized parking removes the incentive to find another way to school.

      2. Since this would be a state level change, the state would have to make these changes. They won’t discriminate between rural and urban settings since the rules should apply to all. There are NO or very few alternatives to driving in rural counties (esp/ for school). I highly doubt paid parking will occur in schools. One possibility is that the state could allow local school districts to charge for parking. Does Seattle School District charge for parking?

      3. Don’t rural schools pretty much have to provide school buses since not all high school students are of driving age today. Make the kids ride the buses instead of driving and paving parking lots

      4. Including parking charges for faculty and staff.

        I’d also charge religious organisations property and parking tax on their car parks.

      5. “Statistics clearly show that the accident rates of drivers under age 18 are 3-4 times higher than that of older drivers.”

        The critical question here is: Is it age or experience that makes the difference?

        It is my understanding that it is in fact age – really maturity and judgment – that makes the difference, not experience. Younger drivers feel invincible, take greater risks, maybe can’t multi-task as well. I believe the statistics are pretty compelling.

      6. Adding to what Carl said:

        Insurance companies have usually charged more for male drivers than female until a certain age, where the feel the maturity level is comparable; i.e., accident rates level out in their statistics.

      7. Both age and experience are strong factors in frequency of loss for new drivers, but it doesn’t really take that long to build up a base of experience if you’re driving every day.

        It’s also much easier to verify age than driving experience. That can make a significant difference in consumer experience (people don’t like intrusive questions just to get a quote) and underwriting expense (age verification costs nothing extra since the MVR includes date of birth; verifying driving history would require manual review of various documentation).

      8. Awesome comment! My school district (Bellevue, suburban) gives free bus passes and charges $100/year to park.

      9. Seattle SD already has planned to eliminate school bus service to high schools that have Metro bus service readily available, which I believe includes all high schools except Cleveland (it has some bus Metro service but is much more limited than, say, Franklin). They won’t do Metro for elementary school kids for the obvious safety reasons (imagine that kindergartener commuting on the 7, that is not a good plan). I can’t recall if they’re offering school bus service for middle schools or doing the Metro thing like they do for high schools. I think this works great in the city–what high school kid wants to ride a yellow bus anyway? But I’m not sure how well this would work in the ‘burbs where bus service to neighborhoods is still more limited.

      10. Are they subsidizing Metro passes as well? Or just removing a service for cost reasons? I’m afraid without making bus passes free (or close to free) we’ll end up with a hundred thousand moms in cars, waiting in line to drop off their kids.

      11. Bellevue SD contracts with Metro to run special routes. Essentially the school bus routes but with cutaway vans (at least on the 889 to Cherry Crest). I’ve always wondered if the general public is allowed to board these buses or not. They seem to be classified as “regular service” in justifing Access routes in Bridle Trails or Metro just ignores the distance to regular service requirements and runs Access anyway since the agency is flush with money? I believe students get a regular Metro pass which would allow them to take any bus any time.

        The reason Bellevue does this is they would have to buy extra vehicles to serve the high schools. Northshore uses their standard yellow school buses but starts HS really early. Like Woodinville started at 7am which means outlying bus pick-up times were like 6:10am. If you had a zero period class like Jazz Band you had to be at school at 6AM. Northshore did you some DART service for a limited number of after school programs but also ran activity buses (extra yellow bus routes).

      12. I’m unfamiliar with the 889 but the Mercer Island and Bellevue School trippers that I have driven are “regular” service and adults have ridden with the kids from time to time. That said, it’s pretty rare :)

      13. Correct, VeloBusDriver. And if you ever drive the 6:50AM 249 van (my bus), you will be driving what is essentially a school bus.

        Also correct, Bernie. Bellevue School District high school students get 3 month puget passes three times a year (summer is out of pocket). Hopefully we get ORCA passes this year

    3. In Germany you have to 18, take about a years worth of classes and pay around 2K USD (I don’t remember if that included the cost of the class or just the license).

      It’s not b/c the Germans are anti-car (LOL!) or anything, it’s just a safety thing. Not to mention they are a bunch of Na… uh… strict people when it comes to following the rules of the road.

      1. Finland has more like what you’d consider race car training. Seriously, part of the standard program involves driving on a skid pad. Of course they have fairly inclement weather every winter but the saying in Rally circles is, “If you want to win, hire a Finn.”

      2. Driving the Autobahn was freaky! And yes I studied up on the no-no’s like passing on the right. (big fine).

  6. Interesting article. Thanks. Just a couple of comments.
    1. Insurance is priced by the insurers based on risk. Most ask ‘how many miles to you drive a year’ as part of that. So in a sense, the more you drive, the higher your exposure to risk, and both your driving experience and mileage can be considered your premium for driving an insane number of miles or a discount for being a great driver or just really lucky. Anyway, it’s their product, and they should be able to price it accordingly.
    2. Agree, but even Metro Transit acknowledges the need for a car, although they don’t come right out and say it. From their job posting for drivers: “Reliable transportation to report to work” is a minimum requirement. That kinda sums up the state of public transportation. Doesn’t go where I want to go, when I want to go, and is far less reliable than having a car in the driveway.
    3. A licence or ID card, is our de-facto personal identification system. Try cashing a check without one. Universal passports, papers or imbedded RFID tags, or any other system would have the Teabaggers, and Fox and Friends jumping off cliffs.

