This Town Isn’t Big Enough For Both Of Us

In previous posts I have discussed how far we might be into the era of the electric vehicle. About half-way, I reckon. Further developments point in the direction of a quickening pace of change.

Car-free street: source
Car-free street: source

In just just nine short years, Holland may have no ICE cars on sale. The Dutch lower house passed this legislation the other day. The upper house is voting soon. While it might seem extreme (it is bracing enough), the Green proposal involved banning existing petrol and diesel cars. On balance, the legislation is probably a good compromise as it lets the existing fleet of cars run out their service life. It also avoids compulsion: would 5 year old Focuses and 9 year old Volvos simply have their road-licence revoked, rendering them unusable and unsaleable in Holland? The problem is obviated: the current stock of cars will be used until one by one their owners give up maintaining them and they swich to electric cars.

1968 Dino GT: magazine.ferrari.com
1968 Dino GT: magazine.ferrari.com

It might seem odd to write this: in the light of my recent musings on private transports, maybe this switch over to electric cars is a great time to stop building cities that are suited to random, petrol-driven motoring. I have no figures on this (yet) but while I concede public transport is not cheap, I am prepared to bet that the combined cost of the car industry dwarfs it.

People are willing to spend vastly more on a private car that is mostly unused while they complain about the compromises needed to make public transport work. As well as the post-war vision of suburbia composed of free-standing houses, I view is the private car as quite possibly the most enormous mistake society has ever made. Maybe the Dutch switch to electric cars is not a mistake because it is too extreme but is in fact not extreme enough.

This line of thinking is possible because I am simultaneously able to assess cars from the position of business-as-usual and also from the radical position of thinking that, on balance, they were a mistake and we’d be better off without them. That’s not to say that, seen in isolation, there have been some very lovely shapes created, often accompanied by engineering of dazzling ingenuity.

If I can disentangle the various aspects of revisions to motorism, I’d be most interested in reversing suburbanization and let people pick a mode of transport they felt happiest with (public or private). That would be the mirror opposite of today where the bias is to private transport and public transport is compromised by car-based urban structures that reduce PT’s effectiveness. It’s a zero-sum game, I am afraid.

We could gradually get back to a situation like that (biased to PT) by combining EVs with public transport; at the same time we could look at the models of East Germany and Detroit where the local authorities are managing the shrinking of cities. Over a 25 year period quite extensive and beneficial changes could be wrought to our cities and still leave scope for owners of ancient ICE vehicles and users of EVs and collective transit to get along.

[Post-script: since I wrote this yesterday at 8 a.m. further developments developed. It was pointed out that Holland can’t ban ICE cars on their own and the current legislative proposal is unworkable as a ban. Politics is negotiation and workarounds- the obstacle facing the process of removing ICEs from Holland will be dealt with eventually. Now the idea has been moved on and another, better proposal will be made.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “This Town Isn’t Big Enough For Both Of Us”

  1. The demise of the ICE engined car is something I’ve been anticipating for …. all my adult life actually. From the early 70s it seemed the clock was ticking, but it never seemed to happen. I find myself agreeing with Richard. I have no children or grandchildren to pass the World on to, but I know and like people who do, so I’d wish them well. The pleasant surprise that the imminent death of the ICE engined car had been greatly exaggerated meant that I’ve enjoyed ownership of various belching devices over the past decades based on the self-serving premise that ‘just one more can’t hurt’.

    In order for that to have happened, my invisible bedfellows have been a bunch of people who I don’t particularly admire. People whose self-interest, from the profits of their petroleum companies, to the investment yields of their classic car portfolios, have caused them to use their influence to lobby governments to go easy on the ICE.

    And then there are the voters, who do matter a little bit, if not that much. For them, governments turned a blind eye to the disgusting emissions from diesel, even pushing it as the ecologically sound preference to petrol. And we all went along with that.

    It’s right that the Green lobby should ask for the impossible, since that’s the only way that they might, at least, get something. In reality, of course, ban the ICE at a (relative) stroke, and the people who suffer most are those who can never afford a new car, yet rely on it. What do they do? Look around for a clapped out Leaf with iffy batteries? So, of course the pragmatic path is to ban the sale of new ICE vehicles, but let them phase themselves out. But you can see a future where the despised fossil fuel