Yglesias, missing the entire point of the damn car

If you imagine a taxi without a human driver, then the main cost is fuel. And cheap fuel is what electric vehicles are really good at. So in the morning a fleet of EVs will meet various peak-time commuters and take them to work. Then during the day, some of the EVs will be shuttling people around on nonpeak trips of various kinds while others are charging. Then there\’s the big evening peak commute, and then you go back into off-peak mode. This whole fleet of cars designed for intracity travel never needs to develop even the range that the Model S has today. Yes, people will also want to take longer trips. And those trips will require some different vehicle. Maybe one with a higher capacity battery, maybe one with an internal combustion engine. But the vast majority of the car trips people take are short. The entire range problem with electric vehicles is because people want to own one car that meets all their car needs. But that \”one person, one vehicle\” paradigm is purely an artifact of the assumption that the vehicle\’s owner needs to drive the car.

Sigh.

One of the greatest advances in human freedom was that very individual ownership of the car. For the first damn time in history the working man had something that was his, not communal, not familial, but his, which would transport him to and from work….or the pub, his inamorata, the seaside, the fish and chip shop.

FFS, the Model T was responsible for more non-virgin marriages than any previous invention in history other than Viking raids.

Yes, we could meet our transport needs by a communally, or state, or corporately owned fleet. But not the freedoms and liberties we\’ve become used to, no.

43 comments on “Yglesias, missing the entire point of the damn car

  1. “One of the greatest advances in human freedom was that very individual ownership of the car. For the first damn time in history the working man had…..”

    Surely the bicycle beats the car in this regard. The bike gave the working man freedom and transport to work and the pub and the next town all a good 50-70 years before he’d be able to afford a car.

  2. Are you really in favour of the free market? Is it economically efficient to have whatever yglesias is proposing, or whatever you are proposing? (I don’t really know what either are proposing.). But see FT today – car mileage for Londoners 16-29 has fallen 50% since 1996. 33% for same age group outside London. That’s what’s happening with your beloved free market. Why not rejoice in it?

    I’m not trolling here. If changes make car ownership less attractive, what is the problem? I completely agree that personal car ownership is convenient and liberating – I own a little used one. But is it economic? Let the market decide.

  3. PS I agree with Shinsei. Cycling organisations also campaigned for better roads, so that when cars became more affordable, there was somewhere to drive them.

  4. Just for once. I’m in agreement with Luke here. What’s the big deal with owning a car? The point of the thing is to get places. When it’s not performing that function, it’s a pain in the ass. Just finding somewhere to park can be difficult & damned expensive. If I returned to London I’d be giving serious thought about whether to bother. Cab around & about. Rent for specific trips. And rent the right vehicle for the purpose. Little hatchback for short trips. Big load carrier when there’s stuff to tote or folks along. Maybe a sports convertible for a run to the coast. Not sure it mightn’t even be cheaper, overall.
    But then I got over the car as personality prop years back. I don’t need 4 alloy wheels & shiny paintwork to reassure myself who I am. It’s just a tool. And it’s not as if driving in the UK’s pleasurable, is it?

  5. I went to North Korea in the late 90s. One of the more startling observations was the lack of bicycles. Especially noticeable as had just been in China which was awash with bikes, even in middle of rural nowhere.

    I assumed that bikes were, if not banned, actively discouraged as they provided freedom and information.

    You can cycle to the next village and see that their electricity is also down (and it isn’t just a “faulty cable” in your village as you are told by the state). You can cycle to town and foment dissent.

  6. Well, okay, if you live in a flat 40 seconds from everybody you’ve ever cared about, with all the shops you’ll ever need within 2 minutes walking distance and sumptuous and inexpensive public transport …

    But, Luke, as you never seem to tire of pointing out to us, we haven’t all made the same perfect life choices as you.

    Anyway – back to the article. Err, yes, Matt. We know. In the not-yet-the-future world we have a similar thing. They’re called “taxis”.

  7. And it’s not as if driving in the UK’s pleasurable, is it?

    Not all of the UK is London, no matter what the moron-box insists … Driving up here, in the frozen north, can really be quite fun. Even from home to the supermarket.

  8. If you imagine a taxi without a human driver, then the main cost is fuel.

    Is it? Really?

    A taxi – let’s say it costs £30k. And you sell it on when it’s a bit tatty for half that. Even my grotty Volvo gets 500+ miles on £70ish of go-juice. You’ve got to do over 100,000 miles to make fuel a greater cost than depreciation. And the taxi’s run on diesel, are even geared to perform better in their normal running, etc, etc.

