Making Do With Fewer Cars
Making Do With Fewer Cars: A New Meaning for Car-Efficiency, by Chris Bradshaw
Using Metered Access to Shared Cars (MASC) to Avoid the Coming Global Car-Population Explosion as Developing Countries Strive to Emulate West’s Inefficient OPOCO (One-Person, One-Car Orientation)
[NOTE: This essay was written for a special issue of the on-line Journal for the Canadian Association for the Club of Rome (CACOR) in 2012. The club did not follow through and publish it.]
“The problem that lies behind consideration for pedestrians, as it lies behind all other city traffic difficulties, is how to cut down absolute numbers of surface vehicles and enable those that remain to work harder and more efficiently.”
[Jane Jacobs, 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, p. 349]
This issue of The Journal is an attempt to argue for a new approach to overcome the “car problem.” It is fitting to come from within the Club of Rome (through its Canadian affiliate, CACOR) since the Club’s iconic book, Limits to Growth (1972), included a rationale for limiting both consumption of resources and human population. What it didn’t touch on is the link between people and the most significant consumer good: the automobile.
In a speech I made to CACOR in 2010, I related my experience as a carshare entrepreneur and advocate proposing a new way to limit resource use without people doing without: limit access to certain items that are not accessed that much time – cars, tools, washing machines, and certain rooms (via co-housing) – through various forms of sharing. Rather than the current regime in which private ownership is considered ‘natural’, society can adopt a new regime that would make those who value thrift giggle with excitement. Since that talk, two books have been published on this theme: What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, and The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, by Lisa Gansky . [https://hearthhealth.wordpress.com/about/previously-published-works/feet-first-and-car-sharing-recent/sharing-is-humankinds-oldest-technology-ready-for-a-comeback/]
Carsharing – along with taxis, car-rental, and ridesharing – are referred to in this edition as MASC, Metered Access to Shared Cars. MASC holds the promise of not just reducing the number of cars by 90% in a fully developed country or city that has already reached car-ownership saturation, but of reducing demand for housing along with the many consumer goods that are underutilized, tie up personal capital, and take up expensive space to store between uses. I will explain in a second essay how the car delivers, literally, the entire lifestyle of excessive consumption. [https://hearthhealth.wordpress.com/about/previously-published-works/feet-first-and-car-sharing-recent/a-theory-of-psychological-car-dependence/] The current regime of car-access, personally owned cars, is dubbed here as OPOCO, the one-person, one-car orientation.
Although both population and resource use have continued to grow exponentially in the 40 succeeding years (since Limits to Growth appeared), and although natural limits do not appear yet to have been reached, the issue is very much alive, particularly the growing alarm over levels of CO2 accumulating in the upper atmosphere, which is heating up the planet (presciently mentioned in Limits to Growth, p. 72). Few people doubt that the world continues to move toward such limits. The book did not give focused attention to the automobile, although it was referenced marginally in several sections.
I focus here on how and why we should limit the number of cars on the planet, not just stopping or slowing down the rate of growth, but developing a new form of access so that each car — and the parking spaces it uses — can serve many more people, thanks to the unavoidable fact that privately owned cars are used only 1.5 hours a day (even though their owners have to labour for 2.5 hours to pay for this underused mobility resource). In this scenario, excess cars from developed countries could either be recycled early, or shipped to developed countries to be used in collaborate ways.
The automobile is especially amenable to sharing thanks to: a) its high cost of acquisition and the high-ratio of on-going fixed costs (insurance, maintenance, home-base parking, depreciation, licensing) that cannot be reduced by driving less, b) its low utilization by its owner, and c) the fact that it is designed to be used solely in public spaces, and takes up public and semi-public space both when used and when not used (parked). Just as roads are shared, it would make immanent sense to share the vehicles used on those roads, which is pretty much how freight moves.
Unlike all other consumer goods, the car is not used in space its owner provides; although it is marketed as a “personal” item, it cannot be carried like just another item in a pocket or bag, or stored in a room in the house or in a safety-deposit box. In fact, much of the car’s mileage occurs when its owner transports it with him, to ensure its constant availability. Finally, it boils down to being a form of privatization of public space, space that is very costly for government to obtain, improve (so cars can by driven fast and in all climate conditions), and maintain, but which the car inefficiently uses, thanks to the user/owner not being charged for it.
