Thursday, June 26, 2008

Canadian Economists Forecast Dramatic Decline of the Automobile As Early As 2012

As reported in the Globe and Mail today, a report by CIBC World Markets predicts:
  • 10 million fewer cars on the road in the United States and 700,000 fewer in Canada by 2012.
  • Canadians can expect to pay about $1.85 to $2.00 per litre of gas at the pumps by 2010.
  • By 2012, average miles driven in the United States will decrease by 15 per cent.
  • SUVs will drop from 60% of U.S. market share in 2006, to less than 30% by 2012.
Overall vehicle sales will drop from 14 million to 11 million by 2012 – the lowest level since the early 1980s. “Over the next four years, we are likely to witness the greatest mass exodus of vehicles off [North] America's highways in history,” Jeffrey Rubin, the lead author, wrote in Thursday's report.

With this in mind, what is New Brunswick doing to prepare for a world in which the automobile is no longer the primary mode of transportation (predicted to be by 2020 based on the shifts of the last century)? It may still make sense to expand some highways primarily to serve as trade corridors, but an argument based on the expansion of our infrastructure to service commuters can no longer be consider good public policy.

Neither is continued unregulated, poorly rationalized expansion of suburban sprawl. Market forces may be all that is required to put an end to a pervasive culture, unique to North America, in which people live in a different place than where they work, but re-planning and rebuilding the transportation infrastructure in New Brunswick to service and support this new phenomenon that is occurring needs to happen today so we are not unprepared for these significant changes.

We may find ourselves in 2020 with a fantastic road network that gets used less than today and with a population that is much more urban but is under served in its need to access public transit, quality taxi services, walking/biking infrastructure, and commuter services to nearby maritime cities and beyond. If we can't improve our ability to share people, markets, and other resources with the communities close to us, our competitiveness and productivity will dwindle and our value proposition as a regional economy in which to grow will be meaningless.

Commuter bike trails/lanes, commuter rail between the three southern New Brunswick cities of Moncton, Saint John, and Fredericton, and heavy investment in bus service all make sense in 2008 and should be seriously considered.

The amount of money spent by drivers in this small province of New Brunswick on necessary automobile travel is in the billions of dollars annually when the public expense of road, highway and parking facility construction and repair is considered as well as the money each of us invests in individual ownership of our vehicles. As listed on Wikipedia, The costs of running a car can be broken down as follows (in no particular order):
Could it make financial sense for New Brunswickers to put aside our automobiles and invest the money saved into public transit that would serve a large portion of our citizens and realize countless other benefits for our society, culture, and economy?

Time to plan and invest now.
  • Ford unveils dramatic makeover plans [Globe and Mail, 24 July 2008]
  • Drivers begin parking their cars [Globe and Mail, 23 July 2008]: "Drivers really did park it, in the face of soaring prices," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns. "I think we reached a bit of a breaking point over the spring, where people do actually respond."

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