Thursday, March 19, 2015

Baby you can drive my car

Lil' OB, first day of senior year

On our quiet little dead-end street, there will be no less than four 2015 high school grads come this June, including Lil' OB. I refer to them and their compadres as the "Youth of America."

"Good morning, Youth of America," I used to say to them as they waited at the bus stop during the grade and middle school years. Now they've all grown up. No more bus stop congregations.

You want to know something about the Youth of America, dear reader?

They don't care about driving.

This perplexed the Goat and your humble hostess when we saw it evidenced among some of Lil' OB's cohorts. They put off getting their drivers' licenses as long as possible. Parents were the ones coaxing kids to learn to drive. Plenty of parents had to issue a mandate: you have to get your license or else ...

Driving has become a necessity, not a recreation. Kids don't romanticize driving and cars the way older generations do. Kids don't cruise around. They don't hang out anymore. Social media has replaced the casual impromptu drive-in parties in parks and convenience store lots we all remember.

Turns out this is not just a thing around here. Per the U.S Federation of Public Interest Research Groups, "the percentage of high school seniors with driver’s licenses declined from 85 percent to 73 percent between 1996 and 2010, according to the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety, with federal data suggesting that the decline has continued since 2010." The Washington Post detailed what's behind those staggering numbers in this exhaustive article last fall.

Humble Hostess with first VW Bug, circa 1981

Dear reader, the Youths of America do not want cars. They don't want another loan on top of their student loan. They don't want to deal with insurance. They don't want to buy gas or pay for expensive parking spaces downtown. Driving is just a hassle. They don't care if you believe in climate change or not; they don't like hydrocarbon exhaust. And none of this is going to change any time soon.

Although I suspect the GOP will do everything in it's power to stop this trend, forcing people to drive more and buy cars is a tricky business, particularly when the good ol' free market offers up solutions like Zipcar and Uber. Read this Cleveland story to get an inside look at what users say about ridesharing. Nonetheless, there is a little problem brewing in this kettle of stone soup.

Got infrastructure?

Car or no car, we all need it and we all finance the vehicular infrastructure with the gas tax, but per the first link up there: "Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by 16- to 34-year-olds dropped by 23 percent."

Less miles driven means less gas purchased and less gasoline tax paid. Considering "both the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund are nearing insolvency," this does not bode well.

And while this matter percolates beneath similar issues such as building a fiber optic infrastructure, maintaining the antiquated electrical grid (amid a burgeoning solar revolution) and even grappling with the landline telephone system, what's our Congress doing?

Why, worrying about rape and abortion, of course, and trying to repeal Obamacare, and broadcasting partisanship across the globe and and and ... doing nothing to shore up the middle class or solve its very real problems.

Who's going to pay for the roads when traffic is reduced by 25 or 50 percent or more?

Who is going to pay for the roads?

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Chris said...

We've been talking about something related for the last few weeks with our kids (2 of whom have their licences, only one of whom loves driving): the advent of driverless cars. What happens in, say, 10 or 20 years, when it's cheaper to call up a self-driving car from your local fleet-for-hire than it is to own and insure your own vehicle? Instead of owning a family sedan and a family mini-van and maybe something sporty for the weekends, you call up Google or Tesla and order whatever you need, for as long as you need it and no longer. It will drive itself up to your front door, and leave quietly when you're done.

We might be seeing the last generation of kids to get their licences.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Hmm. My son pursued his license fervently and drives to school, practice and the rare social event. Even sent him to the store recently. Pretty cool. But a lot of kids do seem to wait even though you have to drive to get anywhere around here.

Erin O'Brien said...

Sure, a lot of kids still want to drive, but the trend is unmistakeable.

I think the move away from cars is about the hollowing out of the middle class. We tell these kids they have to go to college to get anywhere in life. Subsequently, they are saddled with student loans that are larger than anything previous generations had to deal with.

So they have these massive student loans to pay, health care, cell phone bills ... what component of the standard middle class life can they eliminate? A car.

Erin O'Brien said...

Also, re: driverless cars. It seems futuristic now, but 20 years ago, I never would have believed I'd be able to video chat with anyone in the world while sitting in my home office.

DogsDontPurr said...

Wow...I had never thought about it like this, but you are right: Who will pay for the roads?

For a few years, I worked as a driver for a family in L.A., and I was really surprised that neither of the kids, nor any of their friends, wanted to get their licenses. And not just because they had a chauffeur, but because they genuinely had no interest.

Also, these families all had enough money to buy their kids fancy cars, but the kids had no interest in that either. I suspected that it's because you really can't work on cars yourself these days...everything's a computer.

Back in our day and our parent's day, it was a thing just to hang out and work on your car. We could actually fix our own cars back then!

Heck, I can't even pull the battery in the car I own now!

So, the joy of cars is gone. And as you said, social media has taken their place.

But, wow...the roads? i hadn't thought about that before. Argh....! Food for thought, indeed.

Dick Cheney said...

I spoke about this to Little Donnie Rumsfeld a while back and he gave me this whole caboodle about there being licensed drivers, unlicensed non-drivers, licensed non-drivers and unlicensed drivers and his point was that we had to get more of our people into the driver envelope by expanding out the licensing box and restoring Habeas Corpus.

Personally I think we should just ship 'em all off to gitmo until they stop being so goddamn unamerican.

Hell if those kids would just stay off my lawn it would be a start.

Rich Folks said...

PS--And lower taxes for rich folks. Panacea.

Erin O'Brien said...

Yo Dick and Rich, thanks for dropping in!

DDP: the other thing that will need maintaining is the oil infrastructure. You've got to deal with corrosion on pipelines no matter how much is flowing through them. The refineries, the pipelines, the storage facilities ... it's a massive and complex system.

I wonder if it will one day become a (gasp) public utility.


DogsDontPurr said...

I just ran across this article late tonight. Admittedly, I just skimmed it because I'm about to go to bed. But I thought it might be an interesting read, and add something to your conversation on who's gonna pay for the infrastructure of the future.

Also, I'll be back in OR soon, but as you know I live all over the place and drive to all those places. So I'm curious to do the math and see how this concept might pan out.

Anyway, thought you might want to check the article.