II. Revisiting the Car’s Problems:
If one listened to the auto industry and upper levels of governmental environmental management agencies, one would think that the car’s problems are limited to just two, which have been explored at length and will not be elaborated further here:
1. Pollution (including greenhouse gases, fuel leaks, Nox/VOCs, air-borne particulates, ozone, road-salt contamination, etc.) and
2. Energy security (“peak oil” and sourcing from unstable regimes).
But there are another eight that aren’t addressed by improved fuel efficiency and better energy sources. These eight can be addressed only by reducing the number of vehicles in existence (on the road and parked, ready to put on the road):
3. Road Congestion – Congestion occurs when the number of vehicles on a section of road exceed the design criteria, and each driver, faced with less space, has to lower his speed to that which conforms to the buffer space available directly ahead of him, to allow him to stop in time to avoid a collision. Movement on crowded sidewalks show the same adjustment. Any effort to reduce the number of cars in a city, partly by getting more travelers in each one would reduce congestion, but ironically, car-occupancy is actually higher during off-peak periods. Some suggest that speed limits on urban roads are too high anyway, considering the risk to pedestrians and cyclists, and all the access movements from driveways and by delivery vehicles. The only alternative solution that the auto-industry and government consider for this problem is called IHS, or intelligent highway systems, a way to use computers and sensors to reduce the response time for a driver action, and thus allow cars to follow each other closer at various speeds. But these systems have been proposed only for limited-access highways, which incidentally ban pedestrians, cyclists, and offer no property access.
But more recently, Google, has started to develop the self-driving car, which it claims can safety navigate urban streets. This, however, would actually make congestion worse, since it would allow car occupancy to be lower yet, making the zero-occupant car (ZOV) possible.
4. Sprawl – This is the spreading out of land-uses over a larger area, and results in an increase of distance between destinations. Some call this “distance pollution.” It is essentially caused by the ease with the car covers distances. Even when its top speed is no higher than transit, it has a higher average speed, thanks to fewer intervening stops and more direct routes (although less direct than those walking and cycling). But increasing a car’s occupancy at peak periods, a sensible idea, would reduce this advantage.
Sprawl does reduce intersections, by making blocks longer, but the resulting road pattern also makes travel distances longer than as-the-crow-flies distances, thanks to the “spaghetti” pattern of cul-de-sacs, crescents, and circles, meant to eliminate ‘cut-through’ traffic (partly by confusing those who don’t ‘belong.’) Sprawl has another component: houses are set back more from the street, removing the ‘noise’ of pedestrian presence, allowing roadways to default to a role of machine mobility dominated by danger. Building lots, to compensate for moving garages forward, get wider, and the streetscape is less intense and fewer people populate the pubic/semi-public street domain. And walking to stores becomes very impractical (www.walkscore.com rates all properties in North America for this), not just due to increased distances, but the lack of Jane Jacob’s ‘eyes’ and the traffic dangers incumbent in wider streets and faster traffic.
5. Transportation Equity – This term is rarely heard. We are all aware of equitable access to housing; but transportation is the second most expensive item in people’s budgets, but minimum incomes (low wages or welfare) are rarely sufficient for car-ownership. Equity means all adults having pretty much similar access to mobility. Although all people have access equality (thanks to disabilities legislation), many do not have mobility equality. Access gets you into and out of properties, and if a trip links two adjacent properties, no mobility is needed, since mobility is just the “filler” between two access movements. If the origin and destination are close, mobility is simple. But the sprawl caused by automobile dependency (which extended the more mild sprawl first induced by transit) has turned the mobility distances into major challenges for the Poor, Elderly, Disabled, Children, Ill/Infirm, and Visitors, not to mention ‘Simplicists,’ those who voluntarily eschew car ownership or use — (I collectively use the term “PED-CIVS”). These people are increasingly having to resort to alternatives that have deteriorated into inferior statuses: infrequent transit, expensive taxis and rider services, dangerous walking and cycling. The best bet is often begging rides from parents, children, friends, and neighbours. It should be no surprise that transit operators are more focused on meeting the demand of AAAs (active, affluent adults) for their commutes to work, which are much longer trips and require a quite different transit system: more rapid, faster, more frequent. But it leaves PED-CIVS either as the responsibility of AAAs or with an inferior service that is more expensive (transit, by charging flat fares regardless of distance, over-charge for short trips). The use of these ‘alternatives’ requires dependence on safe, secure public areas; but growing automobile use has made public places less safe.
