Cars: The Road From Poverty


Of course, traffic deaths are regrettable and great progress has been made in their reduction. Traffic deaths in the United States today are about the same as in the late 1950s, despite the fact that driving has increased to 5x the rate at that time.

Virtually everyone who uses a car recognizes the risks. The connection between the superior personal mobility provided by cars and the eradication of poverty could not be more clear. That is why car ownership expands as fast as people can afford cars, whether in the United States, Europe, China or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A more revealing and relevant graphic would show traffic deaths compared to gross domestic product.

The relationship between superior personal mobility and productivity is illustrated by the following research.

Mobility & Productivity: Groundbreaking Research: Until recently, very little research was available to document the connection between travel times and the productivity of urban areas. The pioneering work has now been done by Remy Prud’homme and Chang-Woon Lee at the University of Paris. From reviewing French and Korean urban areas, they showed that productivity improves as the number of jobs that can be reached by employees in a particular period of time (such as 30 minutes) increases.

Focused US Research: US reports on mobility’s role in reducing poverty came to similar conclusions. A middle 1990s report for the Federal Transit Administration found that low income households in inner city Boston were at a particular disadvantage in obtaining jobs in the fast growing suburbs because transit service was either spotty or non-existent. Margy Waller and Mark Allen Hughes noted in a report for the Progressive Policy Institute that “In most cases, the shortest distance between a poor person and a job is along a line driven in a car”. Steven Raphael and Michael Stoll at the University of California found that access to an automobile nearly halved the difference between African American unemployment and that of non-Hispanic Whites.

New, Comprehensive US Research: But it was only last month that the Prud’homme-Chang research was broadly replicated in the United States. The Reason Foundation published “Gridlock and Growth: The Effect of Traffic Congestion on Regional Economic Performance” by David Hartgen and M. Gregory Fields, which looked at job accessibility in 8 US urban areas (Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle, ). Hartgen and Fields chose a 25 minute commute period (the approximate national average one-way work trip) to evaluate accessibility and found, generally, that each 10 percent increase in the number of jobs accessible in that period resulted in a 1 percent increase in productivity, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product of the urban area.

See: Traffic Congestion, Time, Money & Productivity.


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