Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Open Letter to AAA

I got a letter in my mailbox today from the Automobile Club of Southern California. You can guess that I didn't enclose the requested registration certificate and $49 membership fee. Here's what I sent back instead:

Dear Ms. Sabins:

I received your offer of pre-selected membership in the Automobile Club of Southern California today. I note that you began your letter with "Dear Fellow Driver." I am writing now to inform you that your membership selection process has gone horribly awry. While I am an enthusiastic participant of the United Airlines MileagePlus program, from whom you seem to have gotten my address, I am not, in fact, your fellow driver. Indeed, I do not own an automobile, and I am unlikely to do so in the future. The only vehicle I'm certain to use on any given day is my bicycle, and I like it that way.

Moreover, I was a former member of your organization, and I informed your employees at the time of my reasons for leaving your organization. Collectively, the Automobile Association of America is one of the largest anti-environmental and anti-active-transportation lobbying organizations in the nation, as you are no doubt well aware. AAA has a long history of advocating against progressive transportation policy and for sprawl-inducing freeway construction, road and parking lot expansion, and subsidies for the auto and oil industries. Your organization is one of the principal foes in the fight against the catastrophic specter of global climate change, a bastion of oil-economy cronyism in a world that desperately needs more forward-looking solutions.

I also find your organization's recruiting tactics reprehensible. The average AAA member does not know about the lobbying arm of your organization. Indeed, the letter that you sent me does not speak at all about the disproportionate influence that you wield in Washington. Instead it speaks of all the benefits I will receive from membership in the Club, including gold-plated roadside assistance, maps, travel guides, DMV services, and discounts. Your organization has built itself into a lobbying powerhouse, commanding the "53 MILLION" members you so enthusiastically tout, by lying to them in order to use their membership to inflate your power in Washington. Members join for the towing, and are unknowingly used for the political ends of your organization and the industries who support you.

In conclusion, I will not be returning the enclosed registration card, along with my "bargain" of a $49 payment. Please remove me from any and all mailing lists, customer databases, and lists of "selected" new members immediately and in perpetuity.
Alethea Nelson, MA


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

For the rest of us environmentalists who don't believe in "planned obsolescence", who own older cars, or even older motorcycles (and scooters that get 70mpg), $49/year is a cheap insurance for maintaining our livelihood.

Don't blame AAA for helping us tow, and/or get into our locked cars. Blame the drivers, blame the city infrastructure, blame the civic planners and architects. Heck, go ahead and blame history as well.

Keep believing living in Riverside w/o a bus is a viable solution for Angelenos, and I'll keep passing you in my beater motorcycle. O no, wait, nevermind, you won't catch me dead in Riverside, on 2 wheels or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

There are options other than AAA to get the same services. First, there is Better World Club (www.betterworldclub.com). Second, check you auto insurance to see if they cover towing and labor for an even cheaper amount.

JN said...

Anon 15:34-

A, you're obviously not a regular reader, because I do own a scooter. I still use it as little as possible-- we mostly bought it for my wife's commute. I put maybe 40 miles a month on it.

B, your response highlights the point. AAA isn't just about getting you a tow or getting in to your car. AAA is actively lobbying against bicycle and transit infrastructure and funding in Washington, and they are using people like you, who just want a tow or a locksmith, in order to bolster their political power. By buying a AAA membership, you are hurting the political cause of active transportation and urbanism, and therefore hamstringing one of the biggest hopes for mitigating climate change we have. They also lobby *for* freeway and highway expansion, and for auto subsidies like Cash For Clunkers and the commuter parking benefit. Great work on that environmentalism stuff.

C, there are plenty of buses in Riverside, and the occasional train. I'm not saying that living in Riverside is a solution for Angelenos-- I'm saying that it's a solution for *Riversiders.* And your LA snobbery is not lost upon me.

D, see Anon 15:55's comment-- there are ways to insure yourself against vehicular breakdown without supporting the highway lobby. I have roadside assistance through my motorcycle insurer for ~$3/month.