Since the 80’s the amount of cars that populate the world’s roads have exponentially grown to well over 1 billion. This has been for decades an important economic drive as a new car contains a number of taxes while its usage requires yet again a large amount of costs (energy, insurance, roadtax, parking, repairs and maintenance) as well as public investments (road infrastructures, energy and parking facilities, etc). It is not a surprise that the car industry and public mentality around the status and luxury of having and using such device are all key for modern financial household of society. The individual and collective dependence on the car is beyond dispute.
The size now of the car population however also has its counter effects. The growth demanded the increase of infrastructure, destroying along the way our landscape. For some this was justified by the formentioned economic dependence on the system but others started to complain. Landscape is important for other key elements of our human organization. The amount of cars polute so much through emision of fine particals (PM 2,5 and PM 10) that it has become a serious health hazard. The air polution affects long and heart problems which have become a mayor social cost. Children that grow up in high polution areas show also psychological disorders which affect the potential of living a decent, productive life.
Another issue that has become dramatically significant is the dependence of the automotive world on fossil energy which is rapidly running out. Fossil fuels are highly polutant and finite, creating a urgent need for transformation of the sector.
When we look at the property and usage of cars studies reveal that many families have two cars, one for the labor related travel requirements and the other for the short distance, i.e. for shopping, taking the kids to school or sproting activities, etc. The ease of having a vehical parked nearby for immediate use is of such importance to people now that the increase of costs of property and usage does not affect this sense of luxury and need. People rather modify their nutrician than that they get rid of the car(s). In some regions we see an increase at the end of the month of usage of public transportation because one cannot afford petrol anymore until the next pay cheque comes in. Then the car is back in usage until cash again runs out.
Many innovative solutions on individualised and collective mobility have been invented to overcome some or even all of the negative issues related to the cars. But these have difficulty breaking through due to the deeply engrained mentality around the usage of a car. We did a study recently asking people in the city what would be needed to get them to get rid of their car?
Interestingly 80% of the respondants would be willing to eliminate the car out of their lives but not just like that. They would do so if:
* all their daily needs were nearby. Even in cities we do not have that luxury because of the centralization processes of last many decades. We created huge malls where one can find any and everything but one needs a car to go there. So even in cities it is difficult to find everything nearby.
* there would be reliable, cheap, trusworthy alternatives available. That is also an issue. Certain cities have invested in a well oiled public transportation system and additional public services. In those cities you see a large population of people who do not have a car anymore. But most cities and countries have deficiant alternative solutions leaving the public without a choice. Taxi’s run on petrol or gas too and polute equally as cars. So if alternatives are introduced and organized they at least have to solve not only the ownership issue but also social and environmental issues.
We can conclude that mobility is key for productivity in any economy but mobility as it is today is also a mayor hazard and cost for society and environment. The challenge is to bring all back into a sustainable balance. This requires technological innovation and rethinking the system but also addressing the mentality of our users. If you want to take away or discourage the commodity of a car one will have to replace it with an even better option. When one achieves this a whole new world market lies ahead.