Why The Government Should Subsidize America's Commute To Work

Most Americans drive to work out of necessity. If the government wants to provide better transportation and economic opportunity, the government should offer tax credits to help reduce the cost of driving, and enable low-income to afford a reliable car, suggests writer Margy Waller.
October 20, 2005, 11am PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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"A century ago, getting to work seldom required a lengthy commute. In rural areas, farmers walked out the kitchen door to their jobs. And most urban residents either lived within walking distance of their places of employment or could rely on convenient public transit systems like streetcars. Today, however, two-thirds of residents in metropolitan areas live in the suburbs, and two-thirds of new jobs are located there as well. It's therefore no surprise that 88 percent of workers drive to their jobs.

Left behind in this car culture are central-city poor residents without cars, who have become increasingly isolated from the American economy. As Mark Alan Hughes, William Julius Wilson, and other scholars have documented, the steady movement of jobs out of cities and into the suburbs has helped create and sustain the concentrated poverty that is now endemic to America's urban areas.

...The federal government should offer tax credits that would lower the cost of commuting to work for low and middle-income employees, and would allow low-income workers who can't afford a reliable car to get one..

...If all eligible workers took advantage of the optionâ€"an unlikely prospect, based on our experience with other credit programsâ€"the cost could reach $100 billion a year. Any initiative that big raises certain obvious objections.

Many who would be willing to spend that amount of money would prefer that it go to mass transit, in the hopes of reducing congestion and pollution. But there is little reason to think that even a massive investment in public transportation would substantially reduce the overall amount of driving Americans do."

Thanks to Urban Policy listserv

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Published on Wednesday, October 19, 2005 in The Washington Monthly
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