Cutting the Car Tax
An increasingly large share of household incomes is being spent on our cars. In 2020, that cost rose to around nearly $10,000. We do this because we often have no other choice. Less than half of Americans have access to public transportation of any kind. Since the 1950s, we’ve designed and built our cities to accommodate cars with mandatory parking minimums (MPMs), preferential treatment for cars in our infrastructure spending programs, and exclusionary zoning erected to segregate communities. Driving one’s car is not just the primary method of transportation; it’s, in many cases, the only method of transportation.
We should change that.
There’s a reason why Americans love visiting European cities. It’s the same reason why so many of us experience nostalgia for our years on college campuses. Americans love walkable cities. We love riding scooters and segways, riding our bikes, strolling under the trees, hopping aboard the streetcar, and riding cross-country on trains. And it saves us a lot of money. Money a lot of us don’t have!
I grew up down the street from a massive shopping mall in which I spent a lot of time and have many fond memories. More than 8,000 people work there in a given year, earning on average approximately $13/hour. Sawgrass Mall employees are diverse working-class people, many first-generation immigrants trying to provide for their families. It would be ideal for them to live close to where they work, but zoning laws in the surrounding area ban inexpensive types of housing through single-family zoning and minimum lot size mandates. My neighborhood prohibits construction of homes without a full acre of land. Sawgrass Mall workers by and large cannot afford to live near where they work. They either must spend several thousand dollars a year on a car or spend slightly less (maybe) ubering everywhere.
I want to build a future in which driving a car is an option but not the primary mode of transportation. I dream of a future in which Americans have choices. My best friend Rachelle is living in that future. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and works (some of the time, it’s hybrid I think) in Manhattan. The majority of her essential needs are met without cars. In fact, she lives right across the street from a pharmacy and a grocery store. There are plenty of nearby parks including dog parks in which she can walk to or bike to. Hoboken has an excellent e-bike program in which they partner with Lyft. I had so much fun exploring the city on my e-bike!
The New York metro area along with Washington D.C. and Chicago are pretty walkable and have fairly decent alternative modes of transit, but that’s pretty much it as far as America goes. It doesn’t have to be this way, and I’m not the only one who thinks so! We are seeing cities in Minnesota and California to ban parking minimums particularly near transit stops. States like Oregon are banning single-family zoning and getting recognition from the White House. This is a movement with momentum.
As we dream of a future in which we can build denser, more walkable cities, let’s remember that the car tax is disproportionately harming the poor, people of color, and people with disabilities. Marginalized communities are much more vulnerable to contracting respiratory conditions from the tailpipe emissions flagrant in autocentrism. Nearly two million Americans have disabilities that prevent them from being able to drive. They should not be ignored. Wheelchair users are more likely to be struck by cars than walking pedestrians. Building a less car-centered community is better for the environment, better for the poor, and better for our collective health and happiness.