One Person Per Car

Look at them driving—one person per car—
Some driving forever; some not very far
They want to be somewhere that’s not where they are
So off they go driving, one person per car.

Some drive for a living; some drive just for fun
Some drive to the gym, then get out and go run
Then a bottle of juice and an energy bar
And away they go driving, one person per car

It’s not that they’re lazy, or selfish, or mean
Or under the thumb of some wastefulness gene
It’s not that they’re stupid; they’re not unaware
And it’s certainly not that they just don’t care
They’re the same as I am, and the same as you are
But off they go driving, one person per car

The drivers are heard to complain as they pass,
Of the costs of insurance, the high price of gas,
The taxes, inspections, repairs and the lot,
And there’s practically never a good parking spot
And the traffic! Imagine the time they have lost
As they sit, breathing everyone else’s exhaust
Till the roofs of their mouths taste of asphalt and tar
And they sit there—just sit there—one person per car

The car manufacturers sound a bit troubled;
They wish that their mileage could somehow be doubled
Without major changes—or any at all,
Cos the public won’t buy if the car is too small
It has to have room for a trip to the shore
With a couple of riders, perhaps three or four
And they need to have room for the blankets and gear
For the trips they might take, maybe one time a year
But of course they spend most of their hours, by far
Just sitting in traffic, one person per car

If the energy used as they try to explain
How they can’t take the subway; they can’t take the train
How they can’t join a carpool or hop on a bike
But drive to wherever, whenever they like
If the energy used as they make their excuses
Were tapped, for the energy bullshit produces…
Distill it, refine it, and fill up a jar
And off they’d go driving, one person per car

slight rant after the jump:

As I get ready to post this, I look out the window of the train, and see just hundreds and hundreds of cars. Crowded streets, busy highways, packed parking lots, they’re everywhere. And no, I can’t blame the individuals (much), when the infrastructure of our culture is built around the car. At Cuttlefish University, bike parking is horrible, but by damn we have some sweet parking lots for cars–even right in the center of campus, so drivers don’t have to walk too far to get to classes, offices, etc. Ask the average C.U. student, though, and we don’t have anywhere near enough car parking.

And in every class I have ever asked, students have admitted to driving to the gym to work out–even those who live within a mile.


  1. John Morales says

    Yah, I’ve noticed that.

    (I’d feel virtuous that I’ve never gotten a car license, except that my motivation is not creditable. If I weren’t a bike rider, I too would have a car, and most of my trips would not include a passenger.

    I work for a living, and my workplace is 43+ Km from where I live)

  2. claremilner says

    Some years back, my ex and I were in America for a wedding. We had spent the day with a friend and left to walk back to our hotel (a five minute walk). My friend’s partner got in his car and followed us down the road insisting that he give us a lift. We also got horrified looks from them when we said we’d caught the local bus to visit the nearby shopping mall.
    Sadly the car mentality is also bad across the pond. People react either with sympathy or puzzlement when I say I use the bus every day.

  3. unbound says

    Sadly, our local primary schools (Elementary, Middle, and High schools) have completely eliminated all bicycle parking, so it isn’t even an option for my kids (but was my primary method for getting to school when I was younger).

    At my company, we’ve been trying to have our resources work remotely from home more often (this will probably be the main way to get people out of their cars), but we keep running into people that don’t actually work when they are at home…which, of course, wrecks it for everyone else.

  4. raymoscow says

    I’m so virtuous that I walk to work and to the gym.

    However, I fly a lot on business, so I’m not exactly Mr. Green, despite my good intentions.

  5. davem says

    students have admitted to driving to the gym to work out–even those who live within a mile.

    Ive never understood why gym members don’t just run to the gym, then run back, thus making themselves fitter, for zero money.

  6. HS says

    People will always do what’s most convenient for them, no surprises there. I’m glad you mention the infrastructure problem, since this is what we really need to change if we want to get people out of their cars.

    In the suburbs, getting a car was a rite of passage because it meant freedom to go somewhere (anywhere) that wasn’t school, the library, and back home. Public transit was nonexistent or unreliable, and the zoning made walking/biking impractical at best (and generally regarded as suspect- walking while teenaged was cause for a chat from a patrolman). Even though I walk and bike most places, now that I live in a tiny Northeastern town, I know I’m lucky that it’s possible.

  7. says

    I can honestly say I have an excuse to drive. I live in Bartow and attend school in Tampa (45 miles away). No public transportation between those cities.

    I do, however, take public transportation whenever I can. The campus has a bus system, which I take while I’m on campus. I’ll ride the Tampa bus system whenever I need to. And I’ve been known to walk to Walmart (yeah, yeah, I know) on occasion.

    Bike parking is generally *everywhere*. Car parking is troublesome. And unless you pay for a full-fledged parking permit ($90/semester), you have to ride the bus from your car to class (and even that involves walking for blocks).

  8. Cuttlefish says


    You do indeed have an excuse, as do many others in your situation. You have an infrastructure to overcome. The question is (and it’s frankly asking a lot) whether there are nearby people you could carpool with, or pick up along the way.

    My students’ first thoughts are rather “all or nothing”; if they can’t take the bus, it doesn’t matter that they drive one person per car, rather than two (let alone three or four). Perfect, in this case, is the enemy of “better”.

