We’re a society of convenience, and it seems that maybe even the ultimate incentive, money, may not be able to change that. Or maybe it will just take a little more incentive than the current situation.
I’ve been around, as they say, growing up ultra-rural (1200 people in “my little town”), living, working, and learning in the suburbs of Chicago for 6 years after high school, and now living in the metropolis they call Milwaukee. Hopefully that gives me a little perspective on the issue of when driving is and isn’t necessary.
Scenario 1–Hicksville: For those people who live in the “boonies” who live miles away from where they work and who have no access to any sort of public transportation, there is really no option by the gas-guzzling automobile. However, there are some things to consider, like moving closer to where you work, which may be more of a sacrifice than one is willing to make, or carpooling, which is usually possible in most cases. Since there are no buses or trains, on usually requires a car to travel to locations such as movie theaters, shopping malls, and grocery stores. Since there is less of a “choice” to buy gas, it is good that gas tends to me more inexpensive in rural areas. (On a side note, there was a town an hour from where I grew actually called Hicksville.)
Scenario 2–The ‘Burbs: I actually won’t get into a whole rant and rave about the suburbs at this juncture – maybe somewhere down the line – but the whole idea of the suburbs is quite interesting. Those who choose (there is a choice involved here) to live in the suburbs and work in the city, which is usually the case, often do have some options for their transportation needs, depending on their actual location. Be it by bus or train, many people can either use public transportation for their daily commute or drive a portion of the distance and park and ride, both options freeing the traveler to read or do work while commuting. Getting other places can be a bit of a hassle, though, so one might still want a car to go shopping and get to other locations, depending on your specific public transportation circumstances, but minimizing gas use is still much more possible than in a rural setting.
Scenario 3–City Live: So you’ve chosen to live in the city? Great! Now sell your car and start saving money! Not only do you save money on gas, but you won’t have to pay for car insurance, license plates, oil changes, tune-ups, new tires, and however much you’re paying on your car loan. This, of course, assumes you work in the city too, but if you can get to work using a bus or train, you can probably get anywhere else you “need” to get, too. My experiences living the past two-ish years without a car have definitely shown me that you don’t “need” a car, but it is without question a very nice convenience. Things like getting groceries can be hard, but not impossible, without a car, depending on your distance from the store and how much you’re buying at once. It’s definitely harder to travel out of town, and you can’t get everywhere you’d want or even need to get for certain events, but here’s the kicker: almost everyone else has a car, so if you really need to get somewhere special that the trains and buses can’t reach, you can probably find a ride. Until that aspect of life changes and the number of cars lessen and buses and trains don’t become only “for those who can’t afford a car” (and hopefully that day will come), I’ve found that most people are more than happy to give you a ride when you’re in a bind.
So what does this mean? Well, the U.S. still has it pretty well compared to most 1st World countries, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a more graduated pricing structure based on the 3 scenarios above, where prices are higher where other transportation options are available. Until then, we will have to hope everyone makes conscious efforts to continue saving gas wherever they are able, even if for you that can only mean taking a bus, train, or plane the next time your travel out of town. I hope you’ll continue to think about your choices and the effect they are having on the world and its future.
(As a prelude to some likely future installment on cities and suburbs, check out this website and the sustainability, or likely unsustainablility, of most cities.)