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Should Law Subsidize Driving? (ssrn.com)
40 points by mlinksva 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments





>A century ago, captains of industry and their allies in government

>launched a social experiment in urban America:

>the abandonment of mass transit in favor of a new personal technology, the private automobile.

Way to start with a false premise. Before the automobile took over, overwhelming majority of traffic - both personal and commercial - was either by foot, on horseback, or on a horse drawn carriage. There's a reason "horseless carriage" is how the early cars were used, perceived, and legislated.

"Mass transit" was a limited thing mostly between cities - train and horse carriages, and in very limited numbers as inner city trams and metro. Going both by historical accounts, and by period photos, a tram or metro were not the default commute mode for most of workers.

If anything, the mass transit - tram and bus - exploded in range and popularity thanks to the availability of cheap technologies popularized by the car.


Could you be clearer about what kind of time frame and locality you're talking about here?

> tram and bus - exploded in range and popularity thanks to the availability of cheap technologies popularized by the car.

A lot of people would argue the opposite, see e.g. the alleged GM "streetcar conspiracy". That was in the postwar timeframe when personal car ownership and transitless suburbs took off.


>Could you be clearer about what kind of time frame and locality you're talking about here?

I'm thinking of the "A century ago" period, in concert with what the article starts off with. My perspective is primarily european cities of 200'000+ [1] inhabitants during the early XX century, as that's what I'm most familiar with.

Going by the two cities I spent my formative years in, the local mass transportation networks - tram and bus - were built out to great effect as part of, and thanks to, the general city rebuild spurred by the improving car availability and use in early (pre-war) XX century.

>GM's "streetcar conspiracy"

Salient point, however that happened decades after both the automobile traffic, and the modern mass transport were built out, established, and went through decades of use.

[1] back then that was a sizeable city


Between horse and automobile, the safety bicycle was the dominant mode of urban transport, by a huge margin.

self-horsing vehicles are now replaced by autoautomobiles

And if the car had never been invented, we’d bemoan the “health disaster” that is mass transit and how many people and kids it kills.

Which sort of mass transit and how many people does it kill, and how many of those are suicides?

Horses and horse drawn transport generated an huge amount of horse poo and was a major health risk also horse riding is dangerous.

The comment was talking about the "danger" of mass transit, not horses.

I think it was mass transit prior to cars they where talking about.

There was a good period of time where trains, trams, and underground trains (from 1863!) were available as "mass transit", while cars were either not invented or rare luxuries. I don't think it makes sense to include horses in that.

How many pedestrian/car deaths are suicides?

I understand that overall mass transit is safer, but it still kills people. Without cars you'd have far more people biking, walking, etc and there are deaths associated with that.

If we switched to mass transit entirely and it saved 20,000 lives per year, the US death rate would fall from 2.74 million deaths per year to 2.72 million deaths per year. And our cities would become mega-metropolises, and crime rates would likely increase (killing a few more of the people we saved). I'm sure in that world there would be enough other bad side affects that a lawyer could write a similar document about the ills of mass transit affecting health, race relations, personal safety, etc.

And we'd give up a huge amount of persona freedom. Through out most of known human history anyone who wasn't rich was unable to travel more than a few miles from their birth place, without joining an army that is. The car opened up the world for everyone to travel anywhere in this country.


I haven't read all 102 pages, but essentially the reasons that the author says US law subsidises driving are:

Killing someone in a car accident is not taken terribly seriously, especially is exacerbating factors such as alcohol consumptions are not present. Exacerbating factors other than alcohol are not taken seriously. This is at odds with the legal approach to accidental killing in virtually all other circumstances.

"Criminal law takes both unofficial and official cognizance of the inherent difficulty of driving safely. First, car crashes are rarely prosecuted as crimes even when fatalities result. Second, when they are, they often come within a special, lesser form of manslaughter created by law for instances where the instrument of unintended death is a fast, multi-ton machine rather than, say, a negligently thrown lawn dart"

Speed limits and other legal constraints on dangerous driving are chronically underenforced.

Roads and signal timings are engineered to maximise traffic flow, including the timing of pedestrian crossings in such a way that they can be dangerous for people with mobility restrictions. This is often driven by federal standards - so not law necessarily in this case but similar.

Crossing the street other than at a crosswalk is illegal in many places.

Federal funding for state energy conservation required the adoption of rules allowing turns on red, despite the fact that we know this leads to higher injury and death rates for vulnerable people.

In many places, the price of driving on streets is set at zero by law (local government can't charge congestion prices). It is actually quite rare to make such an intervention prohibiting charging for the use of a scarce and congested asset.

Land use law across the US favours private cars:

Municipal law in many places sets prices for street parking at zero outside urban centres. In some places state law limits municipal control of parking charging.