    1. On #3, it’s interesting that Fox and the Teabaggers are now the strongest force pushing for mandatory national ID. Arizona-style immigration enforcement won’t work without it.

      (Arizona’s law would require the police to verify the citizenship or residence status of every person arrested. Most American citizens don’t own or carry any proof of citizenship — a driver’s license isn’t proof of citizenship, neither is a social security card. An Arizona-style law gives citizens a choice of obtaining and carrying proof of citizenship at all times, or taking the risk of a simple traffic stop turning into prolonged detention while the police attempt to verify citizenship.)

      1. Yes which reminds us that in the Bush era we got “real-id” which required states to implement high-tech features in ID cards with data flows to the Feds and other states.

        We also got the requirement that citizens must have a valid US passport to travel outside and return to the United States.

        For those anti-federalist types, these are pretty draconian of measures to invade one’s privacy and keep track of the citizens. BOO!

  7. Great point on license acquisition. I remember very clearly that getting your license was a very celebrated event as was being able to drive a car to school. If you were an upperclassmen and didn’t own a car, you would be laughed at.

  8. I mostly drive because transit is not an option for my work schedule or what I do on weekends.

    Transit to Elbe, Washington (just 30 shy miles from the base of Mt. Rainier) is non-existent. When it did exist, I couldn’t make it for the scheduled crew call time (railroad)

    Transit to my current job is 2 to 4 hour long commute if I manage to make every single connection and 4 to 5 buses. Moving closer is not an option (even just to Kent)

    1. Mostly just because I’m curious, but also because it’s good to challange those that live in the exurbs because “moving closer is not an option”, why is moving closer not an option?

      1. There could be all kinds of reasons! Don’t want to change school districts, spouse’s job or activities, can’t sell their house, need to watch their aging parents. There are several reasons people can’t move!

      2. It’s telling that the first “can’t” you listed is actually a “don’t want.”

      3. Sure. But when questioned further, I find it’s often about money. Then I run my simple analysis to show them how crazy that logic is.

        Regarding all of your examples except “can’t sell their house”, those are all choices and there’s no “need” involved. People by nature hate change, but there may be great options available for all of those issues. Myself, I “needed” to live in the suburbs because my wife worked an hour in one direction and I worked an hour in the other, plus home prices in the city were “too expensive”. In the end we both changed jobs and moved and we now both work 2 miles away from home, have plenty of extra free time and a nice house in the city. This won’t work for everyone, but will work for a surprising number of cases.

      4. Mostly cost. I’m paying $600 a month for 700 sq ft, 5 minutes from South Hill Mall, the Puyallup Fair and 7 minutes to the Puyallup Sounder Station, off a PT bus line, 20 minutes from Tacoma Dome Station (Amtrak). I am also an hour (in traffic to work) via car to work and the railroad. Its a nice split though there are times I wouldn’t mind being closer to work.

        Working in Redmond and living in Puyallup has its perks (cheaper, larger places) and disadvantages (further from work, which means more gas burned, slightly more stress from traffic (only between Puyallup and Auburn.. I take Hwy 18 to Redmond)

      5. Because you don’t have to pay the real full social costs of driving, it is cost-effective for you to live a great distance from work at a location where housing is cheaper. If drivers had to pay the full costs of driving on a variable basis (include costs of the road, costs of congestion imposed on others, pollution, maybe extra insurance for the great mileage your drive, etc.) then you might make one of several different decisions – move closer to your job, switch jobs, carpool or take transit – but right now you are making the rational decision for you based on the choices and costs open to you. It is not clear that as a society we are doing the right thing by subsidizing long commutes in this way.

      6. See, I’d argue that Brian would probably save money RIGHT NOW by moving to Redmond. Rent would surely go up, but we rarely think about all of the smaller costs of driving – not just gas but depreciation (a BIG factor), maintenance, accidents, and tickets. Google tells me it’s a 42 mile difference – that works out to 21,840 miles a year. That’s $2,184 worth of car, $600 in maintenance, $600 in insurance, $2,900 in gas each year (using assumptions here). That’s an extra $524 a month right there. Add in the extra trips required from not living in a walkable area, the accidents and tickets mentioned above, and giving some value to the 780 hours of life each year lost to driving (even at, say, $10 an hour that’s $650 a month!), you can rent quite a nice apartment right in Redmond.

        I’m sure Brian’s situation has more details than we can look at here, and this may still be a very rational decision. I just wanted to point out that it’s very hard to overestimate the costs involved in a long commute, and in my view most of the people in our world with a long commute are being penny-wise pound-foolish.

      7. Here you go. It’s 724sf, and even ignoring accidents, tickets, and the value of lost time you’ll be saving $124 a month.

      8. Haha, Matt, that is seriously TWO blocks away from my work =D

        I’ve looked at them before and considered it but they want an insane deposit (regardless of what is listed on the site)…

      9. slightly more stress from traffic (only between Puyallup and Auburn.. I take Hwy 18 to Redmond)

        Ugg, that sounds like the commute from hell. Seriously it’s better taking 18 out past Tiger Mtn and then what, Eastlake Sam up to Redmond. Google list an hour and 8 minutes up to an hour and 40 minutes with traffic. An hour 40 is what Sounder to King Street and and “Express” bus to Redmond is listed at. You must be within a few dollars a day just in gas vs fares.

