Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her latest book examines the lives of four past presidents to understand what it takes to lead in turbulent times. Their stories, she says, hold valuable lessons for today.
New car sales in the U.S. are at their highest level in eight years, but technology is changing Americans’ relationship with automobiles. Diane and her guests discuss the latest trends in driving and car-buying.
- Micheline Maynard Director, Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, Arizona State University; former Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times; author of the ebook, "Curbing Cars: America's Independence From The Auto Industry."
- Emily Badger Covers urban policy for The Washington Post's Wonkblog.
- Bill Visnic Senior editor, Edmunds AutoObserver.com
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. New auto sales in the U.S. are at their highest level in eight years, but technology and new economic realities are changing American's relationship to cars. Joining me to talk about the latest trends in driving and car-buying: Emily Badger of The Washington Post, joining us from a studio at WDET in Detroit, Mich., Bill Visnic of Edmonds.com, and by phone from Phoenix, Ariz., Micheline Maynard of Arizona State University.
MS. DIANE REHMShe's former Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times. And by the way, we'd like you to take our informal survey on the drshow website, that's drshow.org, about how you get around. I'll share the results of that survey at the end of today's program. And, of course, we'll be taking your calls throughout the show, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. EMILY BADGERGreat to be here.
MS. MICHELINE MAYNARDThank you very much.
MR. BILL VISNICThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all with us. Micheline, talk about the latest trends. Who's buying cars and is it an older generation replacing cars or is it a younger generation buying first cars?
MAYNARDWell, Diane, for the last 20 years or so, the baby boom generation has fueled, so to speak, the auto industry, and that's exactly what's happening now. Baby boomers remain the largest group of people who buy new cars and trucks. Millennials will eventually be the largest generation in the car market, but right now they're not really that represented.
MAYNARDOne thing to remember for the audience is that every year -- I believe we have about 160 million working adults. Every year, the auto industry sells to about 10 to 11 percent of the working adult population. So while it sounds like car sales are booming, there's still a much bigger market, much greater opportunities for the car companies than they're able to capture.
REHMSo, Emily, you're saying that this is sort of directly related to economic circumstances.
BADGERI mean, one of the things that we've wondered a lot about it is what's going on with Millennials. Why aren't they interested in getting driver's licenses in their late teens? Why are they less interested than their parents were in buying cars? And one theory sort of says, you know, these are young people who are coming of age, who are coming of car-buying age, during the recession at a time when they're less likely to have jobs.
BADGERThey're more likely to be unemployed. Perhaps what's going on here is they simply can't afford cars. But there's this sort of alternate theory, and I think we may not know the answer to it for several years now, but perhaps there's also just sort of a shift in preferences going on here where not only, you know, is it just that they can't afford to buy cars, but perhaps even if they could, they might be less interested in doing that than their parents were.
BADGERFor -- for a number of reasons. We see Millennials moving back into cities. The allure of living in cities is higher for Millennials. It's less necessary to own a car if you live in New York or if you live in Washington. The appeal of alternatives that didn't exist 10 years ago, like Zipcar, like Car To Go, these alternatives like Uber and Lift, there are a lot of ways to get around in a car without owning a car now, as well as things like Bikeshare or just bikes.
REHMAnd we'll talk about all that, but Bill, I gather the average number of miles Americans are driving has been declining in the last decade. That's even before this recession began. Do we know why that is?
VISNICWell, Diane, you know, I think there are, you know, also a variety of socio kind of economic factors at work there that have dictated, you know, sort of a plateauing, at least, anyway of miles driven. I do think the, you know, growing urbanism, I think, of working age adults is certainly a factor in that equation. But there are other things, too.
VISNICI mean, one thing I think that does factor into the, you know, generational aspect of -- when you mentioned about Millennials not being as interested in driver's licenses is, you know, you don't need to drive anymore necessarily to be connected, either with your work or with your friends and your family and, you know, people that you want to stay in contact with. You know, we have a lot of technology now that allows us to stay in touch with people without really having to get in the car and drive over there, so to speak.
REHMSo new technology, Micheline, is also changing our attitudes about the needs for cars.
