Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Not-so-fun with Numbers

A couple of statistics floating in or past the head this morning:

There are 254,000,000 registered vehicles in the country.

On Think with Krys Boyd yesterday, Happy City author Charles Montgomery cited that there are 7-9 parking spaces for every car.  Let's go with 8.

That's 2,032,000,000 parking spaces in the country.

A typical parking space is abou 18x9, but it also needs a drive aisle to deliver the car to its space.  We typically use about 320 square feet.  That's 650 billion square feet of parking.

That's 14.9 million acres of land dedicated to parking.

That's 23,324 square miles of parking.

Garage spaces and underground spaces are significantly more expensive than surface spaces but the vast majority are surface spaces.  Let's go with an approximation of $5,000 per parking space.

That's $10 TRILLION spent on building parking, when only 15% of it is every full at one time.  Efficient!


That's the less depressing part of this post.  I had a much more caustic version of this written in my head this morning, but time subsides the rage.

My office is in uptown near the Walmart neighborhood market.  Any time I've ever been there to pick up various office-type needs like coffee or a screw driver to put together newly ordered office furniture, there are a couple constants.  1) a fire truck is always parked out front with the guys stocking up their station.  2) there is always a family getting out of a cab to do their grocery shopping for the week(?).

I bring this up, because in the discussion regarding car-sharing apps, a council person defended the cabs because his constituency was dependent upon the cabs for basic services like groceries.  Decades of mismanagement aside leading us to such car-dependence aside, let's think about this for a second.

There are many neighborhoods of South Dallas where the median household income is in the teens, like $12-18,000/year.

As somebody who has willingly given up their car, I've taken my share of cabs over the years.  I've also become a fairly consistent Lyft rider of late.  Most of my trips are about the 3-mile range.  A cab fare for such a trip will run you about $15 dollars. More if you happen to have another passenger or two, because yeah that certainly reduces the gas mileage 10-20%.  A typical Lyft (and possibly UberX) fare for these kinds of rides is $7-9 dollars.

Both are far more expensive than convenient public transit, as if that was more than a dream.  Again, car dependence through policy coercion.  So if you want to load a car with groceries and you can't afford to own a car, until now, cab it was.

Now let's say it's a $15/fare to reach the grocery store.  We're going to have to add $2 per child passenger because we can't afford child care.  Let's make that $19.  The trip is two ways.  $39.  And there is idling in between while you do the shopping.  Let's call it an even $50.  What have I said about car dependence being a tax on the local economy?  On every point of socio-economic exchange?

That's $50/week on top of the grocery bill, which is a necessity anyway for sustenance so that doesn't factor in the equation.  Multiplied by 52 weeks a year to feed the family.  $2600/year just to participate in the local economy.  For some of these households, that can be 20% of household income, let alone whatever is going towards the groceries.

Car dependence, a tax just to participate in the local economy.  Except a tax usually goes towards something positive.  This just creates more cost burden via ever expanding infrastructure.  Do you see why these systems collapse?  Why South Dallas looks like Detroit?

Is our council really looking out for their constituents?  I guess, it just depends what you mean by constituents.

Now let's think about these ride sharing services like Lyft, which regulate their drivers more stringently than the city regulates the cabbies.  Anybody with a car, in decent condition, a positive disposition, and insurance can be a lyft driver.  They split the fare with the tech company.  South Dallas could use some more job opportunities.

I took Lyft saturday night to/fro a night on Henderson Ave.  When it was time to go, I pulled up the app, it showed me dozens of operating cars in the area.  I hit the button and I get a call from the nearest driver.  They're there in two minutes tops.  Try getting a cab if you're not going to or from the airport or at the airport or a hotel.  The cabbies don't even consider it worth their time to make these 5 minute rides.  Are we really asking the cabbies what they think or what their ownership thinks?  There is some overlapping service, but not as much as one might think.

Rather than fighting the car-sharing apps, should our council people be thinking about how to work with them to help their constituents?  So that getting groceries is cheaper than taking a cab?  So their constituents can make a little money by offering ride sharing?

Who is this supposed benevolent paternalistic (which, red flag immediately) grand-standing really helping?  In my experience the best form of leadership is to help people help themselves.  And the car-sharing services offer that potential.  I just wish there was more convenient walking and public transit, but that's another battle for another (every other) day.