Pandemic fuels New York used-car sale surge, risking 'Carmageddon'
More and more New Yorkers are buying cars as they avoid public transport due to the coronavirus pandemic, ignite the second-hand market, but undermine hopes of less congestion in the Big Apple.
Julien Genestoux, 35, never owned a car when he lived in Lyon, Rome and San Francisco. And he survived five years in New York without needing one.
"Using a car in the city is a nightmare," he told AFP. "There are the traffic jams that go around for hours looking for a parking space."
"It wasn't practical at all for me. But unfortunately it became necessary here."
A few weeks ago, Genestoux, who has three children, finally took the plunge and bought a family car from a used car website.
It enabled his family to flee New York at a time when virtually all cultural activities were suspended.
"If you live in New York and can't do anything, you have to go out," said the tech entrepreneur.
Genestoux traded the weekends in Central Park for trips to Rockaway Beach. And he's not the only one who buys four of his own bikes.
He was the last of his group of friends to buy a car - none of them had ever owned one before the pandemic.
The Manheim used car index, which shows the price development in the USA, reached an all-time high of 163.7 in August compared to 141.3 a year ago.
In early June, used car dealer Chris Stylianou was on the verge of emptying its inventory completely, something he had never achieved in his 30-year career.
"A car that I bought for $ 5,000 two years ago pays $ 5,500 today. Same car, same model, same condition," said Stylianou, owner of the Major Auto Show in Brooklyn.
"People only bought to avoid public transport. Anything that was good would go," he added.
Rudy Blocker, a used car dealer at A Class Auto Sales, also in Brooklyn, believes the surge in purchases was helped by weekly $ 600 checks the government sent to unemployed Americans through July to help boost the economy.
"People had a little money and it was burning in their pockets," he said.
However, sales of new cars have not increased.
While they have been on the rise since June, they are still significantly down for all major manufacturers from 2019.
"With a lease you would have to commit yourself for three years," said epidemiologist Magdalena Cerda, who bought a BMW station wagon for 35,000 US dollars.
“When you buy a new car, you lose so much money the moment you drive it out of the parking lot. It seemed like a better investment just buying a used car,” she added.
- 'Gridlocked' -
Cerda, the mother of a seven-year-old girl, wanted a temporary fix because she hoped that one day New York City would return to normal and be safe on the subway again.
“Everyone's hoping it's temporary,” Genestoux agreed.
"If the situation got back to normal, we would probably get rid of the car," he added.
Neither Genestoux nor Cerda use their new vehicles on weekdays, unlike the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are now on the road every day.
"They are other people (from the past). They are people who work here," said Fernando Bajana, manager of the GGMC Seven Eleven parking lot in Midtown, Manhattan.
"They used to use public transport to get to work, but now they're scared of it."
Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that works to remove cars from New York's streets, found in September that despite most New Yorkers working from home, "traffic was only nine percent year-over-year has decreased ".
The group warned that without action, the city could become a "stalled, exhausted, and crash-laden Carmageddon."
Self-proclaimed anti-pollution campaigner Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to come up with a plan to prevent the congestion caused by the pandemic.
A pre-pandemic congestion charge system for Midtown Manhattan planned for January 2021 has been postponed to at least the end of 2021.
"When people buy cars today, I think it also shows a failure of the city's public transport policy," said Genestoux.
tu / pdh / mdl
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