I’m 18 and This is Why I Don’t Want My Driver’s Licence
Photo via TUMI (Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative)
Author’s note: This article, which was originally part of a longer essay, has been condensed to fit the suggested word count of The Plant.
My routine morning commute takes at least an hour. After an eighteen-minute walk to the train station and a forty-minute ride, I still have to make my way onto our beloved metro along with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of every other sort of folk imaginable. Maybe I’ll find a seat, but chances are I’ll have to clench my core and brace my quads to keep stable as the lights turn red and the doors close as the floor beneath my feet accelerates inevitably to a determined seventy-five kilometers per hour. Amongst all this stimulation, even after a mere six hours of sleep, I have only one thought: “FUCK CARS!”
Transit is how we move through time and space. Transit controls the jobs we can have, the things we can buy, the places we can inhabit, and even the people we can meet. Our most sacred rituals are all about movement: getting your driver's licence, moving out, going away for college, going out on a date. A society's culture and transit are interdependent. Good transit gives us the freedom to live a good life. Good transit in America equals cars and car culture. It is the dream. Owning a vehicle means being completely responsible for your transit. It means being free to leave whenever you feel like and to choose your own route. Cars are synonymous with freedom. Right?
If that is the case, then why doesn’t it feel free? Why is the planet burning? Why are we always stuck in forty minutes of traffic and why does gas cost so much? Well, as it turns out, structuring our society around cars was perhaps not such a good idea.
For starters, cars are ridiculously expensive. According to the Roadside Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), as a car owner, you can expect to spend around $860 per month on operating and maintaining your vehicle. If you work at the minimum wage in Québec, that number equates to fifteen hours of labour per week, which represents almost half of a full-time work week. That is a lot. Contrastingly, public transit is considerably more affordable. On the Island, a monthly transit pass, which includes the entire bus, train, and subway system, costs $94. A reduced fare is offered to students for $56.50 and to passengers over sixty years old for 28.25$. At $94, the most expensive option for monthly public transit corresponds to an hour and a half of work per week. Fifteen or one? The choice seems evident to me.
Consequently, car societies are dependent on the presence of suburbs. Suburbs are designed to cater to the needs of our car-obsessed societies. They are characterised by low housing density and the scattering of points of interest, such as restaurants or schools. The private and separated urban design eliminates the potential for walkable or bikeable distances and raises the cost of living, allowing only the affluent and privileged to afford it. Often located far away from major cities, suburbs fuel our car dependency. Car culture and suburbs create private societies where only the privileged can survive while the marginalized are unwelcome.
If that has not convinced you yet, this might: cars kill us. In the United States, transportation accounts for twenty-nine percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, fifty-seven of which come from private personal transport. Greenhouse gas emissions create poor air quality, which affects our cardiovascular health and increases our risk of developing cancer. Dedicating an engine for almost every commuter is nothing short of an environmental and health tragedy. A study conducted in 2010 by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) discovered that a fully loaded commuter train emits only ten percent of the CO2 produced by a single passenger car. Incidentally, for the same number of commuters, trains and buses occupy a fraction of the space used by single-passenger vehicles.
The sad part is that the solution already exists. You can find it in Berlin, Tokyo, or Singapore: cities with dense neighbourhoods built in ways that prioritise walking, biking, and public transit. Urban wasteland picket-fence sprawling seas of single-family homes suburbs have to go. Right now, it is true that in most of America, the fastest and most convenient way to commute is driving, but that is a result of our actions, not a feature of the product. In the long run, car culture is what will cause our downfall. As a society, we need to shift the focus from individual privilege to collective effort.
At eighteen, I say, “FUCK CARS” because all I want is to be able to move and explore. I don’t want to worry about money or the planet. I want to be independent. “FUCK CARS” because they are designed to steal that freedom away from me.