MAYNARDAbsolutely. So when I was in high school, you had to actually physically be with your friends, or you could tie up the phone line for a while at your mom's house. But nowadays, almost, you know, every kid seems to have their own cellphone. I mean, they send hundreds of texts to each other. They do video calls if they even want to speak to each other.
MAYNARDSo the actual physical need to be together is less than it might have been 20, 30 years ago. The other thing to remember is that these are kids that grew up or young people who grew up living in this virtual world. This isn't new to them the way it is to their parents and grandparents. This is just something that was always around them so it seems customary to them where it might seem a little disconnected to people who are GenExers or boomers.
REHMIt's interesting to me that cities like Montreal are making mass transit easier for accommodations and thereby also making it less necessary to own a car.
MAYNARDYes. I went to Montreal last fall, and I deliberately conducted an experiment. I decided for a week that I'd see if I could get around without a car, and I have driven to Montreal before. I used the bus. I used the metro. I walked. I used taxis when I needed to, and there are all kinds of wonderful apps for your iPhone and your computer that can literally tell you when the next bus is coming, when the next train will be there.
MAYNARDOf course, everybody in Montreal complains about how slow the buses and the trains are, but the fact is that they have them. And it's also one of the world's most friendly bicycling cities, so that's another availability, except in the very middle of winter when it's very hard to get around up there at all.
REHMAnd, Emily, we're seeing tons of biking here in Washington.
BADGERAbsolutely. I mean, cities are making it easier for people to bike. We're seeing these bike-share systems where you can bike even if you don't own a bike. I mean, just the alternatives to owning a car are just so much wider now than they were for the parents of the people who we're talking about. It's no longer necessary. The default isn't you need to have a car if you want to get around. There are so many other ways to do it.
REHMLet's talk for a moment, Emily, about parking and what's happening with parking.
BADGERWell, one of the things that's so interesting about sort of our dependence on cars is that we've needed to devote so much space to cars in our cities. You can see it in all of the streets that we pave. You can also see it in all of the parking garages and the surface parking lots. And I think we sort of take this for granted because we generally don't think a lot about this. But we have devoted so much space in American cities to our use of cars, even though most of the time, they're just sitting there. We're not even using them. They're being sort of underutilized. We spend a lot of...
REHMSo is that changing?
BADGERSo there's an interest now, if you think about the fact that fewer people are interested in owning cars, does that mean that we should be devoting the same amount of space to cars in our cities or how are people's changing patterns and how they use cars going to change the ways cities are designed, the way cities are built, the types of buildings that we build?
BADGERI mean, it's very traditional in most cities that if a developer is going to put up a new apartment building that has, say, 100 units in it, we tell that developer, you also have to build 100 parking spots or maybe it's, you know, 150 parking spots, depending on the zoning code in that city. And now, a lot of people are starting to wonder, well, why do we need to require the building of new parking spaces every time we build new buildings if the people who are going to be living in them aren't interested in owning cars?
BADGERAnd this is really sort of a fundamental challenge to how cities think about devoting space and creating space for cars because for so long, we have just assumed that, you know, if more people are going to live here, we need more space for cars. These two things go in tandem, and perhaps they don't anymore for some people.
REHMSo what about D.C. and Boston? Are there new proposals there?
BADGERSo there a new proposals in a handful of cities to sort of rethink the zoning codes that require how much parking we need. Maybe we should say, you know, every building doesn't need to have one parking spot per person in an office or 1.5 parking spots per person who lives in an apartment building. Perhaps we should lower those, or perhaps we should make it easier for developers to build new buildings that don't have parking in them at all if they're going to provide something else, like 100 bike racks.
REHMAnd, Micheline, what about trends in the suburbs?
MAYNARDRight. So I think one of the biggest sort of drawbacks to all this is that you have people who live in suburbs of cities who have to get to suburbs of other cities. So if you were to live in the Detroit area, for example, and live in Royal Oak and have to drive to Southfield, you literally couldn't take public transportation, or if you could, congratulations 'cause you'd have to be very ingenious to do so.
