A car to improve lives

What is that famous definition of an intelligent person? Someone who can keep two contradictory ideas in mind without her head exploding? Here is pretty interesting test of this for our more thoughtful anti-car friends.  And yes of course, your comments, caveats, etc. are warmly welcome. Let’s turn this one around a bit and have a look at it in the cold light of day.

A car to get them off welfare and improve their lives in Baltimore

– Source: Toll Roads News.

The Baltimore Sun’s transport report Michael Dresser has a great story this week about a Baltimore charity called Vehicles for Change (VfC) that is enriching the lives of transit-dependent people by getting them a car. 24-year old Karyn Wilmer a single mother with a 2-year old calls a 1998 Honda she got from VfC “almost a miracle for me,” the car has so radically improved her life. The car had enabled her to get work because transit to the workplace was impossible.

Recipients of the donated cars said that their new mobility enabled them look after children better and to shop better.

Vehicles for Change organized a promotional event recently called “Walk in their Shoes” in the car recipients left their cars at home for one day and retracted their walks and transit rides on typical trips they had to make when carless.

Reporters and officials traipsed along on the long walks to the bus stop and then waited around for the buses which rarely ran to schedule, then the awkward routine of folding the stroller and hoisting it and child up into the bus while maneuvering coins and bills for the fare.

The Sun report quotes a survey that showed 70% of recipients of cars said they made thousands increase in income in the year after they’d got a car. Children benefited in less monetary ways, being able to be taken more places than transit makes convenient.

Recipients rent the cars typically for $75/month. Often after a couple of years they’ve made enough extra income to be able to afford their own. A good rent payment record is accepted by local banks as a credit positive.

No comment from the transit enthusiasts or those who want to “get people out of their cars.”

OUR (Toll Roads) COMMENT: Carlessness in the modern world is a form of transit-slavery, a scourge which true progressives and liberals will oppose. Programs like Baltimore’s Vehicles for Change enabling people of limited means to get cars deserve support.



testimonials from grateful recipients of cars: http://vehiclesforchange.org/testimonials.html

TOLLROADSnews 2011-10-06

– Thanks to Paul Minett for the heads up on this

PS. I cannot understand why this terrible treatment of a seemingly well-intentioned (?!?) idea is not getting more ironic comment and attack.  “Carlessness in the modern world is a form of transit-slavery, a scourge . . . ” indeed.

11 thoughts on “A car to improve lives

  1. Is this really any different from a not uncommon situation where a family member gives another their used car, maybe for a small payment, or requirement to have the brakes done etc.?

    Though probably most of the clients of this program would not inherit a vehicle from a previous – and possibly more economically-struggling – generation, it seems quite problematic if the end goal is based on “….Often after a couple of years they’ve made enough extra income to be able to afford their own…”

    So my suggestion is that this org. should get some help to do a 2.0 version based on finding 10 to 20 people in area a couple miles max. in diameter who can share a vehicle (or one smaller one, and a truck, etc.) supported by a low- or high-tech carsharing system. The other surplus vehicles can go to truly rural-based clients with any income used for folding bikes, Greyhound or Amtrak tickets, and so on.

  2. Some may remember it was only a a few years ago that Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute) calculated that GIVING low income people households a Prius would have a net societal benefit.


  3. I don’t think there is any dispute that a car will improve people’s lives if they have inadequate alternative transport options. What I do believe is that a society has a duty to provide transport options which will enable people to avoid having to own a car, and that if this is done then overall societal welfare will be inversely correlated with car ownership other things being equal.

    Dave Brook said that giving poor people a Prius would improve overall societal welfare as if this was unexpected. Surely giving poor people anything would improve overall societal welfare ? Some free marketeers might say that it would be better to give them the money and let them choose what they spend it on, and although I’m not a free marketeer I’d agree in this case.

    Incidentally there is a similar scheme in the UK involving mopeds rather than cars and targeted at young people in rural areas, called “Wheels to Work”.
    However when I once saw an article about the scheme giving the viewpoint of one of its beneficiaries I noticed that the person in question could have got to work and back by train given a very minor improvement in the local train service, and said so in a letter to the relevant magazine which was published.

    My basic objection to the scheme is that in areas where public transport is inadequate it undermines the residual market, and if this leads to service cuts there is no assurance that the gain in welfare for the beneficiary is not outweighed by the loss for remaining users. And this is before one even considers pollution, climate change, danger etc.