  9. I find the “freedom” argument interesting because I find that commuting by bus gives me more freedom. (Granted, I live and work in densely populated areas and have multiple buses to choose from.)

    For example, my partner fequently asks me to stop into the library on my way home from work, to pick up books he has on hold. Why doesn’t he just pick them up himself? Because he’d have to find a parking spot.

    1. I find that doing most of my daily traveling on foot provides a good bit of freedom, too. There’s no such thing as a traffic jam and I can take shortcuts not available to vehicles.

      1. Not to mention no trying to trying to remember how long ago you had those two drinks, how long to need to wait to have another, and then how long after that you’ll be able to drive home.

        As someone with an active social life, not haveing to worry about drinking and driving is a huge freedom.

  10. I believe your point 2) is wrong. It’s illegal to discriminate against any of the protected classes. Unless you can tie not owning a car into one of those (perhaps certain ethnic groups drive less?), it’s perfectly legal. Not that it’s right, it’s just legal (there are many other cases of “messed up but legal” when it comes to discrimination – see the boy scouts for one example). The fact is that an employer may choose not to hire you because you don’t have a car, or because you are a liberal, or because they don’t like your taste in music. Those don’t make very good business decisions, but such is the price of freedom.

    1. It’s a gray area, yes. While trying to figure out the law on this point, most state labor sites simply say that asking about car or home ownership is strongly discouraged due to risk that it could disproportionately affect “protected classes.” As far as I know, a case dealing explicitly with this issue hasn’t made it to court yet, but I’d be willing to bet that when not tied to the job function itself and in a city with viable transit, such requirements could be shown to be discriminatory based on the more traditional criteria. But yes, I may be wrong.

    2. People with certain disabilities (vision impairments, epilepsy) cannot obtain drivers’ licenses. Employers who require a license but it isn’t really an essential job function (lawyer, psychiatrist, retail clerk, etc.) could be engaging in disability discrimination. Requiring “reliable transportation” is more fuzzy and would probably be extremely difficult to prove discriminatory, unless the employer is, in practice, requiring a license or a personal vehicle as a way of demonstrating “reliable transportation.”

      That said, I can see why a non-profit employee in the ID might need a car. My mom worked for a non-profit when I was in middle school and her job involved lots meetings with people in the community including in rural places where bus service is not good, especially in the evenings when a lot of the meetings were taking place. She was probably out in the evening at meetings 2-3 nights a week. You really need a car for that and of course the non-profit did not provide one to her because they’re a non-profit so they’re too broke to buy a car. In her case, I’d say that having reliable transportation was an essential job function.

  11. The peak fares going up in the last year led a friend of mine to start driving from Green Lake to West Seattle for work just last week. Since his schedule is non-standard and part time, he often travels off peak during the day having to use non-express routes the whole way. He has shaved an hour off his commute by driving and probably close to $70/mo in bus fare. He has an old car (no payments) and liability insurance (relatively inexpensive). He had both no matter what, so it’s a sunk cost and he now saves $70/mo avoiding the bus. For a single person on a tight budget that can be a couple of weeks of groceries.

    @Carl – I also drive downtown for evening/weekend things. If I even carpool with one person we split the parking and it’s cheaper than the bus fare downtown and we don’t have to worry what to do if the movie/event/dinner gets out just after the once and hour bus already left. Waiting an hour in the dark downtown or near Seattle Center for a bus doesn’t exactly feel safe.

  12. Let’s put some numbers on this, from AAA:

    Page 6.


    Average U.S. car: 16.74 CENTS per VEHICLE mile (10.46 cents per PASSENGER mile at the U.S. average of 1.6 passengers/car)

    Small U.S. sedan: 14.10 CENTS per VEHICLE mile (8.8 cents per PASSENGER mile)

    So, what was the cost per passenger mile in 2009 for Metro or ST buses, Sounder trains, and for Link light rail?

    I think buses are around 70 cents per passenger mile, and Link is about $1.00 per passenger mile. If those are close to being correct, then the operating cost per passenger mile for Link is around ten times more than for the average U.S. car, and about 12 times more than for a small U.S. sedan.

    1. Great little straw man, Norman. Those are agency operating costs, which are not passed on to transit riders.

      1. LOL are you joking? You mean because taxpayers pay almost the entire cost of transit trips, that cost does not exist? You are hilarious.

    2. That’s a bit of a convenient comparison. You’re leaving out the $16.37 that your car costs you per day from that link. Sure, some of that is fixed cost. But most of it is milage-based depreciation ($9.74 of it). That works out to be another $0.24 per mile right there. They also ignored the cost of accidents, tickets, parking, tolls…

      1. AAA’s “cost of driving” assumes car purchased new, and used as a dealer trade-in when it reaches 5 years of age. Most of a cars depreciation happens during that first 5 years / 75k miles. But the average car in America is used for 20 years, and changes hands many times.

        Depreciation costs are much, much less for older cars. From year 5 to year 20, a cars value drops very slowly, and the ¢14/mile listed on page 4 is actually much more reasonable. It does, however, leave out ownership costs, most notably the insurance costs listed in the next set of figures.

