The impact of car dependency on social equity.

 
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Over half of all Israeli households own cars. Yet at any given time, 80 percent of Israelis do not have a car available to them personally - or they are too young or too old to drive. Broad social gaps exist with regard to who enjoys access to the car, with affluent men at the top of the ladder. Fewer women have drivers' licenses than men -- and those who do have less access to the family car. Children and senior citizens are much more dependent on others for car transport, or on public transit and walking. Although car ownership is more widely distributed among households than it was in the past, it still follows income lines, which means that the ultra-Orthodox, Jewish North African and Arab communities have less access.

Different sectors of society also differ in their ability to escape the destructive effects of increasing motorization. Affluent households with several cars available can escape cities degraded by traffic to garden suburbs, from which they can commute for work and shopping. Poor urban dwellers cannot escape, however, and they suffer even more from the increased traffic noise, congestion and pollution generated by the new commuters. Overall, car dependency offers relative freedom to the privileged at the expense of the mobility, freedom and quality of life of the majority.

CAR OWNERSHIP -- A DECEPTIVE MEASURE OF EQUITY

Even when car ownership rates grow dramatically, affluent groups continue to enjoy preferential access to cars and car-oriented services. Already in the early 1990s, over 50 percent of Israeli households owned at least one car; more than 67 percent of households of four and five members owned cars. (1) In 1996, 73 percent of Jewish households in Jerusalem, a relatively low-income city, had at least one car. (2) Still, car ownership remains closely linked to income, with most low-income families remaining carless, and average car ownership rates remaining lower in poor communities than in affluent ones. Moreover, the gap between car ownership in low-income and high-income communities has remained rather constant over the past two decades, even as overall car ownership rates rose dramatically. (3_4)

Figure 17: Car Ownership per 1,000 Population

Higher income groups not only own more cars, they also travel more by car -- and therefore benefit more from a car-oriented infrastructure, low gasoline taxes and parking fees. Conversely, higher taxes on automobile use can be considered a progressive form of taxation -- particularly if the tax monies are channeled into the public transport system. (5_6)

Car Use and Income

In Israel, business executives make twice as many interurban trips weekly as service workers and clerks/secretaries. Executives, professionals, academics and standing Army personnel all travel more than lower-paid secretaries, sales workers and service personnel.

Even the acquisition of a driver's license appears to be linked to socio-economic status. Development towns, Arab communities and communities with a high proportion of ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents like B'nai Brak have the lowest proportion of licensed drivers per capita in Israel, while the highest proportion of qualified drivers can be found in upper-income areas of the center of the country (Gush Dan). (8)

Trends in Car Ownership

In a car-oriented development scenario, even if car ownership overall increases dramatically, it will remain disproportionately higher among high-income groups.

An examination of car ownership projections developed by the Trans Israel Highway Company reveals that lower-income Israeli towns and rural regions still would own fewer cars, per capita, than households in higher income areas -- even if car ownership rates more than doubled. For example, in the northern Negev, there would be 345 cars per 1000 residents in the year 2020, while the projected rate in upper-income Ramat Ha Sharon and Herzliya is 656 cars/1000, or nearly double. (9)

In a car dependent society, shopping, housing and recreational sites become increasingly dispersed, and highway oriented business parks, shopping malls, and suburban housing projects become important travel destinations, which traditional public transport or pedestrian routes cannot serve well.

One car becomes insufficient for a household to perform its daily tasks, and two and three car families become more common, at least in upper income brackets. Middle and lower income families that own only one car, or no car at all, find their mobility increasingly limited -- and their access to work, social and cultural opportunities constrained as well.

Rising car ownership rates, therefore, generate new social inequities -- a car dependent society exacerbates the "mobility" gap between the car-rich and the car-poor.

