Owning a car and choosing what type of car is one of the major hallmarks of independence and success; it is also a signifier to others that you’ve worked hard and earned your money. But the expense of car ownership is becoming increasingly unviable for so many millions in America and with technological advancements and a more environmentally-conscious younger generation, people are hungry for alternative modes of transportation.
The financial cost of car-domination
Since 2009, the amount of debt Americans have on their cars has increased by an astronomical 75 percent. A huge proportion of this debt is borne by people with low credit scores and who are therefore already vulnerable to high interest rates and aggressive loan schemes.
This car-centric society did not happen by chance. It was devised through years of public policy which put money into roads instead of rail lines and public car parks instead of bus networks. Since 1956, American expenditure on highways has accounted for an astonishing four-fifths of the government’s allowance on the transportation system.
Americans are paying more on their car debt than ever before. In 2010, there were 81.4 million active auto loan accounts in the United States and this shot up 39 percent to 113 million by 2018. Americans owe $1.26 trillion on these loans. That amount equates to 5.5 percent of the GDP. And what are you really paying for? We have now entered an age of shared mobility where people have more options to save money if they want to drive a car. People can now rent cars by the hour or even tap into fractional ownership which allows you to use a car only when and if you need it, cutting costs dramatically.
Moving away from a car-centric approach
To overcome crippling auto debt, it is important to look at alternative modes of transport on your daily travel journey and shift the focus away from cars. This will allow Americans the genuine choice to change up how they travel and look at ways they can say money and perhaps even live without a personal car.
Young people are catching on to the car-free appeal and using apps like Float which enables people to find the cheapest, quickest, greenest or safest option instead of relying on their own car. In addition to public transit, these modes of transport include hiring an e-scooter, hopping on an e-bike or calling an Uber. Christian Wolmar, a transport analyst, tells the Guardian “‘peak car’ seems to have been reached in America, with young people favoring what they call transit; and there is a trend of younger people no longer seeing the car as central to their lives.”
Affordable public transport should be a basic right and the ability to move freely within your city should not come at an extortionate cost. Even in a metropolis such as New York City, only 15 percent of jobs can be reached within an hour by public transport compared to 75 percent of jobs within an hour in the car.
We can see governments around the world starting to put in place better systems and infrastructure for those who choose to walk or bike. This means prioritising sidewalks, providing sufficient cycle ways and bike racks and reducing on-street parking. Carpooling and leasing a vehicle are also ways for people to reduce travel costs which would in turn save people money.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, use of public transit and other alternative modes of transport has declined but with political and government investment this should start to increase again. Young people, who will suffer the increasing problems of private car use, must propel the change. Venturing away from single car use and considering fractional car use and utilising great apps like Float will help build a fairer and greener future.