First, it serves as a reminder that there are millions and perhaps tens of millions of households in the United States without the financial wherewithal to sustain personal ownership of a reliable motor vehicle (and many others for which it is a great financial burden). It is not entirely “the economy, stupid” that determines whether low-income households can “afford” to purchase a car, it is also the willingness of Wall Street to extend credit in ways that put the monthly payment within reach. One can have many views on how this situation came to be and what to do about it, but the fact remains that we have created a transportation/land use system in which millions of people feel the need to purchase something they cannot afford in order to achieve a bare minimum level of participation in the economy and society. That’s absurd, and it is root of the problem. The suburbanization of poverty, job sprawl, and poor public transit service only threaten to make this worse. . . .
Second, the experience of the last few years is a reminder that building a less car-dependent transportation system is a necessity not just for the environment, our health and the effective functioning of our cities and towns, but also for the financial health of American households. Relieving as many households as possible of the obligation to own a vehicle is an urgent project. The wealth of new technologies and tools available in transportation – along with tried and true measures such as good public transportation and access to low-cost travel via biking and walking – can provide access to convenient, affordable mobility to a wider variety of people. Public policy over the last 75 years has contributed to creating a country in which most people feel the need to own a car. Smart public policies can help give people other choices.
from "What Comes After the Auto Bubble" by Tony Dutzik, Senior Policy Analyst for Frontier Group