Cars Are Here To Stay, Transit Is Not The Answer

UC Davis Professor Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert and member of CA's ARB has co-written "Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability". In this radio interview, Sperling describes cleaner auto technologies but dismisses transit's role.

"Sperling is the co-author (with Deborah Gordon) of Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability, a book that considers the environmental impact of so many automobiles and suggests ways that politicians, car companies and the general public can curb car-ownership and reduce climate change."

While most of the talk is on technology, he discusses the roles of transit, land use, and bicycling and car-share.

"Mass transit won't solve our energy and transportation problems," states Sperling.

The average bus passenger contributes as much greenhouse gases as a car driver because the buses aren't full, he explains.

He does support 'price signals' and suggests a 'floor' on the price of gasoline.

He cites SB 375, a law he will deal with as a board member of the California Air Resources Board, as a way to encourage more efficient land use.

From book review: "In Two Billion Cars, transportation experts Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon provide a concise history of America's love affair with cars and an overview of the global oil and auto industries."

Full Story: Daniel Sperling: A Billion Cars And Counting



People traveled well in the streetcar era

on light rail and rail.

Mass transit doesn't necessarily mean buses; it could (should) mean electric rail powered by renewables.

People Lived Well in the Streetcar Suburbs

I agree. People who lived in streetcar suburbs not only traveled well. They also lived well. In fact, they lived better than people in auto-oriented suburbs.

Would you rather drive to a strip mall or live near a walkable Main Street? Would you rather live where you have to chauffeur your children every time they leave the house or live where your children can get around on their own

The automobile is a huge economic burden for the average American. Its direct and indirect costs account for about 20% of consumer spending. Many Americans don't have enough time for their children or for their own interests, because they have to work long hours to support their cars.

We will start building more sustainable cities, when we realize that more walkable neighborhoods are more livable neighborhoods - and that they allow for a better way of life, oriented to living well rather than to consuming voraciously. Take a look at the picture of a streetcar suburb at, and tell me if Sperling has anything as good as this to offer?

Sperling's comparison of energy use by cars and buses is particularly deceptive - and not only because it ignores streetcars. The rule of thumb is that, for every trip shifted from auto to public transit, three trips are shifted from auto to walking - because transit helps to generate walkable neighborhoods - and Sperling's comparison ignores this fact. Sperling's comparison also looks only at tailpipe emissions, and ignores the emissions from producing all the steel and other finite natural resources used in cars.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote the foreword to this book, which says to me that Sperling is more a wheeler-dealer than he is a scholar or a humanist.

Charles Siegel

The Pernicious Influence of Melvin Webber

Keep in mind that Dr. Sperling is working in an environment still heavily influenced by the pernicious teachings of Melvin Webber, e.g., the University of California's transportation studies programs. The mantra there seems to be, even 40 years after Webber began his undue attacks on rail transit starting with BART, that "rail is bad." So far in Sperling's book, a lot of lip service is given to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a general substitute for rail--useful in many situations, but not where there is sufficient travel volume to justify rail.

Never mind that Kawasaki Heavy Industries has recently designed a modern battery-powered low floor streetcar that only uses about twice as much electricity per mile as a Prius in electric mode, e.g., 5-6 times as efficient with an average load of 10 people, probably 3-5 times less energy intensive than a same-sized electric trolley coach, and 8-10 times less energy intensive than even a "hybrid" diesel electric bus with the same average load of 10 persons. See Spering's book doesn't show any evidence that he or his coauthor knows of these developments updating "19th Century" technology (of course, concrete is a 2nd Century B.C. Roman technology...).

Trolls a good sign...

Nice to know we transit advocates are having an impact. Out come the pathetic trolls. It takes a lot of education to be able to argue against the obvious. Good work, "professor," you can keep your cushy job now.


I assume you're referring to Sperling as a "pathetic troll."

If so, you'd have to admit he's a lot less pathetic, say, than the truly bad, ideology-tainted "research" by Wendell Cox, or the often incomplete writings of Randal O'Toole.

After having bought this book today (1/16/08), I caught at least two rather pathetic, egregiously inaccurate factual errors by Sperling, and some dubious reasoning in his summary dismissal of the facts surrounding peak oil. Once I finish reading the book, I'm sure I'll have a detailed review on my own website at

Your assumption is correct

Sorry for the ambiguity. Looking forward to more of your usual good work on your excellent website!

Keep it up.

Pathetic Trolls

Don't let the Planetizen editors hear you say that Sperling is less pathetic than Wendell Cox and Randal O'Toole.
If you do, they may start posting Sperling's writing as often as they post Cox's and O'Toole's
Charles Siegel


"Mass transit won't solve our energy and transportation problems," states Sperling.

This is a strawman argument. I'm not aware of any transit advocate who has made such an overwhelming claim, but we generally believe that the evidence indicates that transit can solve a lot of TRANSPORTATION-RELATED energy and pollution problems, e.g., taking a big chunk out of the 25%-30% or so of the energy consumption and carbon emissions of the transportation sector.

Challenge Him to Support That Statement

This stance, particularly from a member of the Air Resources board, is as disheartening as it is dangerous.

Evidently the professor is assuming that people will be able to, and will choose to, continue unlimited driving. Given that oil is entering its steep decline, and climate change is beginning its steep acceleration, with concomitant injury to the economies of the world, to assume that mass transit will not take on more riders in the future is blissfully ignorant or perniciously misrepresented.

Just because this country's land use does not conveniently allow an immediate transition away from energy intensive personal transportation does not mean cars will continue to be viable; there's no personal automobile technology proposed that is sustainable and most continue to rely on fossil fuels for everything from the roads to the tires to the fuel (including hydrogen). Mass transit solutions replacing personal automobiles are much more viable when times get tight, which is unfortunately our current, de facto, trajectory.

Unfortunately, most government responses to climate change and peak oil continue to be mumbled as if from a warm cozy hat made of sand. The AB 375 implementation strategies are like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Yet we've known this was coming for generations.

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Book cover of Unsprawl

Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places

Explore visionary, controversial and ultimately successful strategies for building people-centered places.
Starting at $12.95
Wood necklace with city map

City Necklaces

These sweet pendants are engraved on a cedar charm with a mini map of selected cities. The perfect gift for friends and family or yourself!