6. Health ‘A’ – Trauma & Stress – The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2009 that 1.27 million people died in traffic collisions in the previous year. What is more shocking is that half were “vulnerable” road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Since the number permanently maimed are usually 10 times this amount, and those are injured enough to be hospitalized another factor of 10 greater, the number of lives ‘touched’ by automobile (and truck) use is very large indeed. Sadly, PED-CIVS are over-represented in these figures. The safety improvements to vehicles doesn’t help this factor, although recently introduced measures in Europe – to require new models to have pedestrian-friendly carhoods to reduce the seriousness of injuries – is a very small step in the right direction (thankfully, Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, 1966, gets credit for the long-time ban on hood ornaments). There are even devices being developed to “read” the road ahead for ‘objects’ entering the driver’s ‘path’ which will trigger the brakes autonomously. But a layer on top of this hierarchy of risk-trauma hierarchy is the largest layer, those who have close calls or who have a fear of being hurt in traffic situations. Dr. Barry Wellar, of Ottawa University’s Geography department (emeritus) has done groundbreaking work on his “pedestrian security index” to reduce people’s feeling of being vulnerable to injury or death while walking. Not only are PED-CIVS more likely to be injured – and afraid of being injured – and spend more time of travel exposed to these risks, but their qualities of lower height, poorer senses and coordination, less experience, and general brittleness mean that collisions will result in poorer outcomes. Countering the fear of vulnerable road user to being injured or killed, is the stress of drivers fearing that they might either cause such injury, or be themselves victims if they collide with a larger vehicle. (This driver fear is rarely written about, but is a major factor in how police treat drivers after collisions with vulnerable road users. Media stories even refer to the perpetrator being the car, rather than the driver, which fits the assumption that the incident was an ‘accident’).
7. Health ‘B’- Obesity and Fitness – the automobile and powered transportation generally has deprived people of an important opportunity for physical exertion. What machines have done to reduce harsh labour in the workplace, has also been done to remove the more benign exertion that comes with travel for those with good agility and stamina (ironically, on-road air-conditioning is available only for those travelers who are not exerting themselves). More people today seeking exertion favour repetitive ‘exercise” and get it from a health club (which often must be driven to) or in their cocoon of a house, requiring yet another dedicated room, further expanding their ‘housing needs’), Children are especially eager to engage in physical activity (via play, an integral part of their learning process – see more below), but are barred by their nervous parents from both walking on their own (and even when under parental care are expected to ride strapped into a stroller “for their own safety”) or even playing outdoors, due to fear not only of traffic mishaps, but a fear of “stranger-danger,” a byproduct of the decline not only of natural surveillance of “eyes,” but the ability of “perps” to travel beyond the places they would be recognized, both factors that car-dependency has helped introduce. The result is an epidemic of obesity in people of all ages, and the concurrent onset of type-2 diabetes, a huge burden to health-care organizations and budgets. These factors also increase the incidence of cardio-vascular diseases and weaken the body’s defenses against cancers and other diseases. This connection is coming too late for the current crop of elderly, who are the first to have experienced car-dependency from early adulthood, and whose hearts, weight, and joints have conspired to deprive them of the ability to walk much. [cf. Frumkin, Howard, et al., Urban Sprawl and Public Health, 2004. It also contains an item for #6: “Driving Stress”]
8. Social Isolation – We are getting more isolated. Even within the family, the fact that each adult has his own car means each adult travels alone, or only occasionally with children, and these ‘together times’ are not good for socializing, due to the driver’s need to pay attention to the road, and the confining nature of seating for the others, in close company with siblings who are too often rivalrous. My 1995 essay, “Walkability” (in Zielinsky/ Laird, Beyond the Car) points as well to the increased space and amenities of fringe-oriented housing that has come to be called “McMansions” and its contribution to social-isolation, both between neighbours and between family members. But for the disabled and elderly, who are more likely to be living alone, the sprawl of cities has made travel to valued friends and activities more important at the same time as income and infirmity make it more difficult. And the degraded walking environment greatly reduces the informal sociability of mixing with strangers along the streets or bumping into old friends (and ‘catching up”) or “triangulation” (see #10 below).
9. Decline in Civic Engagement – Beyond the social aspects of informal encounters is the long-term effect of such social contacts have on openness to diversity of people and opinions that are necessary preconditions to democratic government, not to mention to the informal mechanisms of governance at the local community/neighbourhood and block scales. Governments are institutions at a larger scale created to manage that which those in a particular geographical area share, from the streets and parks and larger civic buildings, to institutions, the rules of law, financial systems, as well as language and culture at the larger scales. The sustainability of government and community depends on acceptance of a common fate and others as equals, of the value of diversity in needs and abilities, and of the fairness of taxes – all of which a walkable community naturally instills. Automobiles have largely played a negative role, according to Robert Putnam, in his 2000 benchmark book, Bowling Alone. “In round numbers, the evidence suggest that each ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent. Although commuting time is not quite as powerful an influence on civic involvement as education, it is more important than almost any other demographic factor. And time diary studies suggest that there is a similar strong negative effect of commuting time on informal social interaction.” (Italics, his) [p. 213].
