I just finished reading Pat Murphy’s 2008 book, Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change. It is the most practical book I have read so far on what individuals can do to gear up for the end of oil that these two unfolding crises will cause.
Murphy is pretty academic along the way, relying heavily on citations to focus on what people can do on food and housing, after citing a lot of data in making a strong case for why the twin crises should be taken seriously.
But when he got to transportation, he clearly showed that he couldn’t find written material for the solution he favoured. He correctly pointed out that most improvements in the literature focus either on vehicle design (pushed by the auto industry) or getting people to leave their car at home, and use transit more (the transit industry’s pitch), at least for the trip to work.
He concludes that people’s obsessions with car ownership and driving are the problem, and that riding in cars used as “jitneys” (vehicles plying fixed routes on un-fixed schedules for fares) could replace much of what now is called transit.
He reasons that congestion is not helped by vehicle-design changes, and that private ownership (with the high fixed costs) works against people willingly not using their investment for the longest and most frequent trip type. Solution? Fewer cars. Rather than taking cars away from some people and leaving others still with theirs, he proposes people voluntarily will abandon their private cars (and its high personal costs, despite government subsidies) to share those remaining with their own drivers, using them to make a living (he is unclear about this, or whether, like my idea, cars are driven by those who are themselves travelers, but who book as drivers rather than as passengers).
The fixed routes obviously mean that jitneys will not provide door-to-door service, but run along through streets and that riders will have to walk to and from these streets from inside their neighbourhoods or work or shopping areas. This will mean more walking, immediately increasing walkability and providing new customers to local businesses, and eye-on-the-street for imrpoved safety and security.
Walkability in further improve in the long-run by increasing pressure on local government to spend its money on facilitating walking, and less on facilitating driving.
He even makes a point that such a scheme will vastly improve road safety. With many fewer vehicles and vastly fewer drivers, we can reduce the number of fatal conflict points while raising the bar for the standards drivers have to meet. He also places a great deal of faith — as I do — in the positive role of GPS and other “black box” technologies that monitor each vehicle and the way it is being used.
Related to this is a recent report issued by UK group CarPlus: “Car Clubs: A Cost-Effective Route to a Low-Carbon Britain.” It chronicles the growth of the carsharing industry in the UK (where the option is “car clubs,” since “carsharing’ means ridesharing there) and forecasts that by 2020, the industry will have one million members, vs. 113,000 members today. Will that forecast catch the eye of the auto industry (Peugeot, in a related post I stumbled on today, is starting it mu service to rent cars and scooters and bikes by the 1/2-hour to clients, partly to allow people to test-drive its products.)
The greatest growth is in municipalities which have chosen to provide street parking exclusively for the clubs’ cars.