…market saturation, ongoing urbanization, economic uncertainty, oil insecurity, rising gasoline prices, frustration with traffic congestion, mounting concerns about climate change, and a declining interest in cars among young people.
Since we have more cars than licensed drivers (246 million registered motor vehicles and 209 million licensed drivers-nearly 5 vehicles for every 4 drivers), market saturation seems likely. Urbanization is another factor:
Japan may offer some clues to the U.S. future. Both more densely populated and highly urbanized than the United States, Japan apparently reached car saturation in 1990. Since then its annual car sales have shrunk by 21 percent. The United States appears set to follow suit.
The car promised mobility, and in a largely rural United States it delivered. But with four out of five Americans now living in cities, the growth in urban car numbers at some point provides just the opposite: immobility. The Texas Transportation Institute reports that U.S. congestion costs, including fuel wasted and time lost, climbed from $17 billion in 1982 to $87 billion in 2007.
So, are we finally rethinking mass transit?
Almost every U.S. city is either introducing new light rail lines, new subway lines, or express bus lines, or they are expanding and improving existing public transit systems in order to reduce dependence on cars.
A discouraging article in the Globe this morning (no not the one about Cosmo Boy Brown) about potential expansion at South Station does not bode well for some aspects of mass transit around here.
The Silver Line bus line isn’t there, yet. The long overdue rail connection between North and South Stations is still a planners dream. We did not do well in the first round of high speed rail funds. The T, in fact nearly our whole transportation system, is mired in debt and reorganization. Others have diaried about the Green Line extension to Medford.
So where are we? Where do we need to go? How do we get there? Is car use headed for a decline ala Japan?
I gotta make dinner, so I’ll leave these questions to others.