10. Local Economic Health – Jane Jacobs is known for her insights into what makes dense community vital and safe. Less known are her writings about economics and the role of localities in their success. In Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984), she shows how cities’ economies grow through “import replacement.” This process of producing locally the items which would otherwise be imported, depends on connections between local business people and resources and labour markets. Again and again she points to examples of the synergy of companies that were located not just in the same metropolis, but the same district or neighbourhood. Fellow New York City pro-walk writer/thinker William “Holly” Whyte, in the 1988, wrote City: Rediscovering the Center, in which he pointed out that many new acquaintances result from a kind of ‘triangulation’: as we are talking to someone we already know, a person known to only one of us passes by, and is introduced, to the third. Whyte contrasts those network-building opportunities to the confining environment of companies located in suburban locations. He studied businesses that relocated to the NYC suburbs in the 1970s during the city’s financial woes and found that they fared poorer financially in the subsequent decade than those which stayed put in Manhattan [p. 294-295]. Other links are found in John Roberts’ essay (in Tolley’s book, The Greening of Urban Transportation: Planning for Walking and Cycling in Western Cities (1990): “There is now a wealth of evidence to show that pedestrianization, unless it is mis-designed or -located, benefits retail turnover.” “Another indication of the success of pedestrianization is that rents for stores tend to increase greatly. And employment either increases or at least doesn’t decrease as much as the other areas of these cities. Tourists are especially attracted to calmed and pedestrianized areas.” Many recent studies, using geo-mapping, have borne out how real-estate values increase more in areas with high walkability.
These additional eight impacts clearly aren’t lessened when only the vehicle design is changed; even smaller vehicles make little difference with use of road or parking space, although they reduce impact to other parties in a collision (but at the cost of increased vulnerability for the owner and his passengers). Such is the nature of managing shared spaces and using standardized dimensions. But the most popular advance in motive power today, the electric/gasoline hybrid, actually makes the car heavier, since there are two engines, plus a considerable number of batteries (even the newer plug-in hybrids can’t avoid this downside – unless range is curtailed significantly). Cars still are under the control of a driver with minimal training and only loose accountability to traffic authorities; they still shrink distances and exacerbate sprawl, they disenfranchise the poor (even more so, as the new technologies make the cars more expensive); they still greatly reduce exertion and informal social encounters, still limit children’s independent movement; and they still have the same impacts on social/political/economic life locally. And even the touted improvements that the technology is supposed to produce is diluted by what is called Jevon’s Paradox, the insight that when we reduce a product’s negative impacts, people tend to use it more. The extra miles that are driven by people owning more efficient, less polluting cars shows that this is happening (perhaps it is due to less “guilt per mile”). It is time to look deeper at the way we use cars to find a new approach to address not only the other eight problems left untouched by the industry-government agenda, but to address the fear people have that someone in government wants to take away their car and the ‘rights’ that go with it.
Although Limits to Growth, did not focus on the car as a problematic central artifact of the world of exponential growth, it does propose questions that should be answered before any new technology is implemented. What if the car were being introduced today, and these questions were being asked?:
1. What will be the side-effects, both physical and social, if this development is introduced on a large scale?
2. What social changes will be necessary before this development can be implemented properly, and how long will it take to achieve them?
3. If the development is fully successful and removes some natural limit to growth, what limit will the growing system meet next? Will society prefer its pressures to the ones this development is designed to remove? [p. 154-155]
Some of the prior discussion points to what we, in hindsight, now realize those ‘side-effects’ and ‘social changes’ have been. Although the car is already “out the barn door,” it is not too late to rein it in, at least by reducing its numbers in built-up areas. As an analogy: distracted driving is a safety concern that is belatedly being recognized; it is caused by many activities undertaken by people while they drive (smoking, eating, disciplining children, changing radio stations), but only one new activity – using a cell phone, and only a hand-held one – is being banned by law officials.
III. How MASC Will Reduce the Downsides, While Improving Efficiency by a Factor of Ten
Metered Access to Shared Cars (MASC) is the only new car-access regime that will retain the car without the downsides that would otherwise come by greatly reducing its numbers. It is important to keep our eye, first, on what utility the car actually provides in a transportation sense. There are really only three of them: a) increased speed compared to the other modes (except high-speed rail on separate rights-of-way); b) increased cargo-carrying, specifically door-to-door and immediately, and c) the ability of the traveler to shut out various “elements” such as weather, other people, and street grime.
These are fine advantages, but they come with a cost, and not that many trips require them. And when they are needed, only MASC can provide the right vehicle for each trip, while, at the same time, allowing the user to avoid paying high fixed costs when the vehicle is not being used (even the three variable costs – parking, roads tolls, and gasoline – are heavily subsided by non-users). And because the traveler will pay for any use as a stand-alone cost, he is less likely to engage it unless alternatives, almost all of them costing less, have been eliminated. As is argued in my other essay (https://hearthhealth.wordpress.com/about/previously-published-works/feet-first-and-car-sharing-recent/a-theory-of-psychological-car-dependence/), we don’t have the resources or the space to have cars also serve their “rewards” ends.
