Saturday, October 05, 2013

In praise of the automobile

Monday is the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford's assembly line for the Model T - an idea that hasn't gotten as much respect in recent times as it should (WSJ):

In fact, many of the supposed negative costs of cars are purely imaginary, while others are rapidly declining. Each year's crop of new cars is safer, more fuel-efficient and less polluting than before. Department of Energy data show that in 1970 cars used twice as much energy per passenger mile as did mass transit. Today, they are practically tied, and in a few years driving will use less energy and emit less pollution than public transit.

For more than 60 years, Americans have consistently spent around 9% of their personal incomes on driving, even though per-capita miles have tripled since 1950. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics—counting both user costs and subsidies—public transportation costs nearly four times as much per passenger mile as driving, while Amtrak costs well over twice as much.

The costs of driving are overwhelmed by the benefits of mass-produced automobiles, benefits largely ignored by the Obama administration and various anti-auto groups. Ford democratized mobility: Today, 91% of American households have at least one car, and 96% of commuters live in a household with at least one car. Curiously, Census Bureau statistics indicate that more than 20% of commuters who live in carless households still get to work by driving alone (apparently in borrowed cars).

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