Car Dependent Californians


Posted on 06 February 2014

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By Alan Kandel

First, some statistics.

There are 22 million Californians driving, according to Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters. Golden State population numbering an approximate 38 million people strong, that roughly 58 percent of us drive is one thing. But having 27.5 million motor vehicles at our disposal with which to do this – what is this saying?! What it says is: for every driver there exist 1.25 cars or five automobiles for every four motorists. Do we Californians love our cars or what?!

So, add to this, Walters insists, that Californians are driving in excess of 300 billion miles annually, break that down and what do you get? Each state driver at minimum driving an average 13,636 miles per year. Nationally, meanwhile, the per-capita annual average vehicle miles driven is under 10,000, which, if both Walters’ and State Smart Transportation Initiative’s data are correct, means California motorists are driving well above the national yearly per-capita average. Now factor in a car and light-duty truck gasoline consumption of 15 billion gallons in state annually. Distribute that uniformly and that’s a per-year average of 681.81 gallons of gasoline for every California driver.

Using on average 681.81 gallons of gasoline per vehicle and per-annum average vehicle travel at 13,636 miles, this works out to an average per-vehicle miles per gallon rating of 20 mpg.

Walters, on the other hand, wrote: “In 1983, cars commonly got only 15 miles per gallon. Today, 30 mpg is not uncommon, and gasoline-electric hybrids can approach 100 mpg.”

Even so, is that much motoring really necessary?…Or even worth it?

Now, factor in motor vehicle purchase costs, the cost of gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, biennial vehicle smog testing and whatever other ancillary transportation expenses there are and it adds up. In fact, typically on average, transportation accounts for about 20 percent of household income.

Add to this time stuck in traffic. In the San Diego area, drivers annually surrender 37 hours of their time on the road in idle mode. In both Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana and San Francisco-Oakland, it’s even worse. We’re talking 61 hours yearly – the equivalent of a week-and-a-half worth’s of employment. In fact, in the nation in 2011, 2.9 billion gallons of gas were wasted this way.

And, for what? I ask.

An annual 5.5 billion hours of delay resulting in a fuel and congestion cost of $121 billion?

Surely, we can do better. And, of course, by better, I mean less driving.

How? You ask.

Driving alternatives is how – public transit being but one of those alternatives.

Getting people to switch to transit may not be easy. But, an upside is that the more people there are riding transit buses and trains, the less the demand on the roadway space there is. And, the less the traffic demand, the presumption is the better the vehicle flow on roads.

Among the more common transit types are:

  • Bus/Bus Rapid Transit
  • Streetcar (aka Tram, Trolley)
  • Light Rail, Elevated, Subway Transit
  • Commuter, Intercity, High-Speed Rail
  • Personal Rapid Transit
  • Group Rapid Transit

Is that all there is to transit? Nada!

Providing congestion relief is but one important part. Cutting emissions, stimulating the economy and encouraging station area development activity, are others.

So, a new direction for California transportation?

Haven’t we “waited” long enough?


Alan Kandel is a concerned California resident advocating for new, improved and expanded freight (and passenger) rail service. He is a retired railroad signalman previously employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in Fremont, California.