Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's too late to put the car genie back in the bottle

Indicative opinion piece in today's by Sean Carney. A few highlights...

...When the 1990 tramways union blockade over changes to the ticket system (yes, children, unions did have that much power once upon a time) brought the system to a halt, I made a shocking discovery: it took only 35 minutes to walk into work - quicker than the tram! Even after that I stayed with the trams, until in a single month I calculated that I spent roughly two hours each week hanging around tram stops. I bought a car and started driving it to work. Most mornings it took eight minutes. Most evenings it took 10. I confess: I made Melbourne's air dirtier, but I got back about 90 hours of my life each year...
So let's drop the utopian notions of an Australia where everyone can have a train station or a light rail nearby and the services are frequent and trouble-free. If it ever happened, and maybe it did 50 years ago, it cannot happen now. We treasure that little private capsule, insulated from the outside world, where we can abuse talkback callers or listen to our favourite music. We love our cars and we want to keep them. The challenge is to find ways to make cars safer and cleaner. And not to feel so bad when we enjoy one of humanity's greatest inventions.

Read the whole article at

It's not this article I like to focus upon (although it does let us know the mindset we are up against), it the letters to the editor, in response.

I'd rather skip to my loo, than drive

"AUSTRALIANS love their cars. Nine out of 10 households have a car." Shaun Carney (Comment & Debate, 6/8) must believe there is an unassailable logic connecting these two statements. What would he make of this: ``Australians love their toilets. Nearly 100% of households have one.'' The difference is, toilets don't consume around 15% of the household budget. Very few people are killed by the operation of or pollution from toilets.

Toilets may be indispensable, but the best thing most people would say about their cars is that they are a necessary evil. In many suburbs, car ownership rates are a lot lower and the amount of kilometres driven in them lower still. Even in the outer suburbs, people who live within a short walk of a railway station are many times more likely to use it.

Does Shaun believe these people are part of some aberrant minority, perversely holding out against his ``national (car) culture''? Or are they simply the lucky ones, who've snapped up property in an area that historically had good public transport?

Greg Barber MLC, Greens MP for Northern Metropolitan region

Paradise? Sounds like hell

WELL, thank you Shaun Carney, that's sorted that out! All red-blooded Australians love their cars and should be able to drive them as and when they like.

Shaun's premise leads to sprawling suburbs with no public transport, jobs a long drive away and hulking stand-alone shopping centres with an identical mix of shops. After we create this paradise, we find the congestion is appalling, and then start to knock down some of the less car-based inner suburbs to impose monolithic urban motorways so everyone can drive from one suburb to another a little faster.

John McPherson, Collingwood

Have bike, will travel

IT IS too simplistic to argue that because Australians love their cars, they always will. The twin challenges of climate change and increasingly scarce and expensive petrol are forcing us to become much more energy and fuel efficient

Part of the solution has to be getting more people to choose public and active transport (bikes and walking) over private cars. Building more roads just adds to traffic congestion. That's not good for the environment or the economy. It is far smarter for governments to invest in public transport to help people get people out of their cars, save on fuel costs and reduce congestion.

Monica Richter, Sustainable Australia program manager, Australian Conservation Foundation

Adapt or drive

SHAUN Carney, in correctly asserting the Australian love affair with the car and the sense of independence and affluence it signifies, also essays the paralysis of selfishness which characterises our nation's resistance to an inevitable new world.

Things change, and from whichever gun the shot comes, we won't be able to dodge the bullet. Public transport may grow wildly, car ownership may plummet, and this may be one of the things that fashions a new, better and - scary as it may be - altered Australian culture.

We have become so seduced by the convenience our wealth has created that the very notion of alteration or adaptation sends us off crying foul. It's time we embraced the fear and excitement in metamorphosis, and dropped the implicit notion of immunity from change, including the way we get around. Whether it be fewer cars, electric cars or personalised rocket packs, things will be different.

Richard Webber, Melbourne

Read them in

1 comment:

kousalya said...

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