        If we ignore the depreciation and finance costs (because the average car is old enough to have neither), and do some quick math, we see an additional ¢95/mile.

        So now we’re up to $1.09/mile, and that’s not taking into account the “SOV subsidy”. users don’t have to pay for the roads they drive on or the infrastructure that supports it. Transit agencies, OTOH, have to pay for all kinds of additional things; ROW, station maintenance, staffing, etc.

      2. AAA adds up all the ownership costs. If you want the full cost of a “medium sedan” driven 15,000 miles per year, you get 56.2 cents per mile, including depreciation, finance charge, etc. on a car bought new. Where you get $1.09 per mile is a mystery.

        page 6 of the document linked to above

        If you include depreciation, etc. in the cost of Link light rail, then you get a cost of well over TWO DOLLARS per passsenger mile for Central Link.

        However, I am concerned with OPERATING COSTS, which, as AAA states, are about 16.7 cents per vehicle mile, or about 10.4 cents per passenger mile for the average U.S. car. While the OPERATING cost of Central Link light rail are around $1.00 per passenger mile.

      3. boarding cost in 2009 was about $9 per boarding. ST says average trip on Link is 7.1 miles. $9 divided by 7.1 miles per trip equals $1.27 per passenger mile.

        So far in 2010 it is less than $1.27 per passenger mile, because ridership has gone up. I just use $1 per passenger mile as a nice round number. It is somewhere around $1 per passenger mile.

        Actually, for the first six months of 2010, the operating cost of Central Link is about $1.06 per passenger mile.

      4. I don’t pay to park. I think I will accept AAA’s description of “operating costs” versus “ownership costs”, thank you very much.

      5. I’m sure the American Automobile Association has no reason to skew numbers to make owning an auto appear incredibly cheap.

      6. And I am sure that “Sound TRANSIT” has no reason to skew numbers to make transit appear cheap.

      7. “I don’t pay to park” – Another example of how you are taking advantage of facilities paid for by taxpayers and/or consumers who don’t own a car. See The High Cost of Free Parking for an explanation. Or are you going to tell me that gas taxes pay for all of the street and mall parking that you use?

      8. I park on streets. Taxes paid by car owners pay for streets. The part of the streets I park on is paid for by the same taxes as the part of the street I drive on. No difference.

        Parking lots at stores, malls, etc. are paid for by the property owners. They don’t charge to park where I park. If a store has a parkling lot that charges customers to park, I don’t shop there.

      9. Actually most on street parking is only allowed on roads that are paid for by local property taxes. That’s why it makes perfect sense for Seattle to hand out neighborhood only parking permits. In business districts there is the property tax the owners pass along to customers just like any other cost of doing business (nobody rides parks for free) and in many cases the additional revenue from metered parking.

    3. I assume that the Link costs include maintenance of the right of way (maybe even bonds to pay for construction or depreciation), and all of the agency overhead costs.

      Whereas the car operating costs probably don’t include any fixed costs like insurance, license fees, or depreciation, nor any costs for construction and maintenance of roads beyond what is in the gas tax, and probably don’t include the costs of parking.

      So it’s kind of like comparing apples to alligators.

      1. So, you are saying that Link’s “operating costs” include the cost of construction of the tracks and stations? lol Don’t think so. That is “capital costs”, not “operating costs”. The capital cost of Central Link was about $2.6 BILLION. Link’s “operating costs” are completely over and above that $2.6 Billion capital cost.

    4. Norman! How completely disingenuous. You’ve compared the “Operating cost per mile” for a vehicle with the Agency cost for operating a bus or train. This is an apples and oranges comparison. If you want to get a reasonable cost comparison, then look at the supplied estimate of for total cost of operation including depreciation, insurance, taxes, washing. Based on your supplied reference, they put that at $0.562/mile for a medium size car over 15,000 miles per year. Going to a large car/SUV for $0.702/mile. Not factored in to these numbers are things like tickets (speeding, parking or worse), accidents (deductibles, loss of time/wages, loss of other property).

      This doesn’t even factor in the real cost of your use of the road infrastructure and the cost to build more roads. The pollution your vehicle spews. The loss of life vehicle accidents cause and their economic impact.

      People have viciously attacked the investment in Link as too expensive but it is a 100+ year product with a 30 year amortization. While obviously there will be maintenance and rebuilding along the way the investment takes us into the next century and the cost per passenger mile will go down.

      Lastly, the cost of fossil fuels is going to continue to go up and that more than anything is going to drive people out of their cars. As the real scarcity of the fuel becomes apparent, we will be making drastic changes in our society and it won’t be imposed by governments but rather the markets.

      1. You are the ones who are being disingenious. The “operating cost” of Link does not include any of the $2.6 BILLION construction costs. However, the “operating” cost of an auto includes gas taxes, and sales taxes on tires and maintenance, which pay a large part of highways and roads. So auto drivers’ operating costs also include a lot of the capital cost of roads and highways.

        “Operating cost” for Link includes ZERO of the $2.6 billion capital cost of building Central Link. Again that is ZERO.

      2. Ah Norman,

        So when you go an plunk down $24,000 on a new car are you factoring the total purchase price of the car into your operating costs?

