By on January 21, 2008

29floodcarxlarge1.jpgWould Rosa Parks have been able to hop a bus and escape New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina if she'd been in town in 2005? It’s a pretty convoluted way to start a rant, but The Black Commentator guest columnist Meizhu Lui says Hurricane Katrina exposed the "internal combustion engine" divide. Forgetting the fact that Amtrak was deadheading [empty] trains out of town and that New Orleans had lots full of [empty] school buses, Lui flags the “alarming disparity in car ownership that literally was the difference between life and death for many Gulf Coast residents." The author then cites a “recent report” claiming that 24 percent of black households don’t own a car– as opposed to seven percent of white and 17 percent of Latino households. Rather than calling for expanded car ownership, Lui says there’s a better alternative. “Hurricane Katrina not only dramatically revealed the grotesque racial and class divisions in our country, but also pointed to some obvious causes, such as our car dependent economy. An inclusive and dependable public transportation system should be at the top of the list.”

[Martin Schwartz of Vehicles for Change provides an alternative view of
the benefits of car ownership for low-income people in the podcast with RF below] 
 
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17 Comments on “Meizhu Lui: Racism and the “Internal Combustion Divide”...”


  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I don’t usually take the time to listen to podcasts but I did listen to this one. Sounds like a really good program.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Nice to hear someone doing something good for the community and sounds like a great organization.

  • avatar
    storminvormin

    Hate to be a cynic but $2000 towards a new car sounds like an empty gesture to me. You’re doing a very commendable job Mr. Schwartz.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    In theory, it’s a noble concept. But I would imagine that organizations such as Vehicles For Change will ultimately add a lot of poorly maintained, uninsured vehicles to share the roads with the rest of us. And it may ultimately contribute in helping to keep these people in poverty, because of the high overhead expenses associated with car ownership.

    I see a lot of unintended consequences with programs like these. It’s a bit like a subprime mortgage — it might seem wonderful to get people into it, but what happens when they don’t have the cash to keep it up?

  • avatar
    mastermik

    Pch101,

    thats not necessarily the case. As a poor college student, I drive a 92 corolla that cost me about 2 thousand to acquire five years ago. Its very cheap, but it works wonderfully, day in, day out. Never broke on me. NOT ONCE since I got it. It is insured and this and that too… so, perhaps its a good program for people who can’t afford their own cars.

  • avatar
    NetGenHoon

    mastermik,

    thats not necessarily the case. As a poor college student, I drive a 92 corolla that cost me about 2 thousand to acquire five years ago. Its very cheap, but it works wonderfully, day in, day out. Never broke on me. NOT ONCE since I got it. It is insured and this and that too… so, perhaps its a good program for people who can’t afford their own cars.

    While in your case the $2000 was well spent on a reliable used car. What percentage of American used cars do you think fall under the ‘reliable’ category? Also related are the wear and tear repairs, like tires and brakes, which can be sudden, expensive, and vital to the cars safe operation. That’s without the rising cost of gas. Giving someone a car is really a bucket with a hole in it.

    Public transportation systems, ie buses and light rail are a more practical solution, not just for the low income, but the mid income, reference Washington DC, NYC, London, Paris, and Toyko.

    Not that this is a bad idea, just that the solution is never this simple. (x2 on unintended consequences)

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    If poor people are going to get $2000 for a car, why doesn’t Tata just import their $2500 car for those people?

  • avatar
    Adonis

    @storminvormin

    At the most basic level, a car is used to get a person from home to work/school and back. That’s it. That means, all it needs is to be reliable and have enough space to bring you and your stuff to your destination. Anything over that two or three thousand dollar car is extra.

    With two thousand dollars, you can get a decent ten year old car easily. I’m speaking from personal experience.

    Long term, though, a good public transportation system would serve us all much better.

  • avatar
    radimus

    But how good of a public transportation system is needed? For what we have to deal with in the majority of the US, can you even scale up such a system economically? And would the system actually lower emissions?