    Simon Norton

  4. It is not only in deepest rural areas that the problems arise. Many who know West London and its adjacent areas will be well aware of the radial bias in public transport – East West and generally you have a core route (but even then not a good general coverage*) yet try North-South and you are really in trouble – we have the ‘sticking plaster’ of bus and coach links to Heathrow Airport, largely due to the failure to build the airport with a railway line through it. A comparision in modal split shouts when we compare the rail share of Gatwick and to a lesser extent Birmingham Airports (served by through services to many destinations) with Stansted and Heathrow (dead-ends) or Glasgow/Edinburgh messy changes of mode, required. I see the same with NHS wringing therir hands about the cost and problems with car parking yet picking crass locations (Glasgow Southern General is a supreme example – it should have used the vast areas of dereliction East of Glasgow’s High Street which sit across rail lines that put most of the area within a 30-40 minute train ride on existing scheduled services, or with an existing rail line that can be used for passenger trains. Peter Fuller, when with Borders Council pulled off a master stroke with the Borders Hospital by providing a ‘bus only’ back gate that enabled operators to route all main road services through the hospital site without the time penalty of a cul-de-sac spur – which will often cost extra buses on a route to maintain the frequency. It is a joy to sit in the WRVS tea room in the main reception hall and realise that you can sit in comfort to watch the buses arrive and walk out to catch them.

    Only when the costs of transport choice are pulled in to a complete account will we get some realism in thinking of planners and administrators. There are a few signs appearing – in Glasgow we have car parks with banners advertising added value (car valet service) and discounted rates, £40m of UK taxpayers money was spent on building car parks at 17 stations, in anticipation of need but at present one site has a 40% discount on the planned prices, and has 1-2 levels unfilled for much of the time – all this with one site costing £83,333 per space to add just 30 places – and a daily charge for parking which will never amortise spending on this scale. My latest observation is at Coleshill Parkway – a station with a 24 hour staff presence but not for ticket sales or passenger information – its the security guard employed by the station owner – not Network Rail the UK infrastructure company, but John Laing, and the site is managed by London Midland – the train operator who have no trains serving the station, they are provided by Cross Country Trains (who operate no stations), and the car park has the ticket machines taped up with vast banners advertising Free Parking …
    until September 2015! A brilliant example of the dysfunctionality of the divided up operation of the UK rail (and transport) system (and barely a couple of Km from the proposed Bickenhill Interchange station on the HS2 railway line). To emphasise this further Coleshill has perhaps one of the longest ‘Station Road’s I’ve seen in the UK (OK so its no Younge Street for those in Toronto to pull out as the daddy of all longest streets)

    To swing back to the car issue we have a dismal take-up of the £5000 bung (legitimate bribe?) to buy electric cars for private use, and a lurching demand for private car ownership, but the car club model should play beautifully into the electric vehicle model. Car clubs would offer intensive use of the expensive vehicles, and at the same time make their use affordable to the individual user, the car club regime of fleet management would see renewals and recycling managed to get optimum life from batteries and charging equipment, and placing a core order programme to provide a stable market/production model, which by happy circumstance will also require less special promotional expenditure to target the private buyer.

    Oh and meanwhile we have overloaded diesel trains with a government decision never to order any new ones, and a failure to order any new trains at all for over 900 days (yes nearly 3 years with plenty of fine words but no signatures on the contracts or cheques). Enjoy!

    Dave Holladay

    *Travel Plan specialist working with one West London site near to Hanwell/Greenford found that it was still faster and more convenient to get to Park Royal and Slough at peak times by private car, than the convoluted routes they had to use with Public Transport!

    More than ever this also makes the clear case for a clean sheet on building a new airport for London, and the only location for this that makes sense is East of Southend, served by a through rail line (looping from London to Ipswich – possibly via Felixstowe or Harwich to deliver connections to Peterborough for the North & Midlands).

  5. Here, here! Exactly right. The real benefit to the households is having improved transportation options. Probably in most places in Europe a transit pass would actually be more useful. But it’s good example of “resource allocation” – the nonprofit (NGO) gets the cars for free through donation and puts them to good use. That’s great. One could argue that bus and train companies actually have a similar “unused” resource – empty seats. But designing a special program to help fill those seats at their marginal cost would be quite a challenge.


    • I have to say Dave that I am not at all sure about that. It surprises me, given that you are one of the important innovators of the concept of CarSharing, that you did not think about this as something which could be handled through a concept which would combine the car, CarSharing, and ride sharing. Now that is, with a little support from our friends, could make a contribution both in terms of mobility, affordability and environment. For my part I would love to get involved in a project which would combine CarSharing and ride sharing for poor people and poorer sections of the country. For example in my home state of Mississippi where there is a lot that could be done with such an approach to poor whites and poor blacks who for sure would be offered better mobility and fewer cars.

  6. I dare say that in areas like West London the lack of a car can cause problems, but I should be surprised if these problems were ever so big as to cause major loss of employment opportunities, which, we’re told, is happening in Baltimore.

    At the Conservative Party conference an announcement was made that unemployed people will be punishable with loss of benefit if they refuse jobs within 90 minutes commute. In other words, this is considered a reasonable commuting time by our government. I am sure that one can get pretty much anywhere to anywhere within a sector of London in this sort of time.

    That isn’t to say that we don’t need big improvements. Transport campaigners have proposed a light rail network for North-West London which would link several important areas, including the industrial estates in Park Royal mentioned by Dave Holladay. And as he says, our planning system has allowed developments such as hospitals in transport discriminatory locations.