MAYNARDBut what's going on in the suburbs is actually what Emily is talking about in the cities. You're seeing bike-sharing in especially college towns. Ann Arbor, where I am from, just is getting bike-sharing. I think there's 30 college campuses that now have bike-sharing. Many suburbs realize that, in order to keep residents, they're going to have to have viable public transportation systems.
MAYNARDSo you're starting to see suburbs interested in light rail. You're starting to see suburbs interested in better bus systems and in the same bike-sharing ideas. The problem is that those places are built on the idea that you will have access to a car, and it's very hard to put in a template over that.
REHMYou know, we've already gotten a tweet from someone who says, "I'm in D.C. I can't wait to get rid of my car. Parking tickets, it's too expensive, so many alternatives to owning." And I do want to remind you, we are taking a poll this morning of your use of cars or your lack thereof. Go to drshow. You can weigh in. Drshow.org and give us a call, 800-433-8850.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about Americans changing relationships to their cars. And by the way, we're taking an informal poll. You can weigh in by visiting our website at drshow.org to talk about your relationship to your own car, how you use it and so on. I'll bring you the results at the end of the program. Again that's drshow.org. Micheline, I want to talk to you about concerns about a car bubble in the auto loan market. What do you see going on?
MAYNARDSo, Diane, what we're seeing come back is what's called subprime lending. And it's the same thing that happened in the mortgage market. Basically people whose credit might not be that great or being given a boost so that they're able to afford to buy automobiles. And the average car now costs about $30,000, so it's expensive. And what's happening is car loans are stretching out to six and seven years.
MAYNARDThis is something that happened before the recession, and a lot of us watched this at the time and said, you know, this could be trouble if people walk away from these car loans if the economy gets bad. And I think that's some of the same concern this time. However, the car companies are in a situation where it's very important for them to sell these big SUVs and pickups because that's where they're making the most of their money, that these car loans and subprime lending is really the only way to boost the volume of sales of those vehicles. And that's why we're seeing this come back.
REHMAnd, Bill Visnic, what's your thought on the bubble?
VISNICWell, you know Diane, I think there are a couple of schools here. You know, first of all, I think it is something that from a macroeconomic standpoint, you really do have to at least sort of keep an eye on this. You know, if subprime lending does become, once again, a substantial portion of the overall credit portfolio in the car market then, you know, you do have some potential there, you know, for -- Mickey had said, you know, people being too upside down in their cars and too much a portion of the credit market being that.
VISNICBut by the same token, subprime does represent an important and frankly viable portion of the credit market. You know, just because someone doesn't have the gold standard of credit, you know, in whatever aspect of their life they need credit for doesn't necessarily mean they are not a good credit risk, you know. So you do have people that, you know, they just haven't been able to make the numbers work for them for whatever the reason. But they are good credit risks, and they are, you know, going to pay their loan.
VISNICAnd so, like any other market, including the housing market in which subprime is still a large portion of the -- or at least a meaningful portion of the housing market, it is the same in the auto industry as well.
REHMMicheline, I gather people are saying we shouldn't overstate this problem. Washington Post editorial says, yes there is concern but the automobile loan market is much, much smaller than the housing market. And therefore would not have as great an impact on the economy should people go down. But big investors are making money off these subprime loans.
MAYNARDRight. So a couple things to think about. First of all, they probably can't come and get your house, so a lot of things went into foreclosure. Very easy to repo a car. The guy just drives up with a flatbed truck usually. But here's a couple of things to think about. First of all, some of the subprime is due to the fact that people did do short sales and go into foreclosure over the last few years. So that just stays on your credit rating and it might sink you into subprime where you might not have been before the recession.
MAYNARDBut something to think about is you never want to see these little troublesome economic indicators pile up because if you get into trouble on your car, you know, that's serious. Because a lot of people will put off their mortgage payments for a few months since you can't foreclose until you've missed a few payments. But if you miss a couple car payments, they will come and get your car. So everybody watches all of these signals because you essentially look at housing, you look at jobs and you look at consumer confidence. So if you start to see some problems, lots of things can add up.
REHMAnd, Bill, I gather it's even harder to get a low interest rate on a used car.