It is also important to be clear about the ways MASC will improve on OPOCO:
1. Reduce parking space and vehicle downtime – Each car needs not just a place to sit at its owner’s home between trips, it needs access to a large number of shared spaces to sit in during the time the owner is doing his business. And, if the car is used for commuting, it usually gets its own dedicated space for the work week. All this adds up to estimates of 4-6 parking spaces needed for each vehicle added to a city’s car ‘population.’ MASC reduces a car’s downtime by matching off-setting demands for driving, reducing, by 80-90% a developed city’s car-population. The massive number of freed-up parking spaces constitute an exciting opportunity to increase density and location-efficiency of all areas, plus to decrease heat-island effect of surface tarmac (which also diverts rain water from getting to the roots of trees, needed as a canopy against the sun’s energy).
2. Reduce to a minimum the size of the car that is used for any particular trip – Under OPOCO, a car serves one person – or less often, one household – and as a result it is sized to be large enough for the most demanding trips, however few and infrequent they may be, e.g., long family trips, off-road outings, (some never undertaken, or which could be made with a large rented vehicle) during the 4-5 year-period it is owned. These capabilities take space, add weight, and have to be supported by suitable braking, suspension, and engine capacity, adding up to quite a ‘ride.’ This larger package, under OPOCO, has to be dragged around for every trip, a burden MASC users don’t face. Technically, if 90% of trips are to transport only one-to-two people and maybe a grocery bag or two, 90% of the shared fleet could be two-seater Smart cars. [A person who responded to my column in the Toronto Star told me about a microcar collection he worked with: www.microcarmuseum.com]
3. Greatly reduce congestion – One of the most visible outcomes of introducing MASC the dramatic reduction in car population. Non-peak-hour road traffic will not be that much lighter, but it will not increase to congestion levels at peak period, as the smaller fleet will entail each car carrying more people, and walking and cycling will be favoured, as much for cost reasons as any other. Some people will shift trips to non-peak periods or work from an alternate office at home or a special telework centre in the neighbourhood. Cities won’t allow its car population to rise to a level that will cause congestion, perhaps through controls they will be delegated by senior levels of government. Already, cities know that downtown areas have less car traffic per-resident and per-employee than those in the suburbs because of the shorter average length of trips (due to the streets’ grid pattern and location-efficiency) and the greater reliance on MASC modes, along with walking and cycling.
4. Drivers will be held to a higher standard – The fact that MASC cars will be owned by third-party fleet owners (who are naturally concerned about efficiency) means the owner will also be concerned with the way they are driven. The use of automated enforcement techniques means that citations for infractions will be paid by these vehicle providers. They will not only pass these costs onto the people who are driving them (as recorded automatically on their tracking systems), but will question what such driving means to costs for damage to vehicles, anxiety to riders, insurance costs, poor road ‘rep,’ etc. Ultimately, the owner will have the option of withdrawing a member’s driving privileges, but thanks to the flexibility of MASC, his membership will still be valid for getting him rides from other drivers. The overall effect should be much better road safety, and a sure-fire way to ensure that drivers with access only to MASC vehicles can be effectively locked out of the driver’s seat (see #8 below).
5. Design of vehicle will change to emphasize reliability, a wider range of capabilities (# of seats, cargo arrangements, speeds/collision protection). As the MASC segment grows, manufacturers will start offering “share-ready” cars, such as they manufacture for police and taxi markets. This will go well beyond installing the IT devices that carsharing operators need. The fleet buyers will also be less desirous of cars that put styling ahead of reliability, expecting high standards for durability of seat and mirror controls (since these are subject to adjustments between drivers, many times a day), and will want a more versatile interior to allow converting space to different seating and cargo arrangements (new models of “cargo” bikes have this versatility). There will also be a new market for micro-cars. It is expected that some streets will have much lower speed limits and impose an even lower speed on vehicles weighing more than, say, 500 pounds, in order to make streets safer and quieter. This should reduce the size and capability of the cars used only on such streets (there are now NVs, neighbourhood vehicles, on the market for larger gated communities that have a few self-contained ‘conveniences’).
6. Reduce the number of times cars are resorted to. Thanks to MASC’s shifting of car costs from fixed to variable factors and reducing the “hyper-availability” of cars (by having them, not just outside the door, but sitting down the block or around the corner a couple blocks away), will make them less likely to be chosen for trips. OPOCO’s high ratio of fixed costs is a clear incentive to use an owned car more, not less, part of getting value out of a “sunk” cost. Also, OPOCO’s close proximity (outside the kitchen door, usually) means it gets the nod more than it should. MASC also will dampen use by requiring more trip planning (although Daimler-Benz’s Car2Go service with Smart cars, like the newer forms of bike sharing, doesn’t require reservations).