    And electric cars aren’t in the slightest cheap – the bottom end Prius goes for nearly £22k – and that’s hardly taxi suitable – just try getting a wheelchair in.

    Of course, if your fuel is cheaper, than just makes depreciation an even more significant part of the overall cost.

  9. SE,
    “Well, okay, if you live in a flat 40 seconds from everybody you’ve ever cared about, with all the shops you’ll ever need within 2 minutes walking distance and sumptuous and inexpensive public transport …”

    I have a car , which I largely use to visit “everybody [I] have ever cared about”. I am well aware of the liberating effects of the car -it’s great for fishing.

    I’m also aware of the sheer enjoyment of driving in t’North. I passed test, didn’t drive for 10 years till I hired a car in Scotland for work, and actually enjoyed driving for the first time ever.

    But so what? Lot’s of things are fun. We have to decide what we’ll pay for them, and some people (possibly an increasing number) decide not to pay for cars.

    You can get home delivery now – Tesco, Occado etc.

  10. We have to decide what we’ll pay for them, and some people (possibly an increasing number) decide not to pay for cars.

    That’s fine. Let them decide.

    You can get home delivery now – Tesco, Occado (sic) etc.

    Indeed and, if you are both sufficiently metronomic (metro-economic) not to have any good ideas when you are wandering around the supermarket trying to work out where they’ve hidden the Worcestershire Sauce and sufficiently uncaring about the size of “1 x baked potato”, then, go on, let them shop for you.

    We tried it. We went back to shopping for ourselves. Oh, and please, the supermarket was an example – although coming out of the woods on the A872 and seeing the Ochils in the sunrise is really nice.

  11. SE, I suspect I am less of a modern, net-savvy, on-line saving shopper than you. (Hint, I like bookshops, and have never bought food or grocery on line). But I have to pay for that (and my inefficiency regarding car hire/car clubs that leads me to own my own car).

    Just like you have to weigh the advantages of living in the middle of nowhere (I’m not sneering, I like the countryside) against the downsides. You choose – cheap car insurance (for example) against not needing to own a car. Free market…

  12. the advantages of living in the middle of nowhere (I’m not sneering

    But you clearly don’t know where you might be coming from to see the Ochils in the sunrise. Unless, of course, anywhere outside the M25 is the “middle of nowhere”.

    Hint, I like bookshops

    Oh good. Lovely for you. You really have no idea, do you …

  13. What SE said. Also, on the politics of car ownership: councils that try to penalise people for driving – the ones that are overly fond of speed cameras, speed bumps, one-way systems, punitive town centre parking charges and so on – tend to be the ones who want to restrict your freedom in other ways too, by snooping in your bins, monitoring primary school children for “racism” and whatnot.

    Just as poisonous insects often have yellow and black markings, anti-car sentiment in politicians is a useful warning sign that they’re probably jumped little fascists.

  14. SE, it is certainly true that I have no idea what you are talking about. I’m sure the Ochills look great, but what does that have to do with car sharing?

  15. Steve, evidence?

    (Again I have some sympathy, which will be misinterpreted, but here goes – I have had numerous parking tickets and/or problems parking in tiny Dorset and Devon towns. Sorry, I don’t really need to go there and spend my money, why make it do difficult?)

  16. Steve, ” What SE said. Also, on the politics of car ownership: councils that try to penalise people for driving…tend to be the ones who want to restrict your freedom in other ways too, by snooping in your bins….”

    I live in the socialist republic of islington. No bin snooping. Where do you have in mind? Name the boroughs.

  17. We own cars for the convenience. Going when we want, going where we want.
    The price is high.

    Up to us if we choose to pay the price. Compared to taxis and buses, its very convenient. Bus to hospital is two buses, daily cost £3.90 but needing to set out about 2 hours before appointment. Taxi to hospital is £8, needing to set out maybe 25 minutes before appointment (taxi not always on time).
    Car to hospital means setting off about 15 minutes before appointment – and parking is between £1 and £6 at the hospital.

    Different costs, different convenience.

  18. “. . .So in the morning a fleet of EVs will meet various peak-time commuters and take them to work. ”

    So he’s talking about buses then? I mean we already have the technology to do what he wants – the only problem is that nearly all people don’t want what he wants.

    I certainly don’t want to pay exhorbitant prices to cover the maintenance and cleaning fees for this fleet of his – can you imagine how filthy these vehicles would be?

  19. “If you imagine a taxi without a human driver, then the main cost is fuel.”

