It should not be overlooked that top speeds for a few exact a different price than high speeds for all. Social classification by levels of speed enforces a net transfer of power: the poor work and pay to get left behind. But if the middle classes of a speed society may be tempted to ignore discrimination, they should not neglect the rising marginal disutilities of transportation and their own loss of leisure. High speeds for all mean that everybody has less time for himself as the whole society spends a growing slice of its time budget on moving people. Vehicles running over the critical speed not only tend to impose inequality, they also inevitably establish a self-serving industry that hides an inefficient system of locomotion under apparent technological sophistication. I will argue that a speed limit is not only necessary to safeguard equity; it is equally a condition for increasing the total distance traveled within a society, while simultaneously decreasing the sum total of life-time that transportation claims.

There is little research available on the impact of vehicles on the twenty-four-hour time budget of individuals and societies.gif From transportation studies, we get statistics on the cost of time per mile, on the value of time measured in dollars or in length of trips. But these statistics tell us nothing about the hidden costs of transportation: about how traffic nibbles away at lifetime, about how vehicles devour space, about the multiplication of trips made necessary by the existence of vehicles, or about the time spent directly and indirectly preparing for locomotion. Further, there is no available measure of the even more deeply buried costs of transport, such as higher rent to live in areas convenient to the flow of traffic, or the cost of protecting these areas from the noise, pollution, and danger to life and limb that vehicles create. The lack of an account of expenditures from the social time budget should not lead us to believe, however, that such an accounting is impossible, nor should it prevent our drawing conclusions from the little that we do know.

From our limited information it appears that everywhere in the world, after some vehicle broke the speed barrier of 15 mph, time scarcity related to traffic began to grow. After industry had reached this threshold of per capita output, transport made of man a new kind of waif: a being constantly absent from a destination he cannot reach on his own but must attain within the day. By now, people work a substantial part of every day to earn the money without which they could not even get to work. The time a society spends on transportation grows in proportion to the speed of its fastest public conveyance. Japan now leads the United States in both areas. Life-time gets cluttered up with activities generated by traffic as soon as vehicles crash through the barrier that guards people from dislocation and space from distortion.

Whether the vehicle that speeds along the public freeway is owned by the state or by an individual has little to do with the time scarcity and overprogramming that rise with every increment in speed. Buses use one-third of the fuel that cars burn to carry one man over a given distance. Commuter trains are up to ten times more efficient than cars. Both could become even more efficient and less polluting. If publicly owned and rationally managed, they could be so scheduled and routed that the privileges they now provide under private ownership and incompetent organization would be considerably cut. But as long as any system of vehicles imposes itself on the public by top speeds that are not under political control, the public is left to choose between spending more time to pay for more people to be carried from station to station, and paying less taxes so that even fewer people can travel in much less time much farther than others. The order of magnitude of the top speed that is permitted within a transportation system determines the slice of its time budget that an entire society spends on traffic.

created 95-06-20, last modified 95-07-15 by Ira Woodhead / Frank Keller