    Coleshill Parkway is interesting in another way. When it opened it had buses every 15 minutes to Birmingham Airport, fanning out to provide 4 services, each hourly, to different surrounding towns. I cited it as an example of good practice in rail/bus coordination, as against (say) East Midlands Parkway station which has no buses at all except an occasional service on route 65 — the route between Nottingham and East Midlands Airport goes past nonstop. Now, following local authority cuts, the service between Coleshill Parkway and Birmingham airport is down to half hourly, all journeys to places beyond require a change at Coleshill, 2 of the 4 routes have disappeared completely and a 3rd is now only occasional.

    I have commented on the contrast between the 5000 pound bribe for those with 25,000 further pounds to spare to buy an electric car, and the cuts to bus service support, which in Cambridgeshire has been about 5 pounds per person per year. In Hartlepool, which summarily abolished all bus subsidies, there is a case of someone who has to pay 11 pounds EVERY DAY for a taxi to visit a frail relative and as a result can only do so 3 days a week.

    One could argue that concessionary bus passes are a way of making socially worthwhile use of spare capacity on buses.

    Finally I’d like to mention an article on commuting in the US that I came across through another e-group: . The comments on it, both from the UK and the US, are worth looking through.

    Simon Norton

  7. I heartily concur with Eric Britton’s suggestion that carsharing and ridesharing should be included in the transportation options a low-income household is offered. I suspect that many households don’t really need a car, just better access to transportation options. Others, particularly those with difficult commutes would find a vehicle beneficial

    If vehicles are offered to these households they should certainly be encouraged to enroll them in a P2P carsharing scheme, as well a dynamic ridesharing system, such as Avego. This would enable them to earn a little extra cash while getting on with their lives. Whether they have the bandwidth to manage all this technology, in addition to keeping the car running, is another question.

  8. Below is an old blog entry. FWIW, in fiscal year 2010 I served as bike and ped planner in Baltimore County, Maryland (grant funded). At the time, the #1 transpo priority for the County Executive was to assist lower income households in acquiring a car. Adding to the fixed rail transit system was 3rd on the list of 4 items I seem to recall.

    The Baltimore region’s biggest problem is that it has two transit lines (one subway line, one light rail) and some commuter railroad service focused on Baltimore and DC but it doesn’t have a transit network. Without a transit network you can’t realize substantive transit use and you can’t generate the kinds of land use changes that increase returns and benefits to transit.

    I wrote an internal paper outlining a much more systematic approach to fixed rail transit connection and expansion for Baltimore County for the Master Plan group. Nothing made it into the Master Plan. I was told later that the County Executive Budget Office (“inter-agency review”) deleted everything related to transit from the Master Plan because it would cost money. Transpo. planning had been removed from the Office of Planning many years before. In the DPW, transpo planning is mostly traffic modeling. At my goading the then director of the planning office tried to make a play to get transpo planning back, but the move was denied by the County Executive’s office.

    Richard Layman

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005
    A really really bad article in the Washington Monthly

    “To be a fully functioning citizen in this country today, a car is a virtual necessity; so the federal government should subsidize a set of wheels and the commute to work” even more than it already does, a minimum of $200 billion/year in the military budget related to maintaining access to foreign oil, 50% of the cost of roads, the provision of free parking to government workers, etc. (my points in bold)

    In “A Car In Every Garage,” the author argues that, especially to end poverty, the policy choice should be to give everyone a car, and she fails to address the factors, such as land use planning that allows job locations to be disconnected from efficient transit options, etc., which make car dependence a virtual necessity for many.

    And as the Location Efficient Mortgage program makes very clear, by not being auto-dependent, and living on transit lines, families can cut spending on transit and put that money into buying a house. (The average household spends up to 20% of its annual income on automobile-related transportation.)

    >From a brochure about the LEM : “People who live in location-efficient communities reap many rewards. Stores, schools, and public transit, all lie within walking distance of their homes. They have less need to drive, which gives them more discretionary income. They’re more likely to know their neighbors. Their frequent use of local amenities saves energy, which means cleaner air for us all!”

    So rather than deal with the issues of deconcentration, sprawl, gasoline dependence, the likelihood of peak oil, and the impact that this has on our society economically, spatially, culturally, and in terms of foreign policy choices (read: wars to ensure continued access to oil) she suggests everyone, particularly the poor, get a car.

    Hmm. So much for the pathbreaking nature of Washington Monthly.

    From the article:

    Among the many unpleasant realities exposed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath–from persistent income and racial disparities to the chronic incompetence of the Bush administration–one of the most surprising, to many, was this: our nearly total dependence on automobiles.

    Nowhere was this clearer than in the exodus from New Orleans itself. The difference between those who escaped with their lives and loved ones, and those who did not, often came down to access to a car and enough money for gas. Now, in the recovery stage, many of those who were left behind have been evacuated to trailer-park camps, where they are likely to be worse off than they were before, in part because they cannot get to where the jobs are.


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