7. Peak-hour demand will be accommodated differently: rather than more vehicles on the road, there will be more seats filled in the smaller number of vehicles allowed on the road (in other words, there is no need to consider a road to be ‘full’ until the cars on that road are themselves ‘full’). The resulting crowded travel arrangements will influence individuals to consider alternatives such as moving within walking/cycling distance of work, tele-commuting or work at neighbourhood rent-an-office franchise, or shift one’s hours. The current assumption that a person can live anywhere in a metro area and commute to any job will disappear.
8. A smaller percent of the traveling public would be able to drive, or would want to drive – Society has a problem of there being many drivers who should not be driving; many of these driver would agree, if they had a way to avoid it. MASC provides the alternative, and indirectly signals the population to value riding over driving, ‘passengerhood’ over ‘driverhood,’ as it were. As any ‘connected’ (e.g., iPad-, iPhone-equipped) person will tell you, driving time is ‘unproductive.’ Under MASC, seats moving briskly along one’s route at a particular time will be more than a steering wheel connected to a range of duties and responsibilities. Each vehicle will be charged road-using fees, higher during peak hours, and this will induce the shift, too. Drivers agreeing to pick up passengers along his announced route might pay much less, or nothing for his own seat. He is not a chauffeur, though, and he will not be asked to go off his route to provide door-to-door service. With time, either a new category of driver’s license would be established by states and provinces for this new category of driver, or the current “general driver” category will be made harder to get and retain. At least this new generation of urban driver will benefit from the elimination of congestion. [Note that autonomous cars will require ‘selling’ the virtues of ‘passengerhood.’]
9. Many Fewer Kilometres Driven to “Take My Car With Me.” Under OPOCO, the only car a person can drive is the one he owns. He makes a lot of effort to ensure it is near-at-hand. But under MASC, the requirement to take a particular car around everywhere with you will be removed. Today, residents and visitors of a growing number of cities can use any bike that is located at a Vélib (Paris) or Bixi (Montreal) stand. They don’t have to plan for this occasion by bringing their bike (assuming they actually own one, and have it in the same city) with them when they leave home that morning. Rather than plan for needing a car and taking it around with you, you can just get an ID card from a shared-car provider, so one can be picked up, whenever and wherever it is needed, (e.g., “Honey, can you pick up Janey from her violin lesson?”) Coupled with the increased ability to ‘catch a ride,’ I estimate that vehicle kilometres driven (vs. ridden) per person to drop by 90%.
10. Less Clout for the Automobile Industry – with many fewer cars in a country’s or a city’s car population, expect the industry to have less clout when it comes to driving rules and local planning decisions. The recent U.S. recession resulted in government bail-outs (the Canadian government also participated) that were far tougher and less popular than the bank bailouts, showing that the industry, greatly international in scope, already has less clout than just a few decades early.
MASC should be introduced “organically,’ without the heavy hand of government; otherwise, the public will feel resentment and resist it (see my treatment of resentment in my other essay). But fees for using vehicle on the road need to be put into place. They should apply to all vehicles, regardless of their sharing status. Why? Because, despite the fact that the ‘footprint’ of a person travelling with four others in a car is smaller, it is still bigger — and requires more expensive infrastructure — than a cyclist or, especially, a pedestrian. And anyway, since the fees will be applied to the vehicle, not the individual, those sharing a car will also share the fees.
This would motivate citizens to solve distance challenges, not by driving more, but with what is called “locational efficiency:” moving their home closer to jobs and other common destinations, or making different employment, recreational, and education choices. This will also put pressure on companies to avoid locating in isolated or fringe areas. Cars have both created sprawl and smugly offers the “solution”: a secure shell to protect drivers and passengers from the dangers of the road that spawl has increased.
The result is many fewer SOVs (single-occupant vehicles), and more commuting in cars sitting next to others. This will be better than transit or ridesharing is today, since cars designed for sharing – thanks to future adaptations to this market demand – would have sliding plexiglass dividers between seats (there being no internal aisle) and wi-fi and a drop-down table, a feature airplanes and many trains and some intercity buses now have.
The MASC system would grow in stages. One feature will be that the distinction between taxi, car-rental, ridesharing and carsharing would blur, probably in the direction of carsharing, the newest and most dynamic sector. Here are some option we could see:
1. Valet Carsharing – One option that could launch soon is a kind of hybrid of taxis and carsharing, which I call “valet carsharing” or others might call “U-drive taxis.” A car would be reserved and brought to the user by a staff “runner” who uses a fold-up electric scooter (carried in the trunk when he drives) to reach at the point where the previous user left it (GPS would be precise enough for this). After dropping the car off, the ‘runner’ rides the scooter to the next dropped-off vehicle. This service would be priced somewhere between carsharing and taxi. It would show that door-to-door service comes at a premium (which could include longer waits), and make a walk to the nearest main street an inviting option.