        I didn’t think so.

        If you examine Sound Transit’s financial plan you will see that they acquired a capital asset (just like you buying a car) and are paying for it in a variety of ways, mostly through sales taxes and some excise taxes on vehicles. They are paying for this over about 23 or so years. Just like you use the funds from your job or your coupon clippings if you’re so lucky to pay for the capital asset you acquired.

        Unlike your car, Link Light Rail is designed to last in excess of 50 years and will probably last 100 years. Your car will be a rust heap in 10-15 years. Your car depends on the multi-billion dollar investments that the people have made to create and maintain roads infrastructure for you. Link Light Rail is both the road and the vehicle in one package. And unlike your car, Link has a far smaller carbon foot print per passenger mile than your vehicle. (Despite what Crosscut/Bundy says)

      3. Ok, obviously you have no comprehension of “capital cost” versus “operating cost.”

        Try reading this 2010 ST budget. Note that it separates costs into “capital costs” and “operating costs”. Does that help at all?

        Look at page 37 of the document (page 53 on acrobat reader), on the chart where it says, “Central Link Light Rail – Performance Statistics”

        At the very bottom of that page, note that it says “Operating costs (less depreciation and contingency). You see the “LESS depreciation and contingency”??? That means it does NOT include deprecitation!

        So withOUT including depreciation of the capital assets (tracks, trains, stations, signals, et. al.) the OPERATING cost of Central Link light rail was projected to be about $48 million in 2010. If they get the 8 million boardings they predict in 2010 (they only got about 3 million in the first 6 months) then the “operating cost” of Link light rail will be about $6 per boarding.

        This does not include any capital cost or depreciation.

        I’m not sure how I could make it any more clear to you.

        By they way, rail tracks and trains are expected to last about 30 years, not 50 to 100 years. And cars last a lot longer than 10 to 15 years. Way to make up a lot of numbers, though.

      4. Again Norman,

        Are you incorporating the full cost of ownership of your car in your “operating costs”? The AAA citation only includes a 5 year depreciation on your vehicle after which there is substantial value left unaccounted for because they presume you will trade the car.

        Since your so concerned with capital depreciation, here is the section of Sound Transit’s 2010 Financial Plan on how depreciation is handled:

        “The Sound Transit Financial Plan provides for capital replacement of certain operating assets through the use of a sinking fund. Contributions to this fund begin in 2009. An annual contribution to the fund is calculated for each class of asset and its replacement cycle. There may be several replacement cycles per class. The annual contribution is a fixed annual payment for each unique combination of asset class and replacement cycle. These payments, plus accumulated interest earnings, are calculated to exactly equal the (inflation-adjusted) replacement cost of the asset at a specified future date.
        The annual payment calculation assumes that 77% of replacement costs will be funded from Sound Transit funds, with the remainder (23%) being funded from grants. The interest earnings rate is currently set to 5.5% annually. This is higher than the interest earnings rate (3.0%) assumed for other funds (e.g., the general fund) because the long lead time on capital replacement would allow Sound Transit to invest in longer-term securities that usually offer higher earnings. The compounding of interest earnings allows the annual payments to the sinking fund to be less than the annual straight-line depreciation cost of an asset.
        The replacement date for assets follows generally-accepted principles for the useful life of transit facilites and equipment. A twelve-year replacement cycle for buses is the industry standard. The replacement cycles for commuter rail (Sounder) and light rail (Link) equipment were adopted from “Methodology for Projecting Rail Transit Rehabilitation and Replacement Capital Financing Needs,” by Robert L. Peskin, published in Transportation Research Record 1165, Transportation Research Board, 1988. Portions of the assets in a group are replaced on fixed cycles. It is notable that less than 100% of rail capital asset cost is subject to replacement. This reflects the permanent nature of some heavy civil structures such as tunnels. The replacement cost estimates are refined as more detailed component costs become available.”

        Rail tracks and trains probably don’t count as the most expensive part of the system. I’m betting it was the land acquisition, right of way, planning, grading and preparation of the pathways that make up the bulk of the cost. Railways and cars will be replaced as described above.

        The financial model that Sound Transit is using is is not like a “for profit” business. It doesn’t have to account for things in the same way that they are accounted for by a business. You see, in a business, they don’t generally use sinking funds, they translate depreciation as cash. Cash that might otherwise go towards taxes more often goes towards distributions and bonuses or other corporate purposes. If and when a business decides to replace something low and behold, they might get an investment tax credit and then the depreciation game starts all over again. Government agencies and non-profits don’t operate by these rules. In Sound Transit’s case, they are required to maintain the efficacy of the asset. A business is under no such compunction. That is one reason why I am vehemently against privatizing public assets because such assets are usually acquired at huge discounts and stripped of their value in a grotesque give away.

        The financial model of this agency is to my view an asset management agency. It is charged with managing a pile of money over a long period of time. Making sure that bond holders are paid on time and in full, earning a maximum investment return on the cash assets it has accumulated and applying those earnings in the over all financial picture. The operating aspects of the agency are just that, an operating budget.