In many places zoning codes require the building of large amounts of parking which raises the cost of new building. It especially raises the costs of building new apartments and drives them farther apart. Effectively this makes it almost impossible to develop walkable centres - you're going to be paying for parking anyway and because of the distances created by these planning laws you will need a car. The density reducing effect of requiring so much parking makes bus systems either totally non-viable or so marginal in terms of service frequency that only the desperate use them. Services only used by poor people are never going to get any attention.

Emissions regulations focus on tailpipe emissions and neglect brake pad and tyre particulates.


> Speed limits and other legal constraints on dangerous driving are chronically underenforced.

It's worse than that. My commute features a lot of "bicycle traps" set up by local PD to catch bikes running red lights but virtually zero "traps" for rampant car behavior: texting, speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians.

A lot of your other points get Flat Earth style denial from car proponents: I had someone claim that transit was anti-environment. High density housing leads to unaffordability and shortages. It's maddening.


There might be good, practical, reasons for having made these choices but we need to remember that they are choices and that if we felt we needed to, we could change our mind on some of them.

These subsidies exist because for decades there was no reasonable alternative to owning and occasionally using a car, and no alternative to a community allowing car traffic on their streets. Since everyone is (or wants to be) a driver, and people need to be protected from the externalities created by driving (e.g., look both ways before crossing to avoid injury) you get the current system.

If you look at gas taxes, insurance regulation, and toll policies-- the subsidies aren't going to be rolled back. The unsafe, inefficient, and distant are protected from the consequences of their actions and choices.


> children, the poor, and people of color or with disabilities—pay the steepest price

I can see why disabled people, children and poor people are paying for this but how is "people of color" relevant here?


From what I get from skimming the paper he suggests that America's focus on cars might be related to the end of segregation, with cars allowing white people to just decide to live in a neighborhood with few black people. Effectively the policy shift towards cars enabled a new form of segregation.

Additionally "Experiments have found that motorists yield less often for people of color." (page 27).

But those are minor tangents in a 100 page rant about laws and enforcement (as well as victim blaming in traffic accidents)


Something of a secondary effect really, but the two things that immediately come to mind are "nonwhite people are less likely to afford cars" and "nonwhite people are more subject to discriminatory traffic stops that (in the US) sometimes escalate to lethal violence".

In general, highway infrastructure was routed through minority neighborhoods to bulldoze them to the ground.

Today, poor minorities get forced to live in the lowest value land, which is usually right alongside major roads. The lack of safe pedestrian facilities means that these neighborhoods have higher levels of pedestrian fatalities: https://www.inverse.com/amp/article/26210-pedestrian-deaths-...

Because they live alongside major roads, they also suffer from higher rates of respiratory disease from air pollution. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4454972/


> Cars are less likely to stop when people of color step into intersections, a study says.

https://www.npr.org/2017/02/15/515336658/researchers-examine...


Traffic stops by police leading to fatal or seriously bad outcomes (jail, property seizure).

You could also attempt to clumsily extrapolate PoC to mean "high crime neighborhood" or historically segregated/red-lined communities which would mean higher insurance rates or other ownership costs (parking, towing).


Personal transportation is wildly popular because it has greatly increased the freedom people have. Any activity that is as widespread is going to have its downsides.

This modern reinterpretation of blaming the state for cars being the main mode of transportation in the USA rather than people people choosing cars seems bizarre.

Is there any evidence of this? People buying and wanting to drive cars seems largely consumer driven not derived from state enforcement.


Consumer choices are made in some context. All things equals, I would rather have a car. But if society taxes me out of having a car (which it did), then I would have to sell/scrap my car and find arrangements to live without it. Luckily for me, that was possible.

I would say that pointing out to the laws that transfer car ownership costs to other people is a very important piece of information, even if the complete picture looks more like "Interest groups lobby for regulation that promote car ownership". It's good business for car makers, traffic insurance, health insurance, and the medical industry. It's bad for the pockets of low income people, and generally for everybody's wellbeing. The more concrete data people have about this, the better their chances to improve things...even if I would still consider those chances very slim.


In most of America it is illegal to build a pedestrian oriented town in the fashion of the old colonial New England towns or the small towns that dot railway lines along the east coast. In fact, in most of America it is illegal to build a building without parking at all, or a building with retail on the ground floor and apartments or offices on top. It is thus illegal to even consider alternate built environments for the majority of Americans and the choice is not available in the market to begin with.

The one signal we do have is price, and price per square foot in walkable neighborhoods is higher than in unwalkable ones. https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2014/06/17/a-citys-walkability-driv...


If zoning codes did not required the building to have large amounts of parking, there would be more people who would choose to drive cars - as parking would be expensive. There would also be more apartments on one place so public transport would be more likely to appear.

Had there be more crossing and people allowed to cross out of crossing where crossing is not available, more people would walk.

People choose to have or not have a car based on many factors.


I imagine fewer people would own cars if the money spent on roads had been invested in train tracks and subway tunnels.

Which laws in particular is it that the author things are subsidizing driving, that he concludes should be repealed?

