“Riding alone in a car is an increasingly unaffordable luxury.”


“Car-related subsidies of all sorts are becoming harder to sustain. Their loss could reveal mass travel in single-occupancy cars to be a no-longer-affordable luxury.”

Ostensibly about the non-profitability of Uber and Lyft, the article makes valuable points about the various ways we subsidize “vehicular solitude.”

Riding alone in a car is an increasingly unaffordable luxury (at The Economist)

Whether you drive yourself or hail a ride, solitary splendour will become more expensive

 … Until they turn profits, ride-hailing firms will be vulnerable to a loss of investors’ patience. But drivers of private vehicles also receive plenty of implicit support. Drivers impose environmental hazards on others at no financial cost to themselves, from the health effects of local air pollution to the climate change resulting from carbon emissions. And then there is congestion. The right to use scarce road space is valuable. When it is given away, drivers overuse available roads, and clog them. The waste is colossal. An estimate by INRIX, a consulting firm, suggests that the value of time lost to traffic in 2018 in America alone reached $87bn.

Which leads us to the “t” word.

Removing the subsidy to drivers means pricing road space by levying tolls that increase with traffic. That would deter driving, and reduce congestion and other social costs of automobile use. Such charges are rarely popular with drivers. But governments’ enthusiasm for new, untolled roads has dimmed. And they do not help much with traffic. Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania and Matthew Turner of Brown University posit a “fundamental law of road congestion”: unless road space is priced appropriately, new capacity reduces the cost of driving, thereby inducing more of it, leading, eventually, to renewed congestion.

Of course the fundamental premise remains that we must live in a dispersed manner that requires the use of a private vehicle.

Congestion pricing would reduce the delay associated with multiple stops. Indeed, in a subsidy-free world car-pooling of all sorts would increase. On a once congestion-clogged highway in Northern Virginia, for example, the number of cars with multiple occupants has risen by 15% since the introduction in 2017 of tolls that vary with the level of congestion.

For decades, the striving working class has dreamed of the freedom to commute in the splendid isolation of a private car. “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure,” Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have said. The real failure may be a widespread, persistent reluctance to grapple with the cost of travel in vehicular solitude—whether with or without the aid of an app.