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Car Culture Unsustainable

ecoRI looks at the unsustainability of our car dependency and how public transit is short changed.

Last week, GrowSmart’s John Flaherty spoke on a panel at the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living with RIPTA Assistant General Manager Mark Therrien and the co-author of “Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effects on Our Lives” Catherine Lutz, an athropolgy professor at Brown University.

During the past five years, as the cost of fuel has risen, unemployment skyrocketed and concerns about greenhouse gases grown, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ridership has increased 35 percent.

In Rhode Island, 9.25 cents per gallon of gas sold goes to RIPTA, which provides the agency with one of its largest sources of funding. But when fuel prices increase and ridership swells, a key part of RIPTA’s revenue decreases, just when the public needs more bus service.

In her book, Ms. Lutz argues that American’s are sold false promises when they buy into the car culture. Some of the costs of our car culture include:

  • 40,000 people die a year in car-related accidents. It’s the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 34
  • 2.5 million people are injured in car crashes every year. “The most significant risk we take everyday is getting into our cars,” Lutz said. “People just don’t realize how unsafe it is to travel by car.”
  • It costs the average American family $14,000 per year to own and operate two cars. In fact, for every dollar earned, the average U.S. household spends 18 cents on transportation, 98 percent of which goes toward buying, maintaining and operating vehicles, according to the American Public Transportation Association. It’s the largest source of personal debt after home mortgages.
  • Since the mid-1960s, about 2,000 miles of road have been built in Rhode Island, and now four decades later, the state and local municipalities can’t afford to keep roads and bridges in good repair.

While the state struggles to keep up with the costs associated with automobiles, it lacks money to provide proper public transit as a viable alternative to driving. To foster a movement around fully funding public transit in Rhode Island and giving RIPTA the ability to expand and plan for the future, the Coalition for Transportation Choices was created last year. The Coalition is a partnership of about two dozen advocacy groups representing economic, social, and environmental issues; working with state agencies, municipalities, lawmakers, civic organizations, the business community and the public to promote visibility, support and action to help improve Rhode Island’s transit system.

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