VISNICThat's typically the case, you know, for a variety of reasons. And the fact is, is that in the used car market, even really because of the recession and what happened during the recession, used car prices have stayed very stable and high frankly. You know, after the recession, largely because of the greater economic forces at work there coming out of the recession, sent more people frankly into the used car market. So it's been a very robust market. And for that reason, you know, prices have stayed high and also financing has been tight.
VISNICYou know, when you go to buy a new car, a lot of new car buyers can tell you this now, everyone comes at you with some great deals and great opportunities for financing, particularly if you have even sort of average or a little bit above average credit rating. So you have a lot of access to a lot of options in the new car market that you may not necessarily have as much in the used car financing segment.
REHMAt the same time, Micheline, I see that the Justice Department has issued a subpoena to General Motors car lending subsidiary looking for documents on the company's underwriting and securitization practices. So what do you make of that?
MAYNARDWell, I think this is a very interesting development and it certainly is not good timing for General Motors, which has so many issues with the recalls of its older cars. Now one thing to remember is there are no charges that have been filed at General Motors.
MAYNARDThey're not alleging anything. But one of the concerns is that dealers are not being fair in giving out lending to minority groups, to Latinos, et cetera, et cetera. And so that's one of the things that justice is asking about. It's not charging General Motors again. But it's just one more thing, and it shows that this is a red flag that's caught someone's attention in Washington.
REHMAnd one more thing for you, Emily Badger. Here's an email from James who's in Raleigh, N.C. who says, "If you don't have parking, aren't you excluding the handicap, the elderly, disabled veterans and the over 40s? The handicap need not come."
BADGERI think that's an absolutely great point. When we think about parking, parking is not accessed the same by everyone. I can walk two blocks away from the mall in order to get to the store that I want to go to. That's not the same story for someone who needs to pull up and park right in front of it. I don't think that there are very many situations where we're talking about let's get rid of all parking in cities. Let's get rid of all handicap parking. Let's get rid of all accessibility parking.
BADGERI think that there's a lot of sensitivity to the fact that cities still need to be aware of that even as we're talking about scaling back parking. But also one of the things that we need to think about is sort of how many of these people are driving their own cars and parking in accessibility spots? Perhaps what we need to be focusing on is paratransit or other ways to get those people around that gives them transportation without requiring them to have cars themselves.
REHMAll right. And here's another email from Aaron who's in Kalamazoo. He says, "My wife and I are 25 years old each with student loan payments of over $300 a month. We each have a car paid for and reliable for what we need them for. Until our student loans are paid for or one of the cars gets to the point it's too expensive to fix, I don't see us making a new car purchase in the near future. With more college graduate income going to student loan payments, I don't see a lot of people my age group buying new cars," Micheline.
MAYNARDYes. So the average student now graduates with about $27,000 in student's loan debt. It's higher obviously the more expensive school that you go to. So if you think about $27,000, it's very close to the cost of a new car. A lot of Millennials are having trouble getting their first jobs, or they're getting their first jobs at lower rates of pay than their older brothers and sisters and grandparents did.
MAYNARDSo they have already financial obligations when they graduate. And a lot of them say, if I have another choice, let's do that instead of purchasing a brand new car. I will say that Millennials are buying used cars. In fact, my nephew Benjamin Maynard who's celebrating his birthday today and just entered...
MAYNARD...just entered Wayne State University Med School in Detroit...
MAYNARD...he was able to buy a certified used Toyota Corolla for zero percent financing -- sorry, 0.5 percent financing. So there are deals being made to help these younger buyers. And obviously not everybody qualifies for 0.5 percent...
MAYNARD...but that's lower than 10 or 15.
REHMNow, Bill, you say that the automobile industry is really not so much worried about this Millennials buying fewer cars. How come?
VISNICWell, I think they're -- again, we're in the midst, I think, right now of a fairly protracted replacement cycle thanks to the recession once again. You know, a lot of purchases were delayed during the recession for a lot of consumer goods, consumer durables, you know, higher-ticket items, cars being one of them. So the, you know, sort of optimistic outlook right now, Diane, for the auto industry is that we will continue in this replacement cycle which, as you mentioned at the top of the show, has brought us back to near record levels of annual auto sales in this country.
