Blog post:

A world without cars?

The Trapeze Team | May 01, 2015

Tags: Passenger info | Public transport | Future of transport |

Picture a world of large, open, green spaces; of cheap and efficient public transport systems; abundant, affordable housing; and happy, healthy, productive people.

This is a world where private and public expenses have been dramatically reduced, paving the way for innovative new technologies, projects and industries. People live longer, and both local and global environments and ecosystems are flourishing.

It is a world reaping fantastic social, environmental and economic benefits.

And it’s a world without cars.

Could the removal of cars produce such a dramatic change? Let’s see.

Cars sit idle 96% of the time – often on driveways built at the expense of seven million front gardens. At the same time, we spend 106 days of our lives searching for parking spaces – and yet more stuck in traffic.

We know increasing incidents of road-rage are bad for our health, but of course cars are also literally killing us: Almost 2,000 people die on UK roads each year, with a further 23,000 seriously injured. And if we’re lucky enough to be safe and healthy despite driving, numerous studies reveal that public transport users are happier than those who travel by car.

And of course we also need to consider the environmental impact (Road transport is a major contributor to climate change) and economic burden (UK road congestion costs the economy £8 billion a year, and road traffic accidents a further £19 billion).

So is it time to ask whether the car is actually worth the social and financial cost?

The car’s major selling point – availability of convenient rapid movement – can be achieved effectively by public transport, argues Labour MP Alan Whitehead.

Indeed, as congestion increases, convenience and mobility are increasingly denied to car users, as Jason Torrance, policy director at Sustrans explains in a Guardian article entitled End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile: “It’s no longer rational to use cars in cities like London.”

This view is neatly summarised by Stephen Moss in the same article: “Cars were invented as agents of freedom, but to drive (and, worse, to have to park) one in a city is tantamount to punishment.”

Already some city centres (see Copenhagen) are moving away from cars in favour of public transport, while others (see Helsinki) are planning to do so.

But such a transition can only take place alongside improvements to the public transport infrastructure – which would of course in turn improve the transport service offered to passengers.

In the short term this would of course include heightened emphasis on information technology, including integrated Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI), Journey Planning and Mobile or e-ticketing delivered seamlessly wherever or whenever it is needed.

Consideration would also need to be given to increasing capacity, though the example set by Lyon – where car use has fallen by 20% – reveals the importance of technology: “Digital information is the fuel of mobility,” says Gilles Vesco, pioneer of the city’s transportation transformation.

Another obvious example is, of course, London, where only 15% of commuters use a car, and where the public transport infrastructure also significantly boosts the national economy – as this Economist article notes.

So is this vision of the future really so hard to imagine? After all, much of this technology already exists.

What is more, cars are less and less the symbol of status they once were – particularly among the younger generation; many of whom value their smartphones more than their cars.

Indeed, the early seeds of the transition away from private car use may already have been sown; evidenced by the rise of car sharing and the concept of ‘mobility as a service’.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the creation of a car-free world is our own willingness to entertain the notion and then act upon it. Former US Presidential candidate, Al Gore – who proposed at the 2015 World Economic in Davos that we redesign all our cities so we no longer need cars – said: “It takes time to connect the dots, I know that. But I also know that there can be a day of reckoning when you wish you had connected the dots more quickly.”

A world without cars? Those are dots worth connecting.

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The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.

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