        I don’t doubt that you could estimate in this manner you suggested the per passenger trip cost in the neighborhood of $6. Around where I currently live, they’ve calculated the CTA per passenger trip cost closer to $9 even with its 2.7 million boardings a day. You seem to be suggesting that from this view, we should be collecting at the fare box this kind of revenue per passenger. If you really want to play that game, we could really estimate all the ways your ownership and use of a car is “subsidized” by the taxpayers and assess the full cost to you.

        You also seem to be so concerned whether Link meets its ridership targets out of the gate. I certainly wasn’t. The key thing is that ridership is rapidly improving and will do just fine. In deed, ridership is advancing month over month at much higher percentages than expected. And it doesn’t matter if that traffic is because of route consolidation from bus lines or from sporting events or what ever. A rider is a rider. My expectations of the starter line is to learn how to build and run such a system and how certain strategic decisions affect long term community development. The lessons learned from building the starter line will pay off in how the next segments are built.

        I for one, am very satisfied by the organization and operation of Sound Transit. I think its decision making processes are very considerate of public participation and while we all can sit and “Monday morning quarterback” why they made such and such decision (for me it was not going to Tukwila), I know such decisions are not made in a vacuum and incorporate numerous factors that the general public isn’t always cognizant or appreciative of.

        The recent Sound Transit Board actions on the Bellevue alignments for EastLink show the complex job that the Sound Transit staff and executives have in balancing local concerns with over all system objectives. That the initial starter system has made its way past numerous political perils is a testament to the professionalism of its leadership and the political will of the stakeholders.

        The Link Light Rail system together with other transit assets, I am confident will bring so many tangible benefits to the region and help address national strategic goals of radically reducing dependence on fossil fuels and reducing our carbon footprint. It provides an avenue for transit oriented development and for over the longer term (20-40 years), restructure how are cities are organized, how we work and play and offers the prospect of a better quality of life for the citizens of the Puget Sound area.

      5. “Are you incorporating the full cost of ownership of your car in your “operating costs”? ” No, I am not. Operating costs do not include capital costs.

        You sincerely don’t understand this?

        Link’s operating costs don’t include capital costs, either.

        I am comparing the operating cost of an average auto to the operating cost of Link.

        Average U.S. auto: about 10 cents per passenger mile.

        Central Link: about $1.00 per passenger mile.

        Moving people on Link costs about TEN TIMES as much per passenger mile as moving them in autos.

    5. When every this type of conversation comes up: cost per mile or whatever, people skip right over the cost of biking per mile or the cost of walking per mile. What are the cost associated to biking a walking. My guess is that they are only a few cents per mile even if you included the cost of sidewalk/bike paths.

      1. My Giant Twist Freedom DX costs about $.0012 per mile for electricity (see example here). Over the past 17 months, I’ve ridden this bike almost 1400 miles which equates to $1.68 in electricity. (My electricity is more expensive since I am a PSE customer and purchase 100% “green” power)

        The real costs will be maintenance with the replacement cost of batteries being the chief difference with the cost of a “normal” bike. Given the limited data I have, I don’t have a guess on when I’ll need to replace the batteries.

        Obviously, “normal” biking and walking will be far less expensive – but then I’d have to shower at both ends of my commute and would have to calculate the cost of a shower which is not as interesting :)

  13. I have to say that I have replied to job ads for ‘reliable transportation’ and took that to mean that I know how to get there reliably by transit and will be on time regardless of how I choose to get there… and if I were to be asked if I owned a car, I could honestly say yes- but that doesn’t mean I would neccesarily drive it to work.

      1. I’ve heard that Metro now considers a bicycle to be “Reliable Transportation” – Frankly, it’s more reliable than a car since I can fix most things on my bike by myself and I can navigate around traffic jams.

  14. WRT insurance costs: car sharing services like Zipcar are an excellent way for people who don’t plan to drive many miles to essentially only pay for the insurance they need. Your insurance costs are part of your hourly rental rate, so you really only pay for what you need. I’ve been using car sharing (zipcar and others) for years now, it’s really an excellent supplement to feet, bikes and mass transit.

  15. I didn’t get a license until after I started my junior year in college. My two sisters in college don’t know how to drive, yet. My mom knows how to drive but doesn’t and no longer has a license. We all got state non-driver license IDs before and never had trouble with them.

  16. I used a State ID for years and never had it rejected. I think the “suspicion” is more of a moral judgment: the assumption is that you only have a state ID because your license is revoked or suspended for being a bad boy. No one stops to think you just have no interest in driving.

      1. Mine was in Illinois, but that sounds about right. I think the text and graphic elements were a different color, too, just to make it easier for authorities to differentiate at a glance.

    1. State IDs are definitely viewed suspiciously when you’re in a different state. My Massachusetts state ID was routinely rejected when I tried to buy alcohol in Rhode Island, because legally, a non-driver ID from a different state was not valid. I ended up having to bring my passport to bars…

      1. Huh, never had that problem in many, many travels around the country with a state ID. It’s been awhile since I dusted off the Con Law books, but I’m not even sure why that doesn’t violate the “full faith and credit” clause of Article IV.

      2. That baffles me. I looked it up the proof of identify requirements in Washington and they are same for both a License or ID. I would imagine that pretty much every state has the same requirements to get an ID as a license.

        And speaking from a social stand point I can just imagine if you pulled out your ID and not a license that some people might think wow no license what a looser.

