Tuesday, 6 January 2015

What do Lefties Have Against the Car?

Happy New Year and all that bollocks.

Noticed a few rumbles online recently about various people of a dubious political slant i.e. left wing, wanting to get rid of cars in city centres. They say it'll make things easier for cyclists and pedestrians, reduce congestion, encourage use of public transport, reduce pollution and increase public safety.

All very well and good. However, it's a shit idea. Utterly terrible. Perhaps the worst idea since someone suggested to Herod that if he just killed all the first-born sons in Bethlehem, he'd be King forever. It's absolutely bloody typical of this London-centric, out-of-touch-with-the-rest-of-the-country politics which makes my piss boil.

Banning cars in city centres would be a really good idea, if every city in the country was like London. London has a tube station pretty much every 200 metres, and an overlapping bus system. It also has an extensive overground train system. The Underground is set to be extended, with the ambitious Crossrail project nearing completion. Millions of people use public transport in London every day and manage to get to school and work and home again without too much trouble.

Newsflash: every city in the country is not like London. Most cities do not have an Underground, or a Metro. Most cities have one train station, which is only really useful if you want to travel to other cities. Most cities have bus networks, but they are of variable reliability, and may often require a couple of connections in order to get people where they need to go. Many people have children, and need to take those children to school. Some of those children, being rather small, can't walk very far or ride bicycles. Even if they could, or if they used public transport, it would probably add the better part of an hour to the school run.

The car is an absolutely fantastic invention. It gives people freedom of movement to an extent never seen before. I, for example, am able to live two blocks away from my mother and grand-mother. I can get my kids to one of the best schools in the county, nearly two miles away, in about ten minutes. I can get to work, twenty miles away, in thirty minutes. I can reach other members of my family, three miles away in about fifteen minutes. I can get into my local city centre to go to the cinema, have a meal, go for a drink, eight miles away, in twenty minutes. The reason being - because I have a car.

It would be virtually impossible for me to live my life without my car. It is absolutely essential to me - I am paralysed without it. This is what life is like for virtually everyone I know. Banning them is an act of sheer lunacy, even just in city centres. All it would do is create chaos for millions of people, and damage the economy by driving people away from the cities.

If you want to encourage use of public transport, how about you change the way car ownership is taxed. One reason I don't use public transport is that because, when you take into account that I have to have my car taxed and insured even if I don't use it, it costs me £50 a month just for the privilege of it sitting outside my house. When I use it, the only additional cost is the petrol, which is a damn sight cheaper than public transport. So make the cost of running a vehicle proportionate to its use. Abolish Vehicle Excise Duty and Insurance Premium Tax on motor insurance. Stick it onto fuel duty, so that the people who have inefficient cars and use the roads more pay more. You'd probably find that, once people realised it would be cheaper for them to use public transport, they'd use it more.

How about you change the way public transport is organised? Instead of allowing central and local governments to issue monopolies to companies to run bus routes or train services, open them up to competition. Allow any company, provided it is properly licensed, to run whichever services they like. Once people have the choice about getting on one train five minutes later and the ticket is £5 cheaper, see what happens to prices.

How about you actually build decent public transport systems in cities that aren't London? There's only three cities in the UK that have a light railway - London, Glasgow and Newcastle. A further nine have tram systems. That's pitiful.

If you want to encourage people to use bicycles and walk more, fine. Build proper cycle paths which cyclists don't have to share with cars. If you want to increase safety, how about introducing speed limiters on all new vehicles? After ten years, make it compulsory for all vehicles. Fit wireless receivers to the speed limiters, so that variable limits apply in different areas. This would also reduce pollution and probably insurance premiums as well (see above comments about no point in using public transport if you're paying £50 a month to have a car sat on your drive). Encourage the development and take-up of automated vehicles - we already have the technology for landing planes, I'm sure we can sort it for driving cars.

If you want to further reduce pollution, introduce tax breaks for companies manufacturing ultra-low-emission vehicles, and for owning them. Encourage councils to assist homeowners with adapting gardens into driveways, helping with rear access to properties, so they can actually charge electric cars overnight. It also helps get cars off the road when they're not being used, which would go a long way to easing congestion in cities.

So, no, don't just ban cars, one of the most spectacular inventions since the wheel, which affords people more freedom of movement than they've ever had before. There's plenty we can do before we even consider that.