Harvey Can Help Houston Rethink Its Car Culture


Photographer: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hurricane Harvey destroyed 300,000 to 500,000 cars in Houston and the surrounding area, the largest event of its kind in history. As part of the post-disaster response, local leaders should push for widespread use of web-based car-sharing and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft — and kick-start rapid economic recovery in the region.

Houston is a city designed around personal car ownership. Yet the massive loss of vehicles is an opportunity to rethink that deeply rooted culture. Our research, which uses economic models to quantify all the costs of car ownership, shows that so-called mobility services could relieve the need to replace many of the destroyed cars and, in the process, save money and time while reducing congestion, parking space and pollution.

Hurricane or no hurricane, mobility services can be an economical choice for many people once the hidden costs of car ownership are accounted for, including the time we spend maintaining, fueling and driving our vehicles. Transportation network companies, including carpooling options like Chariot, may one day permanently replace many individually owned cars. Family cars may be relegated to weekend use, while transportation companies handle the commute.