The unequal distribution of cars between rich and poor persists even in the most car-oriented societies. In Great Britain, which has the highest rate of automobile ownership per capita in Europe, one-third of households do not have access to a car. (10) In the United States, which boasts the highest per capita car ownership rates in the world, between 11.5 and 15 percent of households do not even own a car and a full ONE-THIRD of the population are regarded as "transportation disadvantaged" because they do not drive or have regular access to a car -- those populations include 26 million elderly, 24 million disabled, and 25 million poor -- as well as many young people aged 7-17. (11)

It should also be stressed that car ownership is not the only way to provide car access to those who do need the flexibility of a car. Indeed, in countries like Holland or Switzerland, car-sharing schemes have become widespread and popular. In Switzerland, one car share scheme involves 20,000 subscribers with access to 1000 cars in 350 cities and towns across the country. (12)

THE IMPACT OF CAR DEPENDENCY ON SELECTED SOCIAL GROUPS

City Dwellers

Historically, wealthier Israelis settled in moderately dense neighborhoods of apartments that often were located quite close to the central city, while new urban working class neighborhoods were located at less prime locations further from the center.

In the past decade, however, with the onset of suburbanization, the socio-economic balance of urban areas has shifted, and there has been an exodus of the middle class from the central city. The poor, new immigrants, foreign workers, the elderly and the ultra-Orthodox (in the case of Jerusalem) are increasingly left behind in the urban setting. (13) Trends in Jerusalem also reflect an outmigration of population from central city areas to neighborhoods on the fringes of the city -- or new suburbs in the Jerusalem district. (14)

Although Tel Aviv as a whole still retains a relatively strong socio-economic base, many stronger socio-economic households in older central city neighborhoods are gradually moving to newer locales on the periphery.

Policymakers and researchers generally link such outmigration to the price, size and condition of city housing -- failing to examine the extent to which quality of life factors, including traffic pollution and congestion, may also spur urban flight. For instance, in a survey of Jerusalem residents who left the city, housing was cited as the main reason for outmigration, but the decline in the quality of urban life was cited as a stronger motive than poor school quality or Arab-Jewish tensions. (15) The subjective perception of housing quality may be strongly influenced by neighborhood environmental factors. There are, for instance, central city neighborhoods where average apartment size is very large, but which still have suffered population stagnation or decline. Jerusalem's Rehavia quarter, where average apartment size is one of the largest in the city -- 81 meters -- suffered a net population loss in 1994, reflecting a stagnation in the "recycling" process of homes that should naturally occur. Not incident ally, Rehavia, once a quiet garden neighborhood, is today badly congested with traffic. (16)

It appears, then, that urban quality of life is not exclusively a function of housing size or quality -- but rather the result of a complex set of factors in the built environment.

Among those factors, car-oriented transport systems can become one of the most powerful triggers in urban decline -- generating excessive traffic, noise, congestion and pollution that render the "outside space" of city dwellers unsafe or unappealing. (17) Urban road construction, often designed to accommodate increased commuter traffic into the city to the benefit of suburbanites, means a loss of green "backyards" to cramped city dwellers. Air pollution generated by increased traffic in the city prompts a quantifiable decline in center city home values, as does noise. (18,19)

Excessive traffic is now emerging as one of the biggest environmental concerns of urban dwellers in Israel. In one recent survey of residents in industrialized Haifa, 56.6 percent named vehicles as the most problematic source of neighborhood pollution. In contrast, only 22.7 percent of those surveyed cited the oil refineries, which have been the focus of much public attention in recent years. In neighborhoods such as Bat Galim and Central Carmel, vehicles were ranked as the biggest source of pollution by over 80 percent of respondents. (20)

A 1990 study by the Haifa Area Association of Cities for the Environment found that noise problems -- mostly from transport -- bothered local residents more than air pollution or poor trash collection. (21) In Mercaz Hadar, a central city area of Haifa troubled by outmigration, 83 percent of residents noted that noise was the greatest environmental disturbance. Another Haifa-based study of 100 apartments for sale in the Carmel Ridge area found that similarly valued apartments sold for less when the apartment was exposed to heavy traffic or street noise. A 100-meter third floor apartment with no sea or mountain view would be valued at $178,000 if it was facing a quiet street,...

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