The Problems with Automobiles


Ever since the Model T Ford came along starting in 1908, Americans have had a love affair with the automobile. 15 million Model Ts were eventually sold – a staggering number given that there were less than 100 million people living in the United States in 1910 and things like roads, gas stations, refineries, dealerships, distribution networks and repair shops were all being built from scratch to meet that kind of demand. The love affair with cars has continued unabated since then – in the United States today, there is very nearly one automobile for every adult in the country.

But have you ever thought about the hidden costs of America’s automotive culture? And is there a different culture that could evolve that is better in nearly every way in terms of economics, environmental impact, space consumption, convenience, appearance, etc.?

If you think about it for a few moments, you can understand the baggage that comes with automotive culture:

  1. In an automotive culture like the one found in the United States, nearly every adult is required to own an automobile. The automobile itself costs something like $10,000 (averaging new and used models), and then the owner has to pay for private insurance, fuel, maintenance, tires, etc. as well. Because of all of these costs, the federal reimbursement rate per mile of automotive travel is 56 cents in 2013. With an average of 12,000 miles per year per driver, the average annual cost of owning and operating an automobile can be estimated at something north of $6,000 per year or $500 per month.
  2. Not only are cars expensive to own and operate, and represent the second most expensive object owned by most adults after a home, automobiles are depreciating assets rather than appreciating assets. In other words, a new car in the United States has an average price of $31,252 in 2013. After 10 years that new car value has depreciated toward zero.
  3. Also consider the fact that most cars sit idle 90% or more of the time. A typical automobile owner drives his or her car for less than 2 hours a day.
  4. parkingBecause cars spend so much time sitting idle, there is the cost of parking. Most private homes and many apartments include garages, adding significantly to the cost and size of the structure. Parking lots and parking structures at stores, restaurants, office buildings, college campuses etc. can be extremely expensive and waste tremendous amounts of space. In the image at the right, compare the size of the parking lots to the size of stores –  the size of the parking lot for a retail store or office building is typically as large as the structure itself, and the cost of parking in urban areas is a well known point of pain.
  5. Add to that the cost of the roads. Americans consider the roads to be “free”, but they are paid for in taxes to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars per year in federal, state and local transportation taxes.
  6. Then there is traffic – a major headache in most municipalities, especially at rush hour.
  7. The wasted space of conventional roads and highways is an important factor as well. In addition, these large impermeable surfaces create a great deal of storm water runoff during any downpour, increasing the potential for flooding in urban settings. Note the amount of space wasted by automobile roadways in this interchange in downtown Atlanta:Atlanta interchange
  8. Cars are environmentally unfriendly as well. A typical automobile weighs something like 3,000 pounds and gets only 25 miles to a gallon of gasoline. Cars have a gigantic carbon footprint, increase particulates in the air and increase smog in urban areas.

These significant problems are borne daily by everyone in America. It represents a tremendous cost to the nation. EcoPRT’s goal is to solve all of these problems by eliminating the expense and hassle of owning a car, significantly reducing the cost and space required for roadways and parking, and eliminating much of the environmental degradation that goes with America’s automotive culture.