Every time I see a freeway full of cars, I get angry. Aside from the environmental issues, which should get everyone riled up, I see a great mass of human brain power devoted to nothing. I see lost productivity. By lost productivity I mean not only in the traditional economic sense, but lost time. Time to spend with family and friends; time to play, to create. The "human capital" that we squander in service of our automotive fetish is astronomical. It’s just an extra bonus that we’re doing grave damage to the planet at the same time.
In the Greater Toronto Area alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if we squander a million person-hours per day getting from home to work and back. If we say that this applies to a population base of roughly five million, extrapolate that to a North American population of 300 million, we come up with a cool 60 million hours. Of course, Toronto has legendary problems with traffic congestion, so let’s be conservative. Divide by two and call it 150 million as a ballpark estimate for average. If everyone chose to work those hours, using an eight hour day, that represents a workforce of almost 19 million. Of course given the choice, probably 15 million of those would choose to watch television, but that still leaves four million to do valuable things, like think and create, to contribute to society. Even if my estimates are way out of whack, that’s a lot.
Clearly there’s a huge indirect payoff to building better, faster mass transit systems with comfortable environments that allow people to do something other than play human sardine. Then at least while you’re stuck in motion, you have a chance of getting some work done instead of focusing on not getting in an accident. Is this likely to happen? No. Government policies seem to enshrine — if not deify — car culture. Support of the automotive sector is taken for granted as "the engine of the economy", when it’s really an engine of decay. But trying to change this is tantamount to tilting at windmills, particularly since the capital investment required would probably be in the trillions.