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Hooray for the auto
Jack Balshaw 11/6/2002

The auto industry is worse than the government in failing to promote itself. I've long believed that the reason we hear so many negative things about the government is because it never bothers to brag about all the good things it does (i.e. Water, sewer, fire, police, etc.). This lets each person focus on only the few things he or she thinks government is doing wrong. Similarly, the auto industry is very good at selling cars but never takes the time to remind people of how much of our quality of life exists because of the car. Maybe they think it's so self-evident there's no need to call attention to the auto's benefits.

If attention were paid only to environmental criticisms of the auto, one would think it had no redeeming features.

A popular sport is to total up all of the possible cost incurred by society because of the auto and propose that the auto (or its owner) be made to pay for these costs. (He already does!) What is never said however is that the auto provides tremendous benefits for which it is never given credit.

In Petaluma alone this budget year, our much maligned auto row will provide the city with over $3.5 million in sales tax. This represents over a third of the total sales tax collected. An yet, despite the ringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over the deplorable conditions of our streets, not one cent of this money, collected solely from auto owners, is earmarked for road repairs.

In addition, one cent of the sales tax on each dollar of gasoline purchased is also returned to the city. Again, not one cent is earmarked for street repairs.

How fair is it to blame the auto for the physical deterioration of our streets and yet not use the revenue from auto sales taxes and fuel taxes to help repair those streets? How fair is it to complain about all the parking lots needed for cars and yet still complain that there aren't enough parking spaces downtown?

It should also be noted that ALL the money made available from the state and federal governments for mass transit and bicycle paths comes from the various taxes on motor vehicles and their fuel. Those who most complain about the dominance of the auto as a transportation mode, never think to mention that their favorite alternatives depend on taxes from motorists to fund their existence. No transit operation could exist without the subsidies received from gas taxes or auto tolls. Few bike paths would be built without them.

So much for the monetary angle. What about quality of life?

Except for our San Francisco commuters, who uses the bus? It's mostly the young, the old and the poor, those who don't have access to an auto. All the rest of us use our cars. If those who promote transit would just use it, there would be full buses and free flowing streets and freeways.

How do most children get to school, by car. How is most shopping, visiting, recreation, etc. done, by car. Do we ever hear any significant public outcry for more buses or bike lanes? No, but we do hear the demand for more and better roads streets.

Perhaps the public, like the auto dealers, doesn't think it's necessary to let our elected officials know their priorities. Perhaps they might if they realized how much money that could be spent fixing and widening our streets is going to other purposes. Perhaps when they see how much of the money for the McDowell/Washington intersection reconstruction was spent for non-auto improvements they will understand.

Traffic congestion may be one of our biggest concerns but traffic congestion is the direct result of usefulness of the auto in our daily lives.


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