Cars

I drive a car and ride a bike.  I usually cycle to the gym and I always cycle to work.

Here are a couple of facts about cars.

1.  If Americans would keep their SUVs out of Yellowstone and the other national parks, they wouldn't need to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

2.  For the person on average wages, cars travel at about bicycle pace.  Huh?  Yes, if you look at your total mileage over a year (say 15,000 miles)and divide that by the number of hours you spend at the wheel (driving, in traffic jams, at the lights, at level crossings, looking for a car park, waiting for your passengers - say 428), you get your average speed.  35 miles an hour.

Still not down to cycling pace?  Well, we have some more time to add on to that spent behind the wheel.

With 365 days in a year, 104 are weekends and 20 annual leave.  So you work for 241 days each year.  Let's assume that you work eight-hour days, that's 1928 hours a year.  At an income of $50,000, that's $26 an hour.  But you pay income tax - say 25% of your wages goes in income tax; this leaves you with $20 an hour net

15,000 miles at, say, 20 miles a gallon, that's 750 gallons a year.  At $1.25 a gallon, you spend 750/20 or 48 hours working to pay for fuel - over a week's work!

What we do is add the 48 hours we devote to working to pay for fuel to the 428 hours we spend behind the wheel.  476 hours.  This brings our average car speed down from 35 mph to31.5.

Now how much did we spend on service, spare parts, tyres, polish, car washes, detailing.  Say $1,000.  Another 51 hours.  476 plus 51 is 528 hours.  The average speed just fell to 28.4 mph.

Can we assume another $1000 for insurance and registration?.  Another 51 hours - speed down to 25.9 mph.

Now let's look at the public and corporate subsidies to private car transport.  Road construction and repair is an obvious one.  One third of the non-maternity hospital beds are taken up with vehicle accident injuries and their after effects.  Ambulances spend over a third of their time in motor accident-related work.  Our health insurance premiums would be lower if it were not for vehicle accidents.  Hard to quantify, but the loss of productivity, because previously healthy, fit and productive citizens are now disabled, paraplegic and needing care services produced by workers who could otherwise be producing products and services that built for the future, not patched up from the past.  Police spend over a third of their resources in traffic-related duties; there is the direct cost of these services and the opportunity cost of the crime-related work that cannot be done.  All these costs and opportunity costs could add to our take home pay of over $3,000 a year.  This takes the speed down to under 21 mph, a speed I can - and do - comfortably manage on my bike.

I have written the above quickly, extemporizing from a book I read in the early 1970s.  the author of that work had worked through the figures more carefully than I have here - all I wanted to do here was to illustrate a general but significant point, not come down with a precise speed.  If you have the original source, I'd love to acknowledge it.  Or, if you have come across a more thorough set of calculations, I'd welcome seeing them - please let me know.

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