Curb the car? The debate continues on European style transportation policy

The front page story from Monday’s N.Y. Times about Europe’s transportation policies that push the car to the perimeter is still sparking discussion.

Yesterday the Times invited nine experts to debate the issue: should the historically car crazy U.S. adopt a similar policy?

It’s obvious from the commentaries that one reason this story has legs is that it’s a divisive topic that is tangled up with all sorts of other contentious issues. Gentrification, taxation, central planning vs. market forces and generational differences are all mixed up making a cocktail that you either love or hate.

Good points are brought up on both sides of the issue. Urban planning professor Robert Bruegmann notes that while Europe’s dense central cities may be implementing anti-car policies, more Europeans are actually moving to the suburbs and living in American style sprawl.

One of the most interesting takes on the issue comes from Laurie Volk and Todd Zimmerman – two researchers who look at housing market trends and demographics. They think that while most Americans currently flinch at the thought of curbing the car, a cultural change is coming with the Millennial generation.

Millennials, now the largest generation in the nation’s history, are the first generation raised in the auto utopia of the ’70s and ’80s. Many millennials have vowed to spare their offspring a similar auto-oriented childhood. We predict that millennials in much larger percentages than predecessor generations will remain in urban neighborhoods when they become parents, fighting for school excellence and robust transportation alternatives to the private automobile.

Lets continue the debate here. Will the U.S. naturally adopt a more anti-car policy as the Millennials come into power? Our informal poll has received 270 responses, and 76% of our readers are for European style transit policy. How different do you think these numbers would be if the entire population of L.A. was polled?

One thing to keep in mind is that Angelenos, despite our car-crazy stereotype, did vote for Measure R. It took a super majority (66%) to pass this tax increase that funds new transit projects around the region – something I think speaks volumes. Of course, Measure R doesn’t only fund transit projects (20% of the tax revenue goes to highway projects) and a lot of the promotion of the measure emphasized congestion relief – not exactly anti-car rhetoric.

6 replies

  1. Actually, I sort of agree with some of what Fukuzawa says this time (a stopped watch and all that…)

    A flat-fee fare makes no sense with a transit system the size of L.A. Metro and neither does POP.

    A good TAP card (with the help of a good fare gating system) ought to be able to calculate the changes in a distance-based fare system automatically so the commuter doesn’t have to.

    You could probably drop the “base fare” down to about half of what it is now and encourage short-hop “lunch” trips.

    Even a relatively high fee to ride from Chatsworth to Long Beach would be cheaper than driving, especially if you add up all of the associated “hidden” costs of driving.

    ( This is the way Tokyo operates as well as the European way, maybe it should be called the “non-American style transportation policy”? )

    Even with distance-based fares, it still makes sense to shift funds from cars to transit.

  2. Actually, the European nations are being prudent in both their economies and national security.

    Many of them no longer produce automobiles so any auto purchases by their citizens results in capital leaving the country going to places from where it may never return.

    The few that do recognize that their own workforce will be less and less competitive on the world market as production in places like Eastern Europe, India, the former Soviet Union and China achieves higher quality at unbeatable pricing. (Sadly, the USA may join this category thanks to wage suppression and currency devaluation).

    The other issue that the Europeans are facing up to is the fact that they have passed peak oil production in their own oil producing regions (i.e. North Sea) and that they cannot afford to ramp up the military might that would be needed to extract oil from other regions around the world.

  3. I take the opposite view of YFukuzawa. The problem is that driving has been subsidized far too much over the decades, starving all other modes. The true costs have to be factored in and made visible via tolls, carbon tax, giving up space and priority on streets to other modes, variable parking fees and congestion pricing. Once these costs are placed upon drivers, they will naturally migrate to other alternatives and demand more resources being placed in rapid, clean and convenient public transit. When that day comes, and it will come, Los Angeles will finally begin its multi-modal future.

  4. One part that bugs me about “let’s look up to Europe” articles is that they make it sound like they have better public transit options and sound like they live in public transit utopia, but neglect that many systems in Europe also make public transit riders pay a higher fare as well.

    Whether it be the London Underground, the Brussels Metro, or the trams in Amsterdam, many of them make public transit riders pay on a variable, distance/zone/time based system.

    So not everything that Europe has is great. We have flat rate fares where one can go from Santa Monica all the way to Downtown LA in $1.50. For a 15 mi distance, that’s a steal.

    In constrast, transit agencies over there make people pay more if you ride the system over longer distances. It could be as cheap as £1.90 (approx $3.00) within the same zone to as much as £4.50 (approx $8) across multiple zones using the Pay-to-go Oyster Card.

    Considering how big the city of LA is, that could be a part that needs to be addressed as well.

    This is why I question getting rid of cars is just a solution to a part of the problem. You want real public transit, passengers need to pay their fair share in cost as well.

  5. All this discussion is interesting but within the Volk/Zimmerman quote they use the phase “urban neighborhood”. In New York you can see the “urban neighborhood”, in a LA context what’s a “urban neighborhood”? Is it only DTLA, the old eastside areas like Boyle Heights and maybe Hollywood. Much of “Urban” LA is developed with single family homes and small-to medium two to four story apartment/condo buildings.

    Are the “streetcar” suburbs of the inner westside of LA an “urban neighborhood”. What about the San Fernando Valley, a true 1950/60s suburb, but now seems pretty urban!

  6. I don’t understand the idea of making it inconvenient to drive. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for transit as a matter of fact I personally prefer it but when it comes to having a road network already in place why not just slow or stop expansion on that system and instead invest in viable public transportation options. I think making driving inconvenient will just shift the burden from the roads to public transit and that doesn’t make logical sense. Idk maybe I understood wrong? I picked the second only because I do think we should stop spending expanding/widening roads and instead send those funds directly to public transit.
    Or maybe I’m just way off; anyone?