    Case in point. I live and work and an area with a large mix of rural, suburban, and urban spaces. There is a bus that runs between the town I live in and where I work, but it only makes two runs and neither fit my work schedule so I drive. However, since I drive I am able to take care of errands on the way home since the vast majority of places I do business with are on the way home or just slightly out of the way. If I took the bus these errands would require car trips all their own to handle. So, while emissions may be reduced by taking the bus (a point I really don’t believe given the nastiness of bus exhaust), the difference is lessened when I have to fire up a car or van to go back out.

    I could go on and on.

    Kudos to Martin Schwartz for the work he is doing.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Awesome, this is great stuff. They SELL them the car! They are teaching people to fish!

    OTOH, they now get to compete with the state of Texas who wants to use my money to do a worse job of this and turn poor people into slaves to car dealers. We may be having to string up a legislator or two.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Awesome, this is great stuff. They SELL them the car! They are teaching people to fish!

    I would prefer that they give them the car, and sell them insurance and a maintenance package. And then take the damn thing away from them if they neglect it or use it to collide into someone else.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Nope. Giving them the car is giving them the fish.

    Insurance is mandatory, here. Dunno about your state. And they DO include a maintenance package in the deal, just like new car and CPO purchases. I believe it is important that the car NOT BE FREE. Free items are not valued, and therefore, rarely cared for.

    They will drive more carefully having paid for the car than not.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Insurance is mandatory

    Yes, but the process of proving that one has insurance is bogus. It’s easy enough to get an insurance card with a minimum payment, and then let the policy lapse.

    Nationally, about one of seven drivers is uninsured. You can bet that this low income group makes up a disproportionate proportion of that uninsured group. I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of low-income car owners had no insurance.

    The problem with this group is that they have nothing to lose in the event of an accident, because they own very little and have low incomes, which makes then effectively judgment-proof. Meanwhile, they have little to no spare cash with which to make repairs.

    We don’t need more uninsured motorists with bad brakes and suspensions on our highways. There are plenty of them already — clearly, car ownership does not automatically breed a sense of responsibility.

  • avatar
    storminvormin

    Sorry, Adonis. Did they say $2000 towards a brand new car or $2000 toward any car? I was under the impression that they had to buy a new car. You can certainly get an excellent car for $2000. I bought my Saab for $1500 and it runs like a top and is very entertaining to drive. $2000 toward a brand new car, however, is merely a way to make some easy money disguised as a self-congratulatory pat on the back. I doubt that the benefits of owning a brand new car would outweigh the costs for a person making

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Pch,

    We disagree once again. I find it kind of strange that you would think that a car that was just reconditioned by this group, and for which there is a likely trusted and cheap repair service available, would be more likely to be out of repair than anyone elses.

    Furthermore, if there is some problem with the insurance system, then perhaps we should address that. If you want to agree with me that the mandatory insurance law is just another example of big government passing useless laws that are poorly constructed and without ANY forethought in regard to issues other than appearing to “care”, then maybe we can just agree on that.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I find it kind of strange that you would think that a car that was just reconditioned by this group, and for which there is a likely trusted and cheap repair service available, would be more likely to be out of repair than anyone elses.

    Cars generate overhead expenses associated with ownership. I fully expect that when choosing between rent and food, and maintenance and insurance, that most people will prioritize rent and food.

    Here’s the problem — the driver has no choice but to pay for fuel, but he can choose to forgo insurance or a brake job. And when he does forgo those costs, guess who gets to subsidize him when he collides into me. (Hint: not the lower income car owner.)

    In any case, the lack of insurance is a factual data point, and one that doesn’t comfort me. If freedom is another word for nothing left to lose, then the low-income driver is the freest of them all. Unfortunately, his freedom comes at my expense.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    “In any case, the lack of insurance is a factual data point, and one that doesn’t comfort me. If freedom is another word for nothing left to lose, then the low-income driver is the freest of them all. Unfortunately, his freedom comes at my expense.”

    I beg to differ. We are not talking about low income drivers in general. We are talking about the drivers who go get accepted into this program.

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