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Thursday, June 21, 2012

ReThink London: ReThinking Car Ownership

Getting people out of cars may take putting them into, uh, a car, a shared car.

My grandfather never owned a car. It simply wasn't something he needed. He walked a lot. He was a pharmacist and owned his own business. He walked from home to work everyday of his working life and he worked until he was about 85.

Even in his 90s he still liked to walk. Sometimes he walked as far as three kilometres to take in a movie. For longer distances he used buses, taxis and trains. He said a nice perk of never owning a care was all the money he saved.

My grandfather died in the late '60s. If he was alive today, he might own a car. Transit today is not what it was in my grandfather's day. For instance, the taxis that my grandfather used were Mercedes. They were very nice cars unlike some of the dirty cabs I've taken here in London.

My nephew, who has lived most of his life in New York City and Chicago, got by without a car until he moved to Hamilton. Living in Hamilton he needed a car. He bought a little Ford Fiesta. When he moved back to Chicago he took the little car with him.

My nephew is very lucky, he had free parking available to him in Chicago. This made keeping his car a reasonable decision. Now that he owns a car, he drives. He drives a lot. He no longer takes public transit all the time, as he once did. You see, there are certain fixed costs associated with car ownership. These costs --- for example, insurance and depreciation --- do not change all that much whether you drive your car or not. Day to day, the costs that concern my nephew are the immediate ones, like the cost of gasoline. This makes driving seem less costly than taking public transit. Often, it isn't, but it is a great illusion.

I know driving my Volkswagen Jetta TDI has cost me about 84-cents per km. That includes all out-of-pocket expenses. If I keep my Jetta long enough, like something approaching a decade, I may get the cost per km down to about 35-cents. On a day to day basis, I only think about the cost of diesel fuel. My Jetta only costs 8.3 cents to cover a km.

In other words, when I drive downtown today, it actually costs me $8.00. If I keep my Jetta long enough, the cost drops to $3.30. But the cost today feels more like 78-cents; The cost of the diesel fuel.

There's a lesson here. If public transit is to work, we must keep people from even owning cars. This sounds tough and I'm sure it is but it is possible. Sometimes it is even possible to get a car owner to use public transit, if it must be truly competitive with the car.

I know this because I lived in Toronto for awhile and I almost always took the subway, the streetcar or the bus. The traffic in T.O. was hellish and pull out of the traffic mess and one quickly discovers that parking is yet another horror story.

And here is the next lesson: If you want to get folk out of their cars, don't invest too heavily road improvements. And let the car owners worry about parking. If finding parking is tough, well tough.

And the last lesson flows from the first two. If public transit is competitive with the car, if driving a car is slow, expensive and irritating compared to public transit, folk will gladly take the bus, or whatever is offered.

And, this is the funny part. It is possible that one of the best things that can be offered folk to get them out of their cars --- is a car. Think autolib', the electric-car sharing scheme being tested in Paris, France. And here is a link to an article from this past April: 100,000 rentals!

Autolib' in Paris, France, was in the testing stage when last I checked.

If this has got you interested, here is a short video looking at both the bike and the car sharing programs in Paris.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog. We have the zipcar in Chicago. I think they are in Toronto also. It a private company that has a fleet of cars that you can inexpensively use on an hourly basis. Alternative for people relying on public transit but needing a car once in awhile.

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