VISNICWe'll stay in this -- you know, at this point in the curve for quite some time, you know. And in the auto industry, which is a notoriously cyclical industry, you know, a horizon of three or four or five years of good steady pace like we've had now really is cause for a lot of optimism. And so that's the way, I think, that the general viewpoint is (unintelligible)...
REHMWell, I have to tell you, I own a 12-year-old Toyota Avalon. If I never replace it, I will be happy. It's the best car I've ever owned, never had a problem with it. I intend to keep it. And I took the poll this morning on our website. If you'd like to take it, go to drshow.org. Let us know how you're feeling about your relationship to your car or to the idea of purchasing a car. Emily, you talked about various things like Uber and mass transit. How do you suppose the auto industry itself might get involved with some of these alternatives?
BADGERWell, a lot of the alternatives that we're talking about that Millennials are using still involve cars. They just may not involve owning your own personal car. And there's been a little bit of debate around Uber and companies in the sort of ride-sharing concept of, you know, is this just more of the same paradigm of car dependency? You know, people aren't owning cars but they're still using cars. Is this the exact same thing we've sort of seen all along, a kind of America loves cars but in a slightly different form?
BADGERAnd I think that's a really interesting question. I mean, where all of these changes that we're talking about do not eliminate the car from the picture, we're not talking about sizeable enormous chunks of Americans, you know, no longer driving cars to work in the morning or no longer getting around by car. So someone is still going to own these things. Perhaps they're taxi companies or they're Uber or it's your neighbor, if not you.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." All right. Let's open the phones and see what our listeners have to say. First to Douglas in Destin, Fla. Hi there. You're on the air.
DOUGLASGood morning. Hi. One of the things that I think you guys are missing -- and I'm in Destin, Fla. on vacation, but I live in Savannah, Ga. I recently purchased a scooter, less than 50 ccs. It does not require licensing, registration or even insurance to ride it. And they range in price anywhere from six to -- 600 to $2,000. They don't require a regular parking space. I can park it anywhere a bicycle can park. And I'm noticing more and more people in my city going to those.
REHMWhat do you think, Micheline?
MAYNARDWell, just a few blocks from the Cronkite School at ASU here in Phoenix, there's a scooter sales place. And we also have an electric bike place. And those -- as the gentleman said, those don't require licensing so there aren't as many statistics on the impact that they're having. But, you know, look at Europe, look at Japan. Folks around the world use scooters. So there's no reason why we can't embrace them as long as people know how to drive them and wear a helmet (unintelligible)...
REHMAnd wear a helmet, absolutely. To Chris in Hudson, Mich. You're on the air.
CHRISWhen I was in high school, we were offered as a credit in high school our driver's ed. My parents went to school in Detroit and had the driver's education track in the back of the school. It's an outrageous price to take your child to driver's education. And in Michigan, we have very high insurance rates. I drive a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. I get 31 miles per gallon out here on the highway. I just put it on cruise control.
CHRISAnd my daughter, her car finally fell apart, and I think she might be in the market for a used car herself. You need a car to get around in Michigan. We don't have good public transportation. And as far as anything anybody's talking about, I've never even heard of these Uber cars, nothing like that coming to our town.
REHMYeah, well, they probably will before you know it, don't you think?
BADGERI suspect that a lot of these alternatives, which have started in cities and are starting to move out into suburbs, are going to move into different types of communities. But it is true that you need density in order to make public transit work. You need density to make something like a car2go work where people are sharing cars with each other. And so there's some concern that these solutions that are working for people in cities just are not going to be feasible in rural America in smaller towns.
BADGERAnd it will be really interesting to see if some of these companies like Uber, if they're able to come up with a solution to that. I don't think we're going to see, you know, a subway coming to smaller towns in Ann Arbor, Mich. or, you know, in sort of rural communities in the Midwest. Transit just doesn't work very well in places where there aren't a lot of people living there. But perhaps we could still see some of these companies come up with innovations that would bring things like car share there.
REHMBill, do you want to add to that very briefly?
