I am in my car, returning from a doctor’s appointment. It is no longer rush hour but I have been waiting through two cycles of a traffic light. I remember reading that the American Automobile Association calculated that a car burns a quarter-gallon of gas for every 15 minutes it spends idling.
I think about this and notice that all the cars within sight—mine included—bear only one person, the driver. Only one in a dozen cars has an additional passenger. I assume most people are driving to work. It suggests that the old adage that a man’s home is his castle has come to include a man’s (or woman’s) car, or van, or truck, or SUV.
The phrase comes from old English law and is believed to have first been declared by the 17th century jurist, Sir Edward Coke. It has become a cliché of sort implying one may do whatever one chooses in one’s own home. This, of course, is patently false and there is a flurry of exceptions. I can, within measure, do what I want in my domicile as long as it does not break the law or disturb my neighbor, injure another, produce illegal substances, promote violence or involve commercial sex.
In my car, I am allowed, within reason, to occupy the road, contribute to pollution, traffic, and rush hour madness.
Judging from the state of our roads and circulation, I’d posit that it’s time for this to change. I therefore offer a simple—and of course elegant—solution that, as far as I can see, has no downside.
In recent times where I live, the departments of transportation have deemed that the local high-traffic, high-speed highways should have designated express toll lanes for those of us with spare cash and in a hurry. This is not a solution; it’s a giant step sideways.
The basic flaw is that the better-off drivers, who can afford to pay the toll, also can afford to buy newer cars that run cleanly and offer higher-miles-per gallon. The people who can’t pay a toll of five dollars or more each way to get to and from work, more often than not drive older, more polluting and gas guzzling vehicles. They’re the ones running late, sitting in traffic and emitting noxious fumes. What we’re doing with express lanes is essentially offering a subsidy to the wealthier at the cost of the poor. Does this sound familiar?
Here’s a possibility. Let’s give vans to good drivers willing to ferry others to and from work. Additionally, let’s give them gasoline coupons and allow them to employ the vans for personal use during the off hours and weekends. The automakers whose vans are selected for use will be happy. Traffic and pollution will diminish, and the roads will undergo less wear and tear. There will be fewer instances of road rage and less need to police traffic. Riders will not endanger others by texting and driving. The roads will be made safer, easier to use, and speedier. Additionally, the average car owner will put fewer miles on the family vehicle. An add-on option would be to give tax breaks to van commuters.
Did I say there would not be a downside? I was mistaken; there is. The oil companies will sell less gas, but this will be offset by the gas allotments given to van drivers. The giant corporations that build and mend roads might lose some business if there is less wear and tear on our highways, but they’re ingenious devils who’ll find other ways to make money. They might, for example, stop fixing potholes with materials that break down every winter (thereby guaranteeing more work each year) and, like some European nations, use rubber from recycled tires to patch the roads. Just an option…
Times have changed. The traffic in urban centers has become unbearable and we all suffer for it. We drive longer and longer distances to get to and from work and further pollute an increasingly fragile ecosystem. More roads is not the answers, fewer cars is.