Friday, November 12, 2010

Room For One More? How About 450,000?

Room for one more?
At the recent Salon del Automovil hopeful car vendors projected that with more free trade agreements and lower taxes Colombians could purchase 450,000 cars per year - almost double the 245,000 sold in 2010. For them, that's profits. But for the country, it a disaster of traffic jams and pollution.

Unfortunately, the country is heading that way - particularly with the arrival of cheapo Chinese-made cars. Disastrously, these Chinese cars generally capture the worst of the automobile: they're huge, ostentatious, inefficient and very polluting.

Car vendors claim that more new car means less pollution and better transit, when the opposite is true. That's because those old, used, pollution-belching vehicles stay on the road, polluting and congesting on their long, slow drive to the graveyard. Meanwhile, many of the new cars aren't clean at all.

Colombia's story captures many aspects of the Tragedy of the Commons, in which individual benefits generate a loss for the population as a whole. While a car generally gets you places faster than you would on public transit, (although perhaps slower than a bicycle) the whole city moves more slowly because of your car. And it's more polluted. And the planet suffers from more global warming gases.

But, propelled by immense amounts of marketing, Colombians want to buy cars and emulate the lifestyle of North Americans and Europeans - no matter that the car-addicted culture means sedenterism, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Colombia could still do something about this, by improving public transit, switching subsidies from cars to bikes and transit and even putting warning labels on car ads, as they finally have on cigarrette packs.

But I'm not holding my ever-more-polluted breath.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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