The end of the motor car?

Cars dominate our world.  We are addicted to them. They whizz us about, carry our goods and chattels and, for some of us, are our biggest status symbol.  Driving can be enjoyable but is often very frustrating as we often sit for long periods in traffic jams.  In fact, cars have lots of downsides which we generally ignore.  Cars are not an efficient method of transport. Cars kill and maim us, both through road accidents and through their poisonous fumes.  In 2017 there were 1,793 deaths, 24,831 serious injuries and a staggering total of 170,993 casualties of all severities in reported road traffic accidents. Air pollution causes 64,000 early deaths in the UK every year according to alarming new research.  We tolerate these shocking statistics because we have been seduced by the convenience of cars, their appeal as shiny toys and to some extent our laziness.  

Have you noticed how many cars there are parked on garage forecourts, and at ports?  Is your street/High Street cluttered with cars?  Is your garden just a place to store your car? All these vehicles are not going anywhere. They’re just taking up space.  Cars spend most of their lives stationary, cluttering up our streets, our garage forecourts, our airports, our shopping centres, our docks.  Vast areas of tarmac are used just for keeping these stationary vehicles; front gardens have been reduced to parking places in front of many houses; towns and cities house multi-storage car parks.   And they’re tying up capital, lots of it.  

Cars pollute our environment both with noise and with noxious gasses burning fossil fuels and outputting carbon dioxide.  In fact transport is now the most polluting sector of the country accounting for 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Because of these problems the government plans to phase out the production of diesel and petrol cars by 2040 although this date may well be brought down to 2035 and Labour is proposing a ban by 2030.

Are electric cars the answer?  The production of electric vehicles has risen dramatically.  While only around 500 electric cars were registered per month during the first half of 2014, this rose to an average of 5,000 per month during 2018.  However if all cars were electric the supply of electricity to charge them would mean a massive investment in electricity generation – renewable if we want to reach our targets.   There are also concerns about the scarcity of the precious metals needed in the production of the huge numbers of extra batteries.  All the other problems associated with private car ownership would still exist, roads would still be cluttered and so on.  A more workable solution would be to stop private ownership of cars entirely.  Without privately owned cars we could reclaim our streets, car parks and gardens and instead walk, cycle, use public transport or taxis.

The average cost of a car has been calculated to be almost £100 per week, including fuel, insurance, road tax and finance.  The average use of a private car is just 9 hours/week so each hour is costing over £10. Brand new cars lose 60% of their value in the first three years.  The cost of cars to the country is astronomical.  Traffic jams alone are estimated to have cost £8 billion pounds last year.  The savings if they were banned could be used to provide decent public transport together with proper cycle tracks.  

With our modern technology we can have an Uber or taxi waiting for us within minutes of registering a request – just as or more convenient than using our own cars.  Imagine if private ownership of cars was banned and self-drive vehicle could be summoned to your front door from your mobile phone.  You would have all the advantages of owning a car and more.  If you had family staying or wanted to go somewhere with a group of friends you would book a larger vehicle.  You could be charged per distance transported for different size vehicles. If you chose to share, say for local journeys, your ‘bus’ would pick you up from your front door and drop you off at the supermarket, cinema or wherever your destination was.  If you were flying away your self-drive car would deposit you and your luggage at the drop off zone at the airport. No car park charges.  No worrying when you returned whether your car would start or whether the shuttle bus would keep you waiting.  Roads would become safer with all vehicles keeping to the speed limits and the correct distance from the vehicle in front.  Traffic would move faster because of this.  Journeys would be more pleasant as no-one would have to concentrate on driving. Because such vehicles would be in constant use many fewer would be required to do the same number of journeys.  Technology could be developed to calculate either say the quickest or the cheapest way of getting from A to B depending on whether the passenger was prepared to share transport or not and whether they were transporting goods as well as themselves.  Busses with their rigid routing and timetables could be replaced by vehicles requested on demand by persons making the same journey. Such measures would mean that far fewer vehicles will need to be made which would reduce the carbon footprint dramatically.   When driverless vehicles become the norm, and they will in only a few years, journey costs will be considerably less than now because the driver’s wages are currently a major proportion of the journey cost.

There will be considerable resistance to ceasing private ownership as we love our cars and we’re used to having one or more but this could be done without causing too much upheaval.  Already in our big cities there are congestion charges and substantial parking charges for residents.  These could be gradually increased making it uneconomic to own a car.  Even now there is no need to own a car in places like London as the public transport is so good.  Then private cars would be banned entirely from ever increasing areas of city centres.  Smaller cities would then follow with the same policies and then towns would start charging more and more for residents parking and at the same time restrict private cars from more and more of the town and provide better and better public transport again making owning a car expensive and untenable.

There is no doubt that our lives will have to change substantially over the next few years in order to reduce our carbon footprint and as transport is one of the main contributors to this we must consider ways of decreasing it urgently.  Reducing and then eliminating private car ownership would be one of the most sensible ways of doing this as it solves so many other problems as well.  The advent of self-drive cars and the demise of the privately owned vehicle can’t come soon enough.  It’s a no-brainer.  We’d have more convenience; it would be cheaper, we’d reclaim our gardens and streets; and it would be safer.

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