Not addicted to oil, just freedom

When traffic gets worse in a city, or whenever things start heating up in the Middle East, rallying cries for less automobile dependence and better public transit often follow closely behind. While public transit may certainly work for some people with predictable schedules in crowded metropolitan areas, it doesn’t work for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not addicted to oil, and I don’t own an SUV. I’m in favor of increased fuel efficiency and would even support a moderate increase in the gasoline tax, provided that the money were dedicated to road maintenance and construction. I’ll probably buy one of the new hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) when the cost comes down a bit. But when someone tries to get me out of my car and into a bus, carpool, or light-rail system, I resist. Why? In a word, freedom.

Having a private vehicle at my disposal gives me options. I love that I can leave straight from work and go to a friend’s house in Sacramento. I love that I can run errands or visit the driving range on my lunch break. I love that I can swing by any restaurant in town on my way home from work and pick up dinner for my family. I love that I can cart musical instruments and gear around to wherever the next gig happens to be. I love that I can offer friends a ride. I love that I can maintain friendships with people who live all over town. I love that the same car that takes me to work can also take my family to Southern California.

Communal transportation still makes sense in certain situations, such as cross-country air travel or a chartered bus taking a youth group to camp. Unfortunately, most communal-transportation projects favored by government require enormous outlays of capital and infrastructure.

Make no mistake—nearly all forms of government-operated public transit operate at a loss and require additional funding beyond that gained from the sale of tickets and tokens. The Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) wouldn’t exist without the additional 1 percent sales tax imposed on counties within its service area. Our local CATS busses, as useful as they are to certain segments of the population, recover only 28 percent of their operating costs through fare box revenues. I find it interesting that certain factions stridently call for new development to pay its own way, while remaining silent on the issue of transit paying for itself.

I’ll happily abandon my car if and when a better transportation system comes along, but the new system had better be at least as good as the old one: be reasonably priced, have a one-day range of at least 500 miles, be able to carry four people in comfort, and be responsive to the wishes of the individual.

Until that day arrives, you can find me behind the wheel of my car.