VISNICWell, yeah, you know, I think that it's true. You know, look, it's a big country, right, and there's a lot of wide open space. And so once you get away from, you know, the urban areas or, you know, the larger metro areas, it's very difficult to make public transportation work and make sense and make, most importantly, economic sense. So people still need cars. And I think that's not going to change. It's great in Phoenix to be able to drive a scooter around, but in a lot of other places, the climate doesn't allow that obviously.
REHMAll right. And that's Bill Visnic. He's with Edmunds AutoObserver.com. Do take our poll drshow.org.
REHMAnd so far, more than 80 percent of you consulted online an online car resource before purchasing your car from a dealer. Eighty-two percent of you still own a car. Forty-nine percent of you commute alone to work that way. Twenty-six percent of people either walk, bike or use public transit to get to work. Just 8 percent of you belong to a car-sharing service, 86 percent of you do not. We'll bring you more results as they come in.
REHMHere's an email sent from Denver. She says, "Living in Denver is fabulous for all the alternative transportation. Unfortunately, services like Cars2Go don't provide services in areas of low income. Neither does the bike sharing. So it mandates that people of low income go to those loans you were talking about and sets them up for failure when they try to park in the city center where they're not wanted and parking is even more expensive. I would like to see fewer cars, but what's being done to make sure all of us are benefitting, especially those who need it the most?" Emily?
BADGERThis issue of accessibility for transportation to low income people is such an important issue. And part of it is that all of the technology that we've been talking about that is enabling people to not own cars, to use bike share, this is technology that's primarily accessible to people with money because you need a smartphone in order to be able to identify which bikes are available or to be able to sort of control your Zipcar account.
BADGERBut the other issue is that in order to be able to use bike share or car sharing systems, most of the time -- almost always -- you have to have a credit card because this is the sort of collateral that you're putting up that says when I borrow this thing, you know, the system is going to know that I'm going to return it or if not, at least the system is going to have my credit card information on file.
BADGERSo this poses a really big problem in cities where we have large populations that are unbanked, that don't have a credit card, that don't even have a debit card. Part of the issue is not so much, you know, where are we putting these things. In Washington, for instance, there are a lot of bike share docks that are in lower income parts of the city, but they're still not used to the same degree that they are in upper-income parts of the city because, even though they're there, people can't access them because of this credit card issue.
MAYNARDThis has been issue in big cities like Chicago, especially the unbanked part of it because they have a bike sharing program called Divvy there. And in Boston, it's actually a public health issue. And so one of the things that the city has done is partner with some public health folks to provide either heavily discounted or free memberships to the Hubway, which is their bike sharing system, on the idea that if you ride a bicycle, you could become healthier, you could lose weight.
MAYNARDAnd so a number of cities are looking at this as a public health issue, which I think is fascinating. No one ever thought about public health and cars, but now they're thinking about public health, walking and riding bicycles.
REHMAll right. To Denton, in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
DENTONHi. Yes, I just wanted to say that living in Houston, driving is a part of life. I mean I went to grad school for three years and had an hour long commute each day. And now that I'm graduated my wife and I are looking to purchase our first truck. And it meets a lot of, excuse me, it meets a lot of my needs as a homeowner.
REHMNow, Denton, tell me how you plan to purchase that truck. Are you going to a dealer or you thinking about purchasing online?
DENTONNo. I will be planning on going to any number of the multiple dealers around the Houston area.
REHMOK. And to you, Bill, what about technology and how it's changed how we buy cars?
VISNICWell, technology really is becoming a wonderful tool for everyone really involved in the car purchasing process, Diane. We've found -- we're constantly surveying people at Edmunds.com. And in our most recent survey we did find that 9 out of 10 people who are in the market and are shopping for a car, go to the internet for some type of research. Mostly for pricing, but also to help them narrow down, you know, what sort of vehicle they really want to buy.
VISNICAnd 40 percent of shoppers visit a dealer website at some point or another during their shopping and consideration process. So that is a directly attributable aspect of technology. And then as we move into the global world, which we are devoting an immense amount of resource at Edmunds.com, into the mobile experience. And so using that as a tool to help you to go and, frankly, streamline the car-buying process.
