‘… James Bond had been nursing his car, the old Continental Bentley – the ‘R’ type chassis with the big 6 engine and a 13:40 back-axle ratio – that he had been driving for three years… He was hurrying safely, at between eighty and ninety, driving by the automatic pilot that is built in to all rally-class drivers…… It was then, on a ten-mile straight cut through a forest, that it happened. Triple wind-horns screamed their banshee discord in his ear, and a low, white, two-seater, a Lancia Flaminia Zagato Spyder with its hood down tore past him, cut in cheekily across his bonnet and pulled away, the sexy boom of its twin exhausts echoing back from the border of trees.’
Ian Fleming wrote that in 1963 when you didn’t need a custom built Bentley or a smart Italian sports car to have fun driving. Then, even modestly priced cars conferred status and even an identity on their owners and could be fun to drive: ask someone who owned a Morris Mini or a Fiat Bambino. Your car was a useful toy.
Things are different now; even if you are blessed with a very smart car, driving is rarely fun. But for most people, a car is just another of life’s necessities – like a fridge or a telephone. But unlike a fridge or phone, cars demand maintenance and, with increasingly strict safety and environmental standards, can be expensive to run. Worse, being a necessity, they can cause serious disruption and stress when they break down. Have we become their slaves?
If you live in or near a city centre, you probably don’t need a car because you have a choice of public transport or bike and car sharing options. Nevertheless, many people don’t live so close to where they work, either because they value the space of suburban living or simply because they cannot afford inner city or city centre property prices. The further we are from a city centre, the sparser public transport or bike and car share services become, so residents have few alternatives to their cars, often owning more than one per household.
The more people in any location who own and use cars the weaker the argument for providing alternatives is. Fewer alternatives in turn encourage more car dependency, reinforcing the cycle. Few people think of it this way, but this is hugely inefficient. Studies show that the average privately owned car sits idle 90% of the time, meaning that 90% of the money spent buying and maintaining a car is in fact wasted. That is a sizeable chunk of many household budgets.
Many European city governments are working hard to wean people off their cars with improvements and extensions to public transport and expansion of flexible, car and bike share services.
They may be pushing an open door. Many young people are shunning car ownership, many not even bothering with a driver’s licence. Mobile phones, ring tones and social media subscriptions have assumed the all important identity statement-cum-fashion accessory that cars once provided (and can be just as disruptive when not functioning properly).
While governments’ efforts to reduce car dependency rarely extend far beyond cities themselves, they are worthy of applause. On top of the obvious environmental benefits of reducing private car use, big savings are to be had in money and time, as well as extra security and freedom many ordinary car owners would gain by shedding their car dependency. Think of how much more fun they could have.
Featured image by Aleksejs Bergmanis on Pexels.