Anti-Volt Isn’t Anti-Car

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"Anti-Volt Isn’t Anti-Car"

by Ryan Avent

Commenters seem unhappy with my post on the Volt. As I said in the post, greener cars will be a part of the solution to our energy and climate crises. They’ll have to be. And I’m not under the impression that transit will suddenly come to dominate the landscape. But the Volt is a Hail Mary pass. I’m suggesting that handing over billions in government money to companies that are losing billions of dollars per month and which continue to lobby against climate change legislation, in the hopes that an electric car will save their businesses, is maybe not an example of clear-headed economic or environmental policy. If such a statement is anti-car, well then I’m anti-car.

Additionally, one commenter questioned my assertion that transportation in the center of the Washington metropolitan area was greener than in the suburbs, referencing a study produced by Ed Glaeser. Now, Glaeser’s work shows that central city Washingtonians produce just over 10% less in transportation emissions than their suburban counterparts. That strikes me as an amount worth something, particularly given that most of Glaeser’s data is close to a decade old, and missed much of the transit-oriented development that’s taken place in recent years.

As a counterpoint, a carbon audit of the metropolitan area conducted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments suggested that transportation emissions in the District are about two-thirds of those in suburban Maryland, on average, and just over half of those in suburban Virginia. That’s not surprising. The latest data from the American Community Survey indicates that about 37% of District residents take transit to work, and over 10% walk to their jobs. If we take Fairfax County, Virginia as a point of comparison, we see that 8.5% of residents took transit to work, while just under 2% walked. Some 73% drove alone.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with driving to work alone. For many Americans it’s very convenient and very pleasant. But taking into consideration the social costs of driving and the social benefits of transit, it does seem likely that drivers should pay more for the privilege of burning gas and causing congestion, while transit subsidies are entirely warranted.

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