VISNICAnd it's better for everyone, including the dealers who are -- I met a lot of dealers and I can tell you -- and around a lot of dealers -- and I can tell you they -- it has been a fascinating sea change of how they are recasting their businesses to streamline the car buying process, to make it simpler, to make it less painful, frankly, you know, than many of us have thought about it in the past. And so all this technology, really, is helping to get everyone into that funnel, buying and streamlining that process so that it's better for everybody, customer and dealer alike.
MAYNARDOne thing I want to point out is that a number of people are rethinking where they live in order to have access to transportation. So we actually had a reader to our "Curbing Cars" journalism project on the future of transportation write in and say he lived in Houston and he doesn't have a car and he takes the bus or walks. He has a wife. He has a child. They take the bus. They walk to the library. They go to Walmart.
MAYNARDThey live near a Walmart to do their grocery shopping. It's a matter of choices. If you want to live in the suburb, that's absolutely your choice in this country. But there are a number of people thinking, OK, when I decide on housing, is it close to the bus stop? Is it close to light rail? Can I get a bike? Can I feel safe riding a bike? Because that is one of the biggest issues in our cities and now we're starting to see these new dedicated bike lines and new bike infrastructure that makes people feel safer riding bikes.
MAYNARDI know it's a big concern in D.C., where people have been riding on the sidewalks, but I think the new bike lanes are helping there. If -- maybe Emily can talk a little bit about this, but I hear fewer people are riding on the sidewalk in Washington.
BADGERThis is true, in part because people who have been doing it have been getting yelled at I think.
REHMAnd getting tickets. Now, on this point about where you live, here's an email from Edward, who says, "We recently considered moving to Pittsburgh and living downtown without a car, but there are no food stores in downtown Pittsburgh, not one." So…
MAYNARDYeah, there aren't any food stores in downtown Phoenix either. And in the last 10 years, Phoenix has tried to bring younger people downtown to grow what's called the Roosevelt Corridor here. And that's the common complaint. We have Whole Foods. We have Trader Joes. We have everybody else, but they're all outside the center city. So everything has to catch up to this mobility, this movement downtown. And grocery stores are one of the most important things.
REHMAll right. To Raleigh, N.C. Hi, Bill.
BILLWell, good morning, Diane. And thank you for taking my call.
BILLWhat an interesting program. I don't live in Raleigh. I live outside of Raleigh, southeast. It's a very rural area, but only a half an hour from downtown. I have a car. I have a truck. I've always had one. My first vehicle I bought before I was 16. It was a piece of junk. We fixed it up. Learned a lot. I've always had a vehicle. But then, again, I've always had a job since I was about eight years old.
BILLAnd I just don't understand Millennials being satisfied to live in mom and dad's basement. And when my son grew up, we helped him buy an old pickup truck and, again, a piece of junk. We fixed it up, he and I. And what you learn is self-reliance. What you learn is, you know, being -- taking care of yourself. Don't rely on the government to give you transportation.
BILLAnd, you know, I have to go to Chattanooga often. And it's an eight-hour run, but if I try to fly, it still takes eight hours by the time you mess with TSA. And from Raleigh to Chattanooga is a very, very pleasant drive. And I guess what I look at is why would I want to go and live in an area and take public transportation? I couldn't listen to "The Diane Rehm Show" on the bus, and I've got to sit next to somebody that I wouldn't pick up hitchhiking.
REHMAll right. There you are with another perspective, Emily.
BADGERIt's interesting that he uses the term self-reliance because I think for so long the idea in America was that you had to have a car in order to be independent. You know, if you didn't have a car, you were that person who mooches rides off of other people around you and that comes to be annoying to them after a while. And I think part of what's changing is that you no longer have to have a car, but only in some circumstances -- obviously, not in the type of community where he lives.
BADGERBut you no longer have to have a car to be independent in places where you have access to transit and places where you have access to all of these other alternatives that we're talking about. And the issue of independence and cars is also going to be a really interesting one, as we talk about the baby boomer generation starting to get older, as they may not want to be driving anymore. But they're still living in these suburban communities that are so car dependent. How are they going to get around?
BADGERYou know, how are they going to get around and how are we going to create solutions for them in communities where, as Bill mentioned earlier, we're not going to be able to create public transit systems?
