A nation hooked on cars

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  January 27, 2010

IN A PLACE LIKE RHODE ISLAND, WHICH DOES NOT HAVE GREAT PUBLIC TRANSIT, WHAT IS THE AVERAGE PERSON WHO MIGHT LIKE TO BREAK HIS CAR DEPENDENCE TO DO? Often people haven't tried [public transit]. They're thinking back to what it was like 10 years ago or 20 years ago when they tried it last. And things have gotten better in a lot of communities, and I think that's true in Rhode Island as well.

WHAT ABOUT THIS MOMENT GIVES US A CHANCE TO CHART A NEW PATH ON TRANSPORTATION? Unfortunately, the recession. We're not just asking people to drive less. We're asking people to think about how car costs have really taken an enormous bite out of household budgets. It's actually an average of $14,000 per family, per year, to own and operate the vehicle. I think what the recession has done is to collapse home prices. And the buying spree of more and more expensive and larger number of cars that happened in the '90s and the aughts was the result of a lot of people borrowing against the value of their homes. So I think the recession has made it, in some ways, more difficult for people to do that. If people get by with fewer cars they might come to see that, well, I can actually get by without those.

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