Friday, September 16, 2016

Mobility: Right or privilege?



Michael Lind, a co-founder of left-leaning New America, is urging the federal government to create universal mobility accounts that would give everyone an income tax credit, or, if they owe no taxes, a direct subsidy to cover the costs of driving. He argues that social mobility depends on personal mobility, and personal mobility depends on access to a car, so therefore everyone should have one.

This is an interesting departure from the usual progressive argument that cars are evil and we should help the poor by spending more on transit. Lind responds to this view saying that transit and transit-oriented developments “can help only at the margins.” He applauds programs that help low-income people acquire inexpensive, used automobiles, but–--again–--thinks they are not enough.

Lind is virtually arguing that automobile ownership is a human right that should be denied to no one because of poverty. While the Antiplanner agrees that auto ownership can do a lot more to help people out of poverty than more transit subsidies, claiming that cars are a human right goes a little to far...

Most important would be to remove the barriers to mobility that have been erected by other left-leaning groups, namely the smart-growth crowd and other urban planners. Too much city planning for the past several decades has been based on increasing traffic congestion to try to force people out of their cars. 

Yet congestion is mostly likely to harm low-income people, because their jobs are less likely to allow flex time, working at home, or other escapes from traffic available to knowledge workers. 

Low-income people also have less choice about home locations, especially in regions that have made housing expensive, meaning their commutes can be longer than those of higher-income workers.

Relieving traffic congestion in every major urban area in the country would cost a lot less than $75 billion a year. This doesn’t necessarily mean building new roads. Instead, start by removing the so-called traffic calming devices that actually take more lives by delaying emergency service vehicles than they save by reducing auto-pedestrian accidents. Then add dynamic traffic signal controls that have been proven to cost-effectively save people’s time, energy, and clean air. Converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes greatly reduces congestion and actually produces revenue. At relatively little cost, steps like these would remove many of the barriers to automobility for low-income families...

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