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Let’s help Atlantans beat the high cost of car ownership by offering a better, more walkable future

This image shows part of the United Auto Recovery lot in Hapeville, just south of the City of Atlanta (and this is only a section — it goes on).

What you’re looking at are repoed vehicles waiting for owners to pay lenders off and recover them.

To my eyes, it’s also a picture of the need for affordable homes in transit-served density, where the expense of car ownership is less of a necessity and the threat of repossession is less present in peoples’ lives.

The struggle of transportation costs is real, and it’s getting worse every year.

According to a NY Times report, the average annual cost of new-car ownership rose to $12,182 this year due to increased “purchase prices, maintenance costs and finance charges.” That’s an incredible cost burden — one that obviously hits lower-income drivers the hardest.

Too often, we demand car ownership by way of our unwalkable, sprawling urban designs which offer little alternative. We essentially enforce this burden.

Also from that NYT article:

“America’s dependence on automobiles means hefty bills, the risk of dangerous crashes and stress. And now, even with strong wage growth and elevated savings in recent years, high sticker prices and escalating interest rates are starting to take a toll: The share of borrowers moving into delinquency jumped sharply in late 2022 and early 2023”

When you read “borrowers moving into delinquency,” understand that to also mean ‘people who have little choice but struggle with car-ownership burdens because we aren’t allowing them affordable homes in walkable neighborhoods rich with transit services’.

For a look at the savings we could allow residents in a less car-dependent, future version of Atlanta, take a look at this chart showing the difference between car ownership costs and annual transit-pass costs for the average Atlanta transit commuter (source: atltransit.ga.gov).

Of course, you have to multiply that cost of transit passes for each person in a house. But even if we can get to a level of walkability that allows two-car families to trim down to one car, that’s a lot of savings.

We can do this. Bit by bit, we can use public tools like Invest Atlanta, and zoning reform, and the city’s affordable housing fund, and the More MARTA program (and much more) to provide affordable homes in a compact, pedestrian-scaled setting that’s easily served by transit routes.

It’s crucial that we remain optimistic about our chances for success when it comes to creating a better Atlanta that lifts people out of the burdensome costs of car-centric places — not just money, but also poor health outcomes and threats to safety.

So here’s me, hoping for more hope in the the new year. Let’s find it and cling to it in 2024, and make great strides in building better places. Don’t get held down by the oppressive weight of car-dependent, inequitable, unsustainable built environments. Hold tight to a vision for change & progress.