Retrospective: Would America Have Been Automobilized in a Free Ma rket?
- Cross-posted from Auto-Free Ottawa:
> [Letter published by the New York Times, Sunday, February 10, 1985.]
> To the Editor:
> Prof. Ragaei El Mallakhs Jan. 20 letter criticizes William Safires
> proposal to increase gasoline taxes as contradicting Mr. Safires
> free-market approach.
> However, an analysis of direct governmental subsidies to the automobile
> reveals that most state and local governments would have to raise
> gasoline taxes by at least 40 cents a gallon to cover the costs of
> police and fire department services to the automobile, the very
> expensive drains necessitated by all that concrete surface, the
> elongation of sewer, water and public lighting systems, etc.
> In most suburban communities, at least 40 percent of police work is
> directly related to automobiles, as is one-sixth of fire department runs
> prying people out of wrecks, washing down the pavement after a wreck,
> etc. None of this is covered by gasoline or weight taxes.
> The cost of drainage is significantly increased by the roads and parking
> lots required for the automobile peak storm-water flow can be increased
> by as much as 10 times by paving terrain that previously held storm
> water or released it slowly. Drain construction is usually about 40
> percent of the cost of road building. Most drains are financed out of
> the local property tax. Occasionally, the Army Corps of Engineers has to
> solve downstream flooding problems caused by too much pavement in a
> river watershed.
> The cost of constructing sanitary sewers is twice as high in the
> automobile-oriented suburb as it is in a transit-oriented urban
> community. This is because automobiles require everything to be spread
> out. Some suburban communities devote as much as 4,000 square feet of
> paved road and parking surface to each automobile.
> Even the total cost of roads is not paid out of gasoline and weight
> taxes. Most local governments need to finance road maintenance and
> repairs out of general revenues. Some have allowed them to deteriorate.
> Harder to measure, but nonetheless real, are the costs to society of:
> -Longer food chains as farms on the metropolitan fringe are displaced
> by sprawl.
> -Structural unemployment because new jobs in suburbia are inaccessible
> to job seekers without automobiles.
> -Premature obsolescence of streetcar-era neighborhoods whose
> compactness cannot accommodate automobiles.
> -The oil-crunch-induced world-wide stagflation [of the mid-1980s],
> caused in part by a fourfold increase in U.S. oil imports in the nine
> years after domestic oil extraction peaked in 1970. (This was just a
> preview of the turn-of-the-century crunch when world oil extraction
> starts its decline. Oil extraction in the Soviet Union, the worlds
> largest extractor, is already declining.)
> A free-market approach to automobilization wouldve made for a different
> JAMES A. BUSH
> Detroit, Jan. 25, 1985