2. Hybrid of Ridesharing-Carsharing. Ridesharing (also called car pooling), which now only serves long-distance commutes using private cars or company vans, could combine with carsharing to accommodate more flexibility in arrangements (using smart devices) and better accommodate variations in work schedules (e.g. late notice to extend the workday), vacation time for drivers, and even allow personal workday trips by the participants. I have conceived of such an application: a system that assigns each shared car to two stations. Each car is used for ridesharing between a suburban neighbourhood and suburban business park one way in the morning, and the return in the late afternoon, but outside these automatically-scheduled one-way trips, the car’s time is available for trips by individuals (e.g., business meeting, trip to a child’s school) or groups (noon-hour trip to a nearby shopping mall). The same goes for evenings and weekends in the suburban neighbourhood at the other end of the commute route (e.g., household errand, or weekend-long outing). [This is described in an article that first appeared Peace & Environment News, December 17, 2007: https://hearthhealth.wordpress.com/about/previously-published-works/feet-first-and-car-sharing-recent/combining-ridesharing-carsharing-a-new-hybrid-2007/%5D. This would represent a way to serve to both bring carsharing to suburbs, but for a kind of transit is poorly provided today: suburb-to-suburb.
3. Peer-to-Peer Carsharing. Another recently introduced form of carsharing that is being introduced into the market now (www.relayrides.com and http://www.getalong.com) used to serve the less dense and land-use-segregated suburbs and exurbs is peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing. These areas don’t get high enough use over a week to warrant dedicated cars. Instead, owners of cars that are underutilized register them with carshare provider’s booking system. And neighbours use them during the times the owner has offered them (which could vary day to day). Insurance for users is provided by company that links the owners and users (like Airbnb or Uber), who collects the fees and split them with the car-owner based on a contract.
4. “Trans-Seat.” In the longer run, it will be possible for individual users of carsharing to offer seats in the cars they drive to other members. And this would make it possible to link these rides with transit, including allowing seats on transit to be reserved. However, unlike transit’s if-you-see-it, you-can-ride-on-it approach, this system, which I have dubbed ‘trans-seat’ would use smart phones to query where an available seat is traveling, and then ‘signal’ it to stop along its route (rarely one’s front door, if one want’s a quick response), where the member would approach the designated seat-door, and wave his membership card (or phone) to unlock the door, and start the ‘meter’ for that seat. The system could link several of these rides together for a longer trip, with wait times, in a mature applications, being much shorter – especially in low-density areas – than transit. This application would require much investment into a phone-app that links the requestor’s GPS and that of the cars in the fleet. Those offering rides would need to file their trips on-line indicating # number of seats available and the route to be followed. It is assumed that the driver will not deviate from their route (requiring the riders to walk to their destinations or to the next trip-segment’s pick-up point).
Implications for Neighbourhoods:
Under MASC, neighbourhoods could take a serious step towards car-free streets. Without the need for cars to be stored by a single user, and with lower pedestrian- and PED-CIVS- friendly speed limits, there would be little need to provide for their use on residential streets, and they could be parked at a neighbourhood’s edge (or city edge). Lower speeds translates into much lighter means of conveyance (less “armour”). And for the short trips that predominate in neighbourhoods, none of the car’s advantages — speed, cargo-carrying capacity, and climate control — is not important. When things need to be carried to and from a MASC vehicle, either the vehicle itself can be driven slowly to the house from its “station,” or some shared ‘dollies’ or carts capable of managing the load – gear, purchases, young children – can be provided by the neighbourhood (just as shopping carts are provided by grocery and big-box retailers; in older Ottawa neighbourhoods, a city bylaw now requires the owners of these carts to retrieve them from locations where carfree patrons abandon them after using them to get their stuff all the way home. The option of driving inside a neighbourhood might be available only for cars with electronic speed “governors,” which can easily be added to any cars, now that they have so much electronics, ensuring speeds will not exceed lethal levels.
Implications for the Global Scale:
Turning our attention at this time to implementing MASC is very prescient. Several populous countries are experiencing significant industrial-consumption expansion, with private automobile ownership at the top of the list of economic goals. But most of these countries have recent histories of sharing and community-self reliance. They should be more willing to adopt this short-cut to car-access if developed countries showed that they were moving in this direction as well; admitting that OPOCO is very flawed, given the need to greatly reduce resource consumption and sprawl. Even though the transition to such industrial economies causes reductions in birth rates (as Limits to Growth so carefully explains), there is no assurance the increased footprint of each car-owning citizen (30 times that of person walking) in a hyper-consuming culture would not be more than the decline in population growth. It also ignores the fact that China has had a one-child-per-couple population-control policy in place for several decades. Surplus vehicles in developed countries could be imported for use as shared vehicles in developing countries. Of course the freight costs would require that only newer models would qualify – leaving older cars to be ‘retired’ instead.
