Thinking Aloud

earthquaker Issue 92

I seem to have been involved in a number of conversations recently on the subject of personal transport. I spent nearly seventeen years driving for living, starting off with trucks but ending up as a chauffeur with limousines. All in all, an average of around 1,000 miles a week for the whole of that period. That said, I have never owned my own car and nowadays I don't even have a driving licence, since I refused to renew my photocard.

The main topic of conversation has been the perceived “freedom” that car ownership seems to offer. The number of cases I have had quoted at me where it would not be possible to live in a particular location, the children would not be able to go to a particular, school, certain enjoyable activities would not be possible if it
were not for car ownership.

I tend to view things from a different perspective. Because people want freedom to drive where they wish, and because Leeds City Council seems unwilling to limit that freedom, Leeds is one of the most heavily polluted cities in the country – excluding London. Traffic in Leeds is almost at a standstill for most of the day and the bus
company finds it impossible to maintain anything approaching a regular timetable. For a city sprawling over 550 sq km there is just one park and ride, the football stadium car park, which cannot be used on match days!

Yes motorists have their percieved freedom, but that is at the expense of everybody else. And of course the topic of pollution leads on to which is the “best” car to drive. A recent series of tests by campaign group Transport & Environment showed that not one of the diesel cars currently on the market passed the EU Euro6 tests in actual road tests, some considerably worse than others (notably Fiat), although all of them apparently passed laboratory tests. Hybrids definitely reduce pollution but vary considerably in performance. Pure electric are fine for local work and light driving but most lack the range for long distances.

Surely, the best way to cut down on pollution is to question, not which type of car to use, but to ask the question “Do I really need a car?” For the majority of people, if they are completely honest, the answer is “Probably not.” For the few occasions when a car is essential it may be possible to hire, or to use a taxi for a one off journey. For everything else, public transport is usually a possible – or get exercise - by cycling or walking.

As I explained earlier, I have never owned a car, and yet we brought up three children, and never had a problem doing what we wanted to do. Interestingly, now they are grown up and with their own families, none of them have their own cars, even though they are perfectly able to afford them. And now, when I am less mobile than I was, I still have no problem getting around and doing what I want to do.

Pete Redwood