Ed Wallace

It Can’t Happen Here, Conclusion


But it might be on the way …

Here in America we’ve refused to raise our gasoline taxes on a federal level and here in Texas since 1993, but that certainly hasn’t stopped people who live with traffic congestion from complaining about it. What’s worse is today many parts of the Metroplex are primarily served by toll roads, which often cost individuals over $1,000 more per year. Yet large portions of those high-priced highways are just as clogged up as the publicly owned roads.

This congestion phenomenon is worldwide. China’s budget for infrastructure spending was recently published as more than the United States’ and Western Europe’s combined; yet traffic jams in its major cities have been known to last for days. Other major cities and countries might well be looking at a life beyond automobiles, or at least with a lot fewer of them. And it’s all being done to reduce pollution.

A trend started last year, when Paris hosted its first “Day Without Cars.” Now, starting on July 1, Paris will ban all vehicles made before 1997 from what’s considered the city center from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 at night. In four years the ban will become citywide and will extend to any vehicle built before 2011. Paris will continue to be known as the City of Lights — just not headlights.

Moreover, about two months ago the lower house of the Netherlands’ Parliament voted to ban all sales of new gasoline- and diesel-fueled automobiles starting in 2025. Of course, individuals will still be able to purchase fuel-celled cars or even electrics; further, the ban doesn’t outlaw vehicles already on the country’s roads. Yes, there was opposition to that law — from the Labor Party, of all places. Still, the result shows that many politicians around the world are seriously reconsidering their nations’ love affairs with the 1-billion-plus cars on the highways.

Breaking up will take some time. Norway, which already buys the most electric cars as a percentage of new vehicles sold, seems to be setting course to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2030. To that end, earlier this month stories floated that its politicians, too, might consider a complete ban on sales of new vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel by 2025. What differentiates Norway from other countries that also want to go carbon-free is that it is a substantial producer of oil, pumping 1.55 million barrels per day. It’s also Europe’s third largest producer of natural gas. And yet Norway believes it’s time to do something different — get away from petroleum completely — on its own highways.

Meanwhile, here in America, we continue to burn gasoline as if there were no tomorrow. Recently I reviewed the all-new and outstanding 2016 Mazda CX-9; and during testing at a constant 60 mph it delivered 35.4 miles per gallon. But at 70 mph it was tough to get 28 mpg, and at 80 it dropped to just 22 – 23 mpg. I should mention that, even going 80 mph, one had to get out of the left lane on eastbound I-30 because you would be holding up the other traffic.

That example sums up our attitude perfectly. Using the Mazda’s figures, we are willing to lose 247 miles of range on every tank of gasoline, simply to arrive at our destination, 35 miles away, 10 minutes faster.

Yet, ironically, the very same politicians who refuse to raise the gasoline tax, claiming that they would be wasting your money, are the very same politicians who raised the speed limits from 55 to 65 — and then on some interstates to 80 mph — so you can waste even more of your money, quicker.

Nothing is going to change quickly about our automotive society. Not even if the Netherlands and Norway potential ban of new gas- and diesel-powered vehicle sales, and not even if Paris bans brand-new cars from town — at least, not yet. But sometimes it feels like we’re the prosperous village blacksmith on the day the first car arrives. We’re looking at it and saying to ourselves, that thing can never change anything here.

© Ed Wallace 2016

Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and hosts the top-rated talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: wheels570@sbcglobal.net.