    Actually, the US government reckons that the main cost is wear, tear and depreciation on the vehicle, not fuel. Federal employees driving their own cars in the line of duty get reimbursed at a rate of 55 cents a mile, whereas the cost of gas runs about 13 – 20 cents a mile, depending on whether you’re driving in the city or on the highway.

    So, less than half and more like one quarter if you’re driving on the highway.

  20. SE, at least where I live, taxis are usually run for at least 800,000 kms, sometimes up to a million. Because they’re running constantly, there isn’t as much engine wear as in personal driving. From the chats I’ve had about this with drivers, I’m not sure whether fuel or servicing would be the main cost (major service every three weeks, transmission replaced with a refurb about every six months, maybe ten sets of tires over life). Depreciation pretty minor compared to those.

  21. maguro, you’re not wrong, but see above for how this changes for a vehicle running virtually round the clock. Fuel rises as a proportion of the cost, wear and tear and depreciation go down. Based on some really rough figures in my head, about half and half (say $20-25k fuel a year, about the same for all other costs). So fuel becomes the biggest individual vehicle running cost.

    Of course, this is Melbourne, where we have a strictly limited number of taxis allowed (a taxi plate costs, on the private market, about $500k, which should tell you something about their scarcity, and there are no new ones). Which has two implications – they really do run 24/7 (in busy times you just can’t get one), and servicing the mortgage is the biggest cost of all.

  22. Oh, and a third implication – electric taxis wouldn’t work here without deregulating the licensing system. The first Friday/Saturday night would see every taxi stalled and out of charge from ferrying drunken city-goers home. No time to charge. Of course, that’s a political problem, not a technical one.

  23. I’m with Luke on this one, because as he’s correctly identified, even if he didn’t make it explicit, the fact is that cars are absolutely rubbish at providing personal mobility. Sure, they get the job done, but the cost is ridiculous. The biggest problem is the ridiculous overkill inherent in keeping one car for lots of different jobs.

    Vanishingly few people drive more than about 20-30 miles a day in the UK. Trips of more than 100 miles are rare as anything (as a proportion of all trips). Why do we all drive around in cars capable of doing those things comfortably? Why don’t most people own a ‘car’ – think voiturette, perhaps – for the local trips, and rent for the occasional longer-distance trips?

    The whole set-up is an irrational market – that is, one not based on the principle we’re analysing for – interfered with by stupid legislation. Of course it’s a mess.

  24. Because, Dave, they do get the job done and the inconvenience cost of the alternatives is too high. Ok, you could rent for the rare out of city trip. But that requires planning ahead, picking up the rental, getting it back on time. Whereas with my own car, I can make an impulse decision to visit my friends 100kms away for the weekend, and just go. If I decide to stay on an extra night, I don’t have to ring the rental company. I live in an inner city suburb, and don’t drive much. But when I do, the time or cost difference between driving and alternatives would be punitive. A couple of months of short cab fares would pay my fixed costs for owning a car for a year. Mileage is not the issue. I’ll bet, even as people drive less distance, the rate of car *ownership* is not dropping much.

    Are you really in favour of the free market? Is it economically efficient to have whatever yglesias is proposing, or whatever you are proposing?

    See, what Luke is getting wrong here is that a free market should necessarily lead to the most economically efficient outcome (by his definition). It’s perfectly rational for me to trade some waste in maintaining a personal car in return for increased flexibility. That is a result of market choices, and why most people own their own cars. Which is all Tim was trying to say. Luke is raising a bullshit argument, saying we should ignore previous experience of people’s preferences, then turning that into ‘you’re laughing at someone’s alternative, you don’t really believe in free markets, hah!” If we were trying to get it banned, that might be a fair criticism. *No* one has said that, least of all Tim. But of course Luke assumes that opposition means ‘I want it legislated against’. Don’t agree with him, you’ll only encourage him.

  25. Just as poisonous insects often have yellow and black markings, anti-car sentiment in politicians is a useful warning sign that they’re probably jumped little fascists.

    This.

  26. I’ve been desperate to ditch my car for at least three years in favour of a ZipCar. For my usage levels it would be much much cheaper and far less hassle.

    Unfortunately, despite living in London, the nearest ZipCar is streets away and the number of them has fallen in the last couple of years around here.

    The point of transport, for me, is being transported when and where I want to go. Not the make, model or ownership of the vehicle.

  27. The point of transport, for me, is being transported when and where I want to go.

    For which, the only good answer we have right now is owning your own vehicle. Or you can go Zipcar and cope with the inconveniences. The make and model is irrelevant. The ownership is.

