TRAFFIC congestion, concern for the environment, population shifts from rural and suburban areas to urban centers, the rise of car-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, and the prospect of self-driving vehicles would, many people predicted, send sales of personal automobiles into a downward death spiral.
But that hasn’t happened. In fact, “personal car ownership in the U.S. has actually increased in the past 10 years, even in the frenzied urban places where Uber and car-share have become verbs,” Wired reported. “The death of cars,” the online magazine concluded, “was greatly exaggerated.”
Indeed, a study by Schaller Consulting found that “the roller coaster induced by the recession and recovery has leveled off, and now the rate of car ownership is the same as it was before.” Student debt-laden millennials, who put off car buying during the recession out of necessity, are apparently purchasing personal autos now that the economy has improved, jobs are plentiful, and many of them now have small children to tote around.
And it turns out that car-sharing apps, which added 5.7 billion driving miles to the clogged streets in the nine largest metro areas of the nation, actually took ridership away from mass transit while car ownership increased even faster than the urban population.
Sixty percent of people who used a car-sharing app said that they would have “taken public transportation, walked, biked or not made the trip,” while the remaining 40 percent would have driven their own car or called a taxi. Consultants concluded that these services are “used instead of personal autos mainly when parking is expensive or difficult to find and to avoid drinking and driving,” but they are “not generally competitive with personal autos on the core mode-choice of speed, convenience or comfort.”
In March 2017, hedge fund founder Olivier Garrett predicted in Forbes that there would be “10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020.” Well, 2020 is about two months away, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak now says he himself was “suckered in” by Tesla’s promise to deliver a fully autonomous self-driving car, and that now he doesn’t expect one to be produced “in my lifetime.”
This should come as no surprise to commuters in the Fredericksburg region, the vast majority of whom drive to work every day, because even with all the hassles of driving, cars are still faster, more convenient and more comfortable than any of the alternatives.
But it should be a wake-up call for Virginia policy makers and legislators who put off making the necessary investments in the commonwealth’s aging highways, roads and bridges, perhaps in hopes that the use of personal autos would taper off and they could spend the money on other priorities instead.
That obviously didn’t happen. Most people still choose to drive, even in urban centers where mass transit and ride-sharing are ubiquitous. And in more suburban and rural areas, cars are still the number one mobility choice for the vast majority of Virginians, and will likely continue to be so for a long time to come.