There is a "download PDF" button. The author spends ~95 pages arguing that the interaction of various laws (or their (lack of) enforcement) create bad second-order effects. I doubt anyone will be able to summarize that in the space of a comment.

I was hoping that the conclusion/solution bits at the end of the PDF would at least have SOME sort of summary. Reading the introduction and the end carefully, but skimming the main bits, I'm not even sure whether the laws in question are e.g. tort law or traffic laws!

I think the author has a point, but buries it in long-winding text and footnotes (there are pages where less than a third of the text is footnotes, but they aren’t the majority)

Uber is the biggest loser, setting a record for losses of a startup. Silli-con billionaires have supported these losses (subsidized). Sustained losses are unsustainable. Uber presently keeps about 40% of ride cost. When uber raises prices and/or increases uber cut, competition will increase. Autonomous cars will not solve the problem and are a fantasy solution. I.e., no solution.

Uber's strategy is to eliminate all possibility of competition before raising prices.

Where I live, Uber is effectively banned and local alternatives are quietly doing much the same as Uber used to.

I don't see Uber being anywhere near beating anyone in Europe.


Are the local alternatives based on an app or a traditional taxi service?

My little town has a traditional taxi service that now also has an app. Not nearly as polished as Uber but... who cares, it gets the job done (getting me a taxi).

The only thing Uber has is a nice network, so that when I travel, odds are I’ll land somewhere with Uber and not have to think about taxis.

I think the ultimate end solution might be something like Uber but offered to any willing/interested taxi company, akin to Amazon and its marketplace. Join it, you get a free user base + a modern app that handles a ton of stuff for you, but at the end of the day, you’re still your own taxi company and not locked into anything.

Or, alternatively, sell “Uber app as a service” to all taxi companies so that they won’t even have to think about building one. It doesn’t get the same network benefits but it would move things forward for smaller taxi firms.



There's no way for them to build the kind of moat that would do that.

I was in a mid sized English industrial town a while ago where the local cab company had their own app. It wasn't quite as slick as uber but pretty close for a presumably whitelabeled app in a place like that. Ok, fine it's irritating to have to download a custom app for every city or town you might use a cab in but the reality is that the overwhelming volume of uber rides are in the city where the customer lives.


Yes my local minicab company (in the UK) has a very slick system for handling bookings without an app - you can even book a cab from your last two locations without speaking to the operator.

How would that happen?

Indeed. Not sure about US, but there were already a bunch (4 or 5) of alternatives before Uber came and I do not see them going anywhere.

Right on. Whenever some other offering enters the market with just slightly lower prices, I'll switch in a jiffy.

Who can afford to pay for more than 60% of the ride's cost?

Good morning, Mr. Betteridge.

Subverted in this case: if you read the abstract, you'll see that the expected answer is "no".

Betteridge's law says that if the title is a question the answer is no.

Usually the article wants you to think it's yes. Not in this case. That's the subversion. Ah well.

I see.

> ...and People of color pay the steepest price WTF?

I see that the tin foil hat conspiracy theorists are out in force today, trying sensationalist headlines in an affort to get people to pay for the subscription. Doesn't this violate this website's code of conduct or some such?

Bless the ruined internet where a common plebeian can make nonsensical, unprovable claims like "In the United States, motor vehicles are now the leading killer of children and the top producers of greenhouse gases." Not only is this sensationalist claim impossible to scientifically prove (and prove repeatably, which is the foremost requirement of the scientific method), but a single container supertanker generates as much pollution with just one trip as all the cars in the U. S. in an entire year, but hey!, "details-schmetails"...

And once again, no technology is discussed.


Here's some Google technology: https://goo.gl/images/jUnTNJ

Traffic Accidents are the leading cause of death from injury among young people. (Click on the other charts to find the one showing injury being #1 among all deaths in those age groups).

> and prove repeatably, which is the foremost requirement of the scientific method

No, nothing needs to be proven repeatedly. Once something is proven, you're done. Wikipedia: "A proof is sufficient evidence or a sufficient argument for the truth of a proposition."

Plebeian indeed...


This is not proof Sir, it's just a table. For something to be scientifically proven, the methodology has to be disclosed and it has to be repeatable, consistently. No amount of re-inventing the scientific method from first principles will help you, no matter how much this web site is "Hacker" "News" (:-)

Plebeian indeed!


Given your rant, a source would have been appropriate.

Don't get worked up over it, it's just an observation of the state of affairs, I don't have a tin foil hat.

I think the U. S. should have better public transportation infrastructure and more pedestrian sidewalks and, oh! drivers which actually comply with the law and stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings, but that's completely beside the point to this nonsensical "study".

That's just, like, my opinion man.


I just hoped for a citation on your surprising tanker claim.

Too lazy to search it for you (and I read it roughly seven years ago); use a search engine yourself. Really, the sense of entitlement in this place...

And if that with the tanker surprised you, maybe you should spend more time researching and less time reading sensationalist studies which hope to hook people into a subscription (:-) Just a suggestion (;-)




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