    Hello, Luke, evidence of the shared vehicle model failing the free market test here, he’d like to get rid of his vehicle but the alternatives aren’t good enough. Anything to say?

  28. Ltw

    “It’s perfectly rational for me to trade some waste in maintaining a personal car in return for increased flexibility. That is a result of market choices, and why most people own their own cars.” I agree (I make the same trade -off myself)

    My point is that a standard Tim post is one where he takes some lefty/greeny Guardian sacred cow, and points out that it may be nice/desirable/have sentimental value but (a) it has costs/undesirable consequences (green belt, minimum wage) and/or (b) it has been superseded by technology (traditional high street) and/or (c) if you look at people’s actions rather than words, they don’t really value it that much (high street again).

    I’m just querying whether he is applying the same hard headed rigour here. Yes, the freedom/convenience of having your own car is great, but (a) it has costs (b) the benefits aren’t what they were due to changed environment (congestion etc) (c) the costs of *not* having one (inconvenience etc) are coming down (and might come down massively) due to Ocado, car clubs etc, and (d) if you look at what young people are doing, they are delaying their driving tests, so they don’t seem to value the benefits of driving, let alone car ownership, as highly as they used to. Whether this will lead to Yglesian car pooling Utopia is of course another matter.

    I suspect that Tim is influenced by a desire for everyone to be ruggedly self-reliant, whether or not that’s what people actually want, and whether or not such rugged self-reliance has costs or unforeseen consequences, and whether or not technical change has made some communal arrangements more practical.

  29. @Stuck-Record: I’ve been with ZipCar for about 3 years and am desperate to ditch it for my own car. Even though there’s one a 2 minute walk from my house.

    The costs are actually a lot higher than they seem since you have to book more time than you need just to ensure that if you get stuck in traffic you don’t get hit with a fine.

    You also get through the 40-mile per rental allowance pretty quick even if you’re just running about town.

  30. “If you imagine a taxi without a human driver, then the main cost is fuel. And cheap fuel is what electric vehicles are really good at.”

    If you ignore the ridiculously high fixed cost of EVs. The premium price of electrics far exceeds the savings in fuel cost. I call BS.

  31. Cheap fuel for electric vehicles is only cheap until all cars run on electric. Then electric will rise in price due to the demand and the cost of fuel for EV will be back to where it is for fossil fuel powered vehicles.

  32. “…the fact is that cars are absolutely rubbish at providing personal mobility. Sure, they get the job done, but the cost is ridiculous. The biggest problem is the ridiculous overkill inherent in keeping one car for lots of different jobs.”

    Bullshit.

    One of the biggest advantages of “overkill” is precisely the fact that the “overkill” car can do lots of different jobs when needed. The fact that those once-in-a-while jobs are once-in-a-while doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want your car to do them. Yeah, 90% of the time I’m the only one in my car, but the other 10% of the time I’m hauling one to four clients to lunch or a work site or some such thing. The last thing I want is some farty little Smart Car that doesn’t allow me to do what I need to do at the moment.

    The simple fact is that Matty Yglesias is a moron. He grew up in New York City and now works in Washington, D.C. Two place where you can get by (perhaps) without a car. Especially if your job is “blogging” for the room temperature I.Q.s at Slate. There are those of us who need a versatile car at our beck and call in order to make our living the way we do. Matty, in his ignorance, imagines everyone driving to a factory or office at precisely 8am and leaving it for home at precisely 5pm. It doesn’t work that way, and if he was less of a dumb fuck, he’d know that.

  33. In the end, it comes down to CONTROL.

    Morons like Yglesias just can’t imagine the masses being smart enough about their own lives to get by without his guidance.

  34. “…if you look at what young people are doing, they are delaying their driving tests, so they don’t seem to value the benefits of driving, let alone car ownership, as highly as they used to.”

    Oh yeah. Right. And those hipsters are still living in the basements of their parents’ homes and walking to their minimum wage job as a barrista at Starbucks.

  35. “Just as poisonous insects often have yellow and black markings, …”

    Struck a chord with me, too.

    When I’m Lord Protector I think all socialists will be required to wear yellow and black hooped shirts to indicate that they are nasty poisonous little bastards.

  36. My car is certainly a means of transportation, but it’s also a portable storage cabinet. It contains half-a-dozen boxes of tools, cables and equipment that I use every now and then. They live in my car, so that I have them when I need them. It also contains the books-on-CD that I have borrowed from the local library, a spare pair of shoes and a coat. I want to have those things with me when I travel, but I don’t want to have to remember to take them with me, or to arrange for somewhere to leave them at my destination.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>