In New York, the car becomes queen again, at the risk of a “Carmageddon”

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A used car salesman in the Brooklyn neighborhood on September 29, 2020 in New York City (AFP / Thomas URBAIN)

To escape public transport and the pandemic, more and more New Yorkers are buying a car, igniting the second-hand market and undermining hopes of decongestion in the first American metropolis.

At 35, a city dweller at heart, Julien Genestoux had never owned a car, whether in Lyon, Rome, San Francisco or New York, where he has lived for 5 years.

“As a user, it’s a nightmare, the car in the city,” he admits. “It’s the traffic jams, turning for hours to park. For me, it was not practical at all. But here, it unfortunately becomes necessary.”

A few weeks ago, he took the plunge and bought a family car via a used vehicle sales site.

“We have three children,” he says. “Living in New York when you can’t do anything in the city since everything is closed … you have to get out.”

This internet entrepreneur swapped weekends in Central Park for trips to the Rockaways, one of New York’s beaches.

Julien is not the only one to have had this idea. He was even the last of his bunch of friends, none of whom had never bought a car before the pandemic either.

The Manheim used vehicle index, which measures price trends in the United States, reached 163.7 in August, its all-time high, against 141.3 a year ago.

At the beginning of June, Chris Stylianou, a second-hand seller in Brooklyn, was on the verge of completely emptying his stock, unheard of in his 30-year career.

“A car I paid for $ 5,000 two years ago,” says the owner of the Major Auto Show branch, “I’m paying 5,500 today. Same car, same model, same condition.”

– “Transient” –

“People were buying just so they wouldn’t have to take public transport,” recalls Chris Stylianou. “Everything that was fit for sale is gone.”

At A Class Auto Sales, a second-hand seller in downtown Brooklyn, Rudy Blocker also sees in this heatstroke the effect of the plan to support the economy and the $ 600 that many people received every week. Americans unemployed until the end of July.

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Julien Genestoux and his new car in the Brooklyn neighborhood, September 29, 2020 in New York (AFP / Thomas URBAIN)

Julien Genestoux and his new car in the Brooklyn neighborhood, September 29, 2020 in New York (AFP / Thomas URBAIN)

“People had a little money and it burned their pockets,” he laughs.

While the opportunity snapped up, the new one didn’t have the same effect at all. Even though sales have picked up since June, they are still significantly down from 2019 for all major manufacturers.

“In leasing, you have to commit for three years. We didn’t want to do that,” explains Magdalena Cerda, epidemiologist, who bought a BMW sedan for $ 35,000. “And when you buy a new car, you lose so much money …”

This mother of a seven-year-old girl has resolutely chosen the temporary, because she wants to believe in the return of the New York that she has known and ensures that she would be delighted to take the subway again.

“Everyone hopes that it is transitory”, agrees Julien Genestoux. “For us, if the situation returned to normal, (…) I think we would get rid of the car. I don’t have the impression that this is something definitive.”

– “Carmageddon” –

Neither Julien nor Magdalena use their new vehicle on weekdays, unlike the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who now hit the road every day.

“They are different people from before” the pandemic, says Fernando Bajana, manager of the GGMC Seven Eleven parking lot, located in Midtown, Manhattan, in an office district. “They used to come to work by public transport, but now they’re scared.”

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Traffic jam on the New York Expressway, May 15, 2020 (AFP / Johannes EISELE)

Traffic jam on the New York Expressway, May 15, 2020 (AFP / Johannes EISELE)

“While most New Yorkers still work from home, the level of traffic is down only 9% compared to last year,” alerted the Transportation Alternatives association in September.

The following? “Carmageddon”, according to the association, that is to say the ultimate congestion, with higher car traffic than before the pandemic and an army of new cyclists.

“If today”, says Julien Genestoux, “people buy cars, I think that there is also a part of the failure of public transport policies in a city.”

Self-proclaimed champion of the fight against pollution, singing the praises of cycling and public transport, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has so far refused any major measure to prevent congestion born from the pandemic.

Scheduled for January 2021, the congestion charge project in midtown Manhattan, which could reduce traffic, has finally been postponed to the end of 2021, at least.

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