      3. I’ve never had a problem with bars (in CA, OR, IL, OH, NY, TX, OK, NC, GA).

        The funniest part is when a policeman asks, “So you’ve never had a license?” That seems to be their common question to distinguish non-drivers from those who’ve had their license revoked.

  17. It’s not just the cost of housing that is cheaper in the burbs, it’s that the schools are better, and the parks are as least as nice. And you don’t have to live on top of one another. I “like” having a small lot to grow food on, play with the kids, own a dog, and a place to store a small boat. As a parent I would have considered in city living if the schools were any good. Since that’s over riding decision, burb’s it was. Now that they are off in college, I’d consider moving back to the city.

    But riding the bus vs driving vs bicycling, I’m now a committed bicycle commuter. Making the city easy on bicycle trips would also tip the scales.

    But really, is this article a rant against land use for housing? Burning fossil fuels? inequitable distribution of taxes?

  18. Right on Zach, great article. I hope the Legislature keeps their mind open to changing the restrictive rules that prevent pay-as you go insurers from entering Washington. I mean if Texas has it we should be able to too right? Unfortunately these rules are governed by agencies and committees that rarely deal with transportation so there is a policy disconnect of sorts. We need to elect progressive transportation gurus to Olympia like Joe Fitzgibbon and Jake Fey if we are going to get any of this stuff done!

  19. One thing that people are ignoring is that one reason why new drivers get into so many more accidents than older drivers is the lack of experience. A pay by the mile insurance ignores the fact that someone who only drives 1000 miles a year probably has a higher percentage chance of getting into an accident than someone who drives 15,000 miles a year due to the fact that they drive so rarely. The low amount of driving per year probably also partially explains why elderly passengers get into accidents at a higher rate.

    Perhaps we can make roads safer by encouraging people who drive extremely rarely to not drive at all?

    1. If there was any validity to this idea the insurance industry would price their product accordingly. That’s what they do is look at all the risk factors and assign a value to it. The primary “driver” if you will is an individuals driving record. A lousey driver will have higher rates irregardless of how many miles they drive. Older drivers get into more accidents because their reaction time slows down, vision often starts to deteriorate and sometimes we just start to loose our faculties and make bad decisions. Driving around town isn’t F1 racing. You’re not going to forget how driving only 1,000 miles a year. It’s primarily a matter of good judgement which you don’t loose by not driving.

      1. Insurance companies also have to consider the cost of information, the reliability of information, and the willingness of customers to provide information. There are all sorts of factors that could be used for rating if they weren’t more expensive to validate than the competitive advantage they’d provide.

        As a really basic example, some insurance companies do give a discount for driving fewer miles per year. They have to trust that most customers provide reasonably accurate annual mileage; they have to implement some sort of system for validating or auditing the mileage; they have to make both systems resistant to customers intentionally underreporting mileage; and they have to avoid falling afoul of redlining and other unfair trade practice rules.

        Somewhere between all the variables that theoretically provide good rating information and a one-price-for-everyone model, each insurance company finds a balance of how much information they can afford to require and process.

  20. Some of us just enjoy our cars, Why I’m even enthusiaastic about the ones I have, but…

    I do like other options.

    Think about this for a moment (and yes, this is a repeat performance), but why didn’t a private investor build and maintain a private roadway to compete with the adjacent privately owned and operated Interurbans in this area?

    If they did, they would have had to charge a fee for use of the facility they constructed. An expensive facility would require a higher fee. In some cases, it wouldn’t have made sense to even build a road, given a low ‘ridership’.

    The issue is, that the costs of driving aren’t a direct fee-for-service, they are muddled in the labyrinth of taxing districts for the facilities, the laybrinth of insurance charges, deductibles, and even how well they treat you when you do make a claim, and my favorite bugaboo in this state… uninsured motorist coverage, and then there is another happy happy experience of buying and trading a car.

    And good luck to those of you who can keep a car 20 years, you still will need money to maintain it, especially if you want it to retain its level of comfort, safety and reliability.

    BTW, I can keep a 20 yr car in fairly good shape, but I surely couldn’t afford to have a mechanic do it for me.


    1. I’ve kept a subaru going from ’78 to 96, and I’ve got a VW van built in ’82 that I bought in ’93. Both I paid mechanics to keep running and both still cost less to maintain than to replace. A couple things factor in, 1st, they are easy to work on, second, they didn’t need too much maintenance, 3rd being old kept the insurance and the old MVET low.

      Mostly if you focus on repairing things as they go bad, then each time you get a new failure, you can say, well for a mere $$$, I can fix this car, or for $$$$$ I can replace it. And every time the repair cost was so much less than the replacement cost I just kept at it.

      1. That’s true Gary.

        Have you ever calculated the costs of doing that for your cars?

        Part of the problem I have is how obsessive do I get. In other words, knowing how these things work, I will probably repair/replace things a lot sooner than most people, only because I don’t like the way it feels. Plus as I’ve mentioned before, for guys like me, there is the TAP factor.

        And worrying about the finish on the car is another slippery slope!
        (, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

        And…. once you keep the car 20 years, and it’s still in really good shape, then you have reached the lower limit of resale value, and (depending on the car, the ‘collectibility factor’ starts coming into play.