In summary, the measures that are usually put on the table by industry and government to deal with the automobile’s appetite for resources (metals and energy) are simply too limited, despite the choruses from the environmental popular literature supporting different specifics. After several decades, there is little progress to show for them. Only some form of the alternative car-access I have outlined above will avoid these problems and produce the dramatic improvements in resource use that the large global-warming agenda demands.
ANNEX A: A Sketch of How MASC Will Bring Cars into Congruence in a Functioning Whole
The heart of an access system will be the emerging information/communications technology that can track both cars and their seats (when and if the specific car is divided into these accessible units) along with whatever plans its customers might have entered into the booking system. Smart phones and light-weight tablet computers have already become essential input and status-providing devices. The quickness of these devices and the programs that link them will allow on-the-fly “hailing” of rides, much like we do now with taxis along highly trafficked streets in dense cities. You should be able to book rides as you enter a commitment or deadline in one’s digital agenda. The MASC system – perhaps serving several MASC-vehicle providers – will respond with several single or combination ride or car options, from which the requestor will choose one. Even the private-vehicle owner can tap into it, useful to check traffic conditions along his route or to summon a tow-truck in an emergency. The on-the-fly ‘trans-seat” system will be the most challenging to launch.
The reservations will have to accommodate much shorter time periods than that now allowed by carsharing (the quarter- or half-hour) and be able to share a seat request with a particular driver in a reliable way to ensure that a system can ‘match’ a driver heading along a known route with a person at a particular point wanting to be picked up along that route, with minimum wait (think of walking to a road way, and being able to hail a car going along the route you want to take, by just fiddling with the screen of your smart phone).
What will help with the implementation will be a push by governments to track all road movements – whether or not they are MASC vehicles or private – for a number of reasons: 1) providing drivers with suggestions of routes based on actual road conditions, 2) assessing road-use taxes and environmental and road-use/congestion fees, based on vehicle type, time of day, kilometres traveled (especially as gas taxes prove to be an equity problem with the introduction of cars that don’t use gasoline or diesel, but do contribute to road wear and demand), 3) tracking vehicles reported stolen or suspected of being involved in clandestine activities, 4) travel data for better modeling for planning purposes of demand for infrastructure improvements, and 5) monitoring of road violations, either to assess traffic control strategy or to actually sending out citations or just charge fees for taking extra risks. The role of MASC entrepreneurs in the enforcement regime – whether they will pass on violations to the specific drivers, or will have to report the particular driver to enforcement officials – will have to be determined. But as discussed early on, for better driver accountability, the operators will have their own interests to protect in the use of their fleets. Such a system will eliminate the need for a fractured system of government-installed cameras and other sensors and display screens for each program, which is too costly, degrades the aesthetics of roadways, and causes drivers to take dangerous off-road ‘detours’ to avoid detection.
The digitally-tracked vehicle, despite appeals for personal privacy and autonomy, are a necessary advance. Privacy on the road cannot be guaranteed for pedestrians, cyclists, or transit users, and shouldn’t be expected for the most profligate and dangerous road-users of all (the use of tinted glass, presumably to cut down heat build-up inside a car, also provides driver anonymity/privacy, something that works against driver accountability in public shared spaces).
Local municipalities would also like to add parking-fee collection, and perhaps, to avoid the environmental and traffic effects of ‘cruising’ for a parking space, actually assign parking spaces on request through communication with the driver using their mobile phone in a docking cradle on the dashboard (and using voice commands not requiring eyes or fingers – with more passengers, the driver could be relieved of this.) They would also like to get the right to receive revenues from the new fees and taxes. Gas taxes have been hoarded by senior levels of government, whereas most driving is done on local roads, the building and maintenance for which are mostly or totally dependent on local property taxes, which has now become a regressive system that lacks the proper fiscal feedback to influence more sustainable travel practices (based currently on property value vs. an area’s ‘service profile’ or even the older metric of road frontage).
When the seat-tracking element is added – as required by “trans-seat” – transit operators might also buy-in, so they can track use better, and avoid overcrowding and perhaps offer seat-reservation on certain services. This would allow transit to end the flat-rate system that they can’t now avoid, which skews demand towards longer trips (think of the limited range of goods that a dollar store can offer, because of its one-price policy) . This would give a break to non-commuters, mostly PED-CIVS who mainly make shorter trips and travel less frequently than five days a week, and therefore now overpay for slower, less frequent off-peak service. Even the courier business, which also charges mostly by flat rate systems, could charge more fairly by using calculated distances. Another feature could be the requirement for drivers to enter their next destination, so the system can propose routes, and know in advance of road loadings, better – and safer – than using GPS alone.