Today, we feature a guest post from Amanda Graor. She wrote this originally on her blog and I thought it worthy of reposting here, since it ties into a number of posts that NewUrbanismBlog has featured on transportation. Enjoy:
Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, there have been people fighting to repeal it, arguing that it will raise the cost of pizza, and the “individual mandate” made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (and survived). The Individual Mandate was a controversial piece of the legislation, in short requiring that everyone carry health insurance or pay a fine for not doing so.
I was thinking about a trip I’m making to Wichita later this month and how my options are limited on how to get there. How it seemed like government policy over the years, starting with the “greatest public works project in history,” the Interstate System, is considered one of government’s greatest accomplishments, but how it has ended up reducing funding available for other forms of transportation, thus requiring Americans to own cars to make it from place to place even within their own city boundaries.
And it makes me wonder.
Is the automobile the original “individual mandate”?
Prior to the rise of the automobile, streetcar systems existed, municipal buses ran frequently, and pedestrians and bicycles were accepted and expected on streets. Once the car began taking over, the streets became less hospitable to non-motorized transportation and the cries of public transit not funding itself often drown out those that understand that the highways also don’t pay for themselves.
So where does that leave someone who doesn’t want to own a car, especially in a place outside the five boroughs or downtown Chicago?
Seemingly rather short of luck.
The average American way of life has evolved to a point where it is nearly necessary for a person who wants to be able to travel between destinations on a schedule to own their own vehicle. The Interstate System has made it easier to travel between cities on an individual basis, and the popularity of cars (among other things) ate away at the availability of passenger rail service. Intercity buses don’t run nearly as often. Federal funding has long supported the roads-and-highways approach over a more holistic view of transportation that considers the movement of goods and people, not just the movement of vehicles.
Public transit is making a comeback in a lot of places, and the generational differences in many realms are beginning to show as Millenials enter the workforce and property-buying market in higher numbers, but it is still incredibly difficult to exist in many places without a car. I couldn’t make it to my soccer games, dance classes, or graduate classes using mass transit right now, and I live in the middle of the city. This also speaks to the sprawling development that has taken place, and without requisite density, transit just doesn’t make sense. All of this piles on to make an automobile a must-own for residents of most places. The “fine” in this case is either the increase in the amount of time spent traveling between destinations because of limited transit service, or the cost of ownership of a vehicle (which, when examined, really is staggering).
So, has policy over the years essentially made the automobile an unofficial “individual mandate”? Maybe with a little more active transportation, we wouldn’t need quite so much health care in the first place.
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