  9. geocatherder says

    Saturday I did my Weekend Shopping, wherein I try to get groceries for the whole week. I use the car. This (Sunday) morning, Husband mentioned something he needed for Monday. Various other conversations and observations indicated we actually needed quite a few things from the store, so I ventured out in the car again this afternoon. (I’m a grad student struggling with a thesis, so I tend not to drive much during the week, except to see my advisor.) But it still felt like failure, to drive to the grocery store twice in two days.

    It’s an organizational problem, and one I’ll have to overcome in the 14 or so years before I retire. Retirement House will be 15 miles from the nearest convenience store, 50 miles from the nearest big grocery store, and 75 miles from the nearest Huge Box (aka Costco) retailer.

  10. P Smith says

    The worst thing about policies and laws is that most times, those making policies and laws are those who never have to deal with the consequences, who never have to live under them. That’s true of many things when government is involved (e.g. those needing unemployement benefits or welfare), but I’ll stick with the topic at hand.

    Those who make rules for “alternative” forms of transportation are often those who have privilege and drive cars everywhere. They don’t have to use the transportation or deal with the impossible or contradictory rules they enact.

    Case in point, bicycles. I live in Taiwan. The subway system in Taipei is supposed to allow bicycles on, but the rules are ridiculously restrictive. You can only take them on during daylight hours (8-4), which makes it useless as transporation morning or evening going to or from work. Only half of the stations allow bicycles on the trains, and worse still, if you get some uncooperative power-tripping employee, he can deny any cyclist from entering with no explanation or appeal.

    It’s not just the large city metro system. The high speed rail and regular rail service trains claim to be “bike friendly”, but the policies are idiotic. You have to dismantle your bicycle, put it in a box, and take it on as freight.

    What cyclist keeps a box for his bike? And even if one did, how would a cyclist carry a box with a bicycle at the destination? Plus, the train companies refuse to provide a place to store boxes at the train stations. At least the Taipei metro only requires taking it to the first or last car of the train and no boxes.

    Common sense suggestions like having a train car at one end (removing the seats) for cyclists goes in one ear and out the other, despite the number of trains with empty cars, or the fact that more cyclists want this service, or the fact that all the trains systems are money-losing businesses.

    Their response to pointing out problems or flaws in their policy is to say, “It’s not our problem.” Seriously, that’s what they’ve said to me in person and by mail when I’ve pointed out the problems in their policies.


  11. P Smith says

    davem says: “Ive never understood why gym members don’t just run to the gym, then run back, thus making themselves fitter, for zero money.”

    What are most sidewalks in cities made of, concrete or grass? Concrete is not the most comfortable surface to run on. Walking to the gym is far less stressful on the legs.

    Besides that, the distance run is inconsequential to anyone who exercises strenuously. It’s 500m from my home to the gym where I run 5-10km on a treadmill or 20-40km on a stationary bike.

    And if you were suggesting people in the city should just run to the gym, that tells me you don’t work out or don’t live in an urban area. With no running surfaces – unusable sidewalks, streets with bad drivers, pollution, etc. – gyms are the only place to work out safely.


  12. Die Anyway says

    Slap my hand. I’m one of those who commutes to work, sitting all alone in my car. I’ve considered car-pooling but there’s no one from my office who lives near me and starts at the same hour or gets off at the same hour. And although I go in at the same time every day (7:00am), I don’t know when I might get out. Some days it’s 4:00pm, some days it’s as late as 9:00pm. I thought about the bus but my 30 minute commute would become 75 minutes — each way. And I’m not going to risk my life to get to work by bicycle much less spend the 2 hours it would take to ride all the way across Pinellas County on busy urban streets. As someone above mentioned… working from home could be the solution. I am seriously considering that. One bit of irony, I bought my house to be close to my work. It WAS close enough that I could ride my bike and I did on several ocassions. Then the company moved to a new building many miles away. Sigh…

  13. jay says

    Sounds so easy doesn’t it. Why not car pool? Ride a bike? Walk?

    Firstly while my car is often empty, other times it is full. If you need the capacity sometimes, you have it all times.

    In the city it might work, besides a car is a pain there. I live well out of the city and work about 28 miles from my home (and my wife travels 25 miles in the other direction). Would I give up my job, no. My wife’s job, no. My home, no. Do you realize how few people travel between those destinations? At the hours I travel? And my responsibilities involve taking care of problems that happen.. so I’m not always returning home at anywhere near the same time. A few years ago I tried vanpooling and it was hell. The pick up and drop off and delays consumed several additional hours out of every day.

    Buses and trains sound useful, but only if enough people are going at one time between point A and point B. If you start from, and end up near a hub, it’s fine. Otherwise it simply is impractical. Buses can’t run from every place to every place and fill up, trains even less. And to be on the right time for your requirements, even less. I know someone who does not drive so she works at a local mall (which, unlike many other places is a stop on the bus route). By happy accident she lives near a bus stop. But it still is a major constraint: since the buses run once an hour, she will have to take one that arrives before working time (from 1 to 59 minutes wasted, average about 1/2 hour). Coming home she has to wait for the next bus out (from 1 to 59 minutes wasted: average 1/2 hour). With her daughter in school she is additionally constrained to take a bus that will get her back in time for school dismissal, another wasted block of up to 1 hour (the drive from the mall to the school is about 8 minutes, by comparison, regardless of time). And this does not begin to address the literally hundreds or thousands of potential employers she could have if she weren’t constrained to bus routes and schedules.

    Yeah, I drive. It’s made a decent job (actually 2) and my home possible.

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