  21. Totally agree with all 3 points.

    Housing is another huge one – if I can use transit/bike/walking to get to work, I have more disposable income to spend on, say, housing. But that’s not what lenders or landlords think – they see me no differently than someone with a $300/mo car payment who needs the car to get to work.

    I can’t qualify for a nicer apartment or a bigger mortgage, even though I’m in an unambiguously better financial position to the car owner. Ironically, since the housing nearer to transit/jobs tends to be more expensive in Seattle, this incentivizes people to become car dependent in order to get save money and get better housing.

    “Location Efficient Mortgages” are a really great solution to this, but they really aren’t off the ground yet, and the current mortgage crisis sure hasn’t helped. I don’t know of any similar program/idea for renters, though.

  22. Thank you for “Just as criticizing gluttony doesn’t make one a hater of food, so too criticizing a “drive-everywhere” mentality doesn’t make one dismiss the impressive utility of cars.” I’ve been trying to find a good way to express that thought for a while.

  23. > (2. Employment discrimination based upon car ownership. […] (1. a failure by employers to recognize that transit commutes can be reliably made

    Are you sure about that? I’ve ridden morning buses that were “reliably” 15 minutes late, almost every day, and buses that were only late (5-10+ minutes) about 10% of the time. Being late 10% of the time is way too often for an employer that needs you to serve customers (for example). To increase the odds that you’ll get there on time, you have to take an earlier bus, which often means showing up 30-60 minutes early.

    1. And these are the choices we make as adults. If you have a 30 minute commute and you leave 30 minutes before work starts every day, I’m quite sure you’ll be more than 10 minutes late routinely.

      The difference with public transit is that some public transit runs in a traffic-free lane at least some of the time. If your commute involves Link (with a traffic-free lane the entire time), this reliability goes up remarkably.

      Of course, if your bus is inconsistant, you show up as early as needed to make sure you’re on time. Just like driving in traffic.

    2. I’ve been commuting by bus from various neighbourhoods (QA, Ravenna, Madison Park) for 25+ years and have only been late about once every 4 or 5 years – mostly weather related. If you plan on sliding in right at clock-in time you’re pressing your luck – if you live in-city try the next earlier bus: arrive 10-12 minutes earlier, get a coffee and clock in w/o breaking a sweat.

  24. I can tell you that the biggest reason I am leaning towards switching from transit to a car is this: There is nothing that can get me from my home in Kent (where I am very happy living and do not want to move. My job may be in Seattle but the rest of my life is in the area.) to my job in Seattle early in the morning. I had a chance to work on days instead of graveyard. (I cannot work swing.) I had to start at 5:15 A.M. No buses run that early. I cannot carpool because no one I know who works that early lives close to me or on the way. Also as a contracted employee and not an employee of the company where I work I am not allowed to take part in any of there carpool programs. Not having a car has also cost me promotions. I have been turned down because if I am going to be a supervisor I need to come in quickly in cases on emergency. Cannot do that on a bus. I know that people here are going to say that they cannot do that. Well they can.

    1. The part about not being eligible to carpool with direct employees goes against my experience. I was a temp at a place in Renton once, but Metro didn’t care when I signed up for a vanpool.

      1. I am not an employee of the coumpany where I work at. I am contracted. Only employees can sign up for carpool.

      2. Again, Metro’s vanpool program does not require participants in a vanpool to all work for the same employer. They just want all participants to be on the appropriate pass program.

        If the company at which you are temping is running the vanpool coordination and only doing it for direct employees, that is a quirk of that company, not a general problem with the vanpool program. If they are using their own vans, well, then I can understand the liability issues.

        If you ask individuals there who are vanpool participants, and their vanpool has a vacancy, you can sidestep the company and sign up directly through the vanpool’s chief driver.

    2. The regular contributors to this blog aren’t suggesting that everyone ditch their car for public transportation. They’re wise enough to know that’s not feasible for every single person.

      But let’s face one reality that many people just won’t come to terms with: More often than not when you are driving your car on I-5/I-405 and in slow traffic, chances are at least one of the other drivers/cars is going to a location moderately close to yours and trying to arrive about the same time you are.

      One of the keys to understanding/accepting the idea of taking public transit is that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. I drive. A lot. I’m good at it and enjoy it. I have also learned over the years that there is room for public transit in my life (thanks to my lovely spouse, who hates driving, lol.)

      We now carpool to work, and take buses to sporting events in Seattle. It’s our goal to incorporate biking to work at least 2X per week by the end of the year. Each of these choices wasn’t hard to implement, just hard to make (at first.)

  25. I think #3 is flat not true. My husband has never been a licensed driver and my father has not been a licensed driver since 1958 – both carry state ID cards and neither have ever been rejected. It’s an accepted form of idea for every level of government and although private businesses have the right, generally, to refuse service, I’ve never seen it happen and I can’t imagine a justification to do so. If the ID is issued by the state, has a picture, and is valid for the date of review, it’s accepted.

  26. points well taken – especially the sunk cost of buying the car. What gripes me is the bombardment of advertising for people to buy a new car – how can transit possibly compete with this mental warfare.

    I challenge those who say we will not give up our cars. If there was a convenient motor pool where I could right size my vehicle, i.e. electric micro to get to transit station or van for my soccer night; then I may not own that suburban just to pull my boat.

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