As the huge downpour by the wrath of Harvey recedes, Houstonians left without shelter face the most daunting task of rebuilding their lives, rebuilding themselves. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods. The flooding has destroyed as many as a million cars in the Houston metro area, a figure most early estimates say that is the most vehicles ever destroyed in U.S. history.
A good transportation network is a fundamental need, more so in the wake of a mammoth natural disaster. In car-dependent Houston, the consequences of the destruction of so many vehicles comes into prime figures. A monumental challenge is faced by rental companies and dealerships to supply cars to people. Many cars, like many homes have suffered damages to expensive to repair.
“You really have to have a car if you’re in Houston,” says Andrea French, executive director of Transportation Advocacy Group Houston, which advocates for better funding for all modes of transportation. People in the city center may commute by bus or bike, and Uber and Lyft have made it easier to go without a personal vehicle, but as a rule it’s hard to get by without your own wheels. That’s why 94.4 percent of households in the Houston area have cars—1.8 each on average, according to analyst firm Cox Automotive. Only Dallas has a higher percentage.
As of Thursday morning, insurance companies had received about 100,000 claims for cars hit by Harvey’s flooding, 75 percent of them destroyed beyond repair. There are cars still submerged that people can’t get to A lot of people are just now returning to Houston to assess what they’ve lost and start rebuilding.
The cost of the losses sits somewhere between $2.7 and $4.9 billion and might rise even more. This might even be a wake-up call suggesting the importance of a public transportation network which results in people owning lesser number of cars.
The need for replacement vehicles is massive and immediate. For many with insurance, the first step will be getting a rental car until their payment comes through and they can take home a new forever car. Emergency services, and other groups like the Red Cross also have to get around and are in need for vehicles.To cope with the surge in demand, rental companies are shipping thousands of extra cars from all over the country into the region. Dealerships, supply-chain networks in Harvey-hit areas have extended their operating hours.
“We have plenty of new vehicle supply,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive. Based on current market offerings, rates of car owners with insurance, and vehicle registration data, he estimates 30 to 40 percent of replacement vehicles will be brand new. Automakers sense a good PR opportunity are are offering heavy discounts to Harvey victims
But some ruined cars won’t be replaced at all—and that’s where Harvey’s impact may prove most devastating. Roughly 15 percent of Texas vehicle owners don’t have any kind of car insurance, despite laws saying they must, according to Hanna, at the Insurance Council of Texas. Of the remaining 85 percent, just three-quarters have comprehensive insurance policies that are sure to cover flood damage.
A situation like this sheds a lot of light on the lack of existing infrastructure. It’s difficult to get around when it’s not flooded. Houston’s public transit agency had half of its bus lines up and running by Friday, and Harvey’s aftermath could provide an impetus for expanded and improved service.
Unfortunately, the pain of the hurricane could continue to throb long after the water dries up. Our hearts go out to the victims.