REHMWell, and that is the question, Micheline. Looking down the road, you're thinking about how we are changing as a population, our relationship to cars, what do you see 10, 20 years from now?
MAYNARDWell, first of all, one of the things that people may not know about the Obama administration is it has been pretty aggressive in funding some of these alternative transportation methods. So at the same time that it bailed General Motors and Chrysler, it also was putting billions of dollars into what are called tiger funds, which allow these communities to apply for money for these programs. So I wonder what will happen with the next administration and the one after that. Is this now an American focus, or just a specific focus of this administration?
MAYNARDYou know, world class cities have public transportation. If you go to Tokyo, if go to Paris, or London, if you go to San Paulo, you can take public transportation to get where you need to go. One of the interesting things about Tampa, Fla., is that there is just a big kerfuffle down there about the fact that…
REHMOh, dear. Did we lose her right in the middle of her sentence? We'll hope to get you back, Micheline. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Don't forget, we have a poll on our website, drshow.org. We're hoping that in the next few moments you'll go up there and take that poll so we can bring you results at the end of the program. All right. Let's go now to Richard, in Alaska, Mich. You're on the air.
RICHARDYou're certainly a pleasure to talk to, Diane.
RICHARDI wanted to tell you of an experience in Amsterdam. There they had racks of bicycles with a peculiar color -- sort of an off-green. They belonged to the city.
RICHARDYou could take one of these bikes, ride it to your next destination and leave it there. And when you came out, maybe find another one and go back to where you started from. But it encouraged bicycle riding. There just wasn't enough room in that town for all of the cars and so forth. And I just wanted to point that out as being another alternative.
REHMI've certainly seen that myself in Amsterdam. And here in Washington.
BADGERYeah, and one point that I would add about why bike share is important to citizens. It's not just that people are using it to make their trips, but people are using it to make the end of a trip that they can't make on public transit. So for instance, you know, you ride the bus as far as the bus will take you. The bus doesn't take you all the way to your house. Then you pick up a bike and you make the last mile on these bike share systems.
BADGERSo they're valuable because they're helping to supplement public transit systems, which as we've already mentioned, you know, aren't totally serving people's needs. But this another way that sort of if you stitched together all of these alternatives, we're creating alternatives for people so that they don't have to have cars.
REHMAll right. And, Bill, I want to ask you about autonomous cars. How do you think they're going to develop and are they going to change the way we think about driving?
VISNICI think autonomous technology for cars is potentially one of the grandest promises that we have right now. You know, Emily mentioned the stitching together of various methodologies, if you will, of transportation. One of them will be autonomous, self-driven vehicles. And it may not be all that long in the future, Diane, before we begin to see these very sophisticated abilities come into cars. And some of them are already there now in some cars that you're able to buy right now. Self-parking capabilities, for example.
VISNICAnd as we really being to get this all blended together in an automobile, you're going to see the ability, let's say -- and let's take the example of the guy who -- near Pittsburgh who wants to live downtown…
VISNIC…but there's nowhere to shop.
VISNICThere's the potential there -- not that far in the future, I think -- to have autonomous vehicles that you'll be able to call up very much like you use Uber or one of these services now, that a car comes to you, more or less a taxicab, for lack of a better term, but it'll be an automated vehicle. And it'll be owned by the grocery store. And they'll say, hey, we'll come and get you and bring you to the grocery store, and you can do your shopping. And then we'll bring back to wherever it is you live downtown.
VISNICAnd no person has to be involved in that. You'll come in a very small little capsule of a car maybe, and it'll take you, you know, where you want to go. And there won't need to be a person involved. There won't need to be a parking space for that car that you don't have because you don't have that car. And, you know, that kind of thing is going to give us a lot of different abilities now. But one of the…
REHMAll right. I'm afraid we are out of time. And I do want to let you know, many of those who took the poll say they don't use a car sharing service, but they'd like to, not currently available in their area or they canceled their membership because public transit was more convenient or, as one listener wrote, "There were problems finding parking when returning the Zipcar." Emily Badger of The Post, Micheline Maynard of Arizona State University, Bill Visnic of EdmundsAutoObserver.com, thank you all so much for a most interesting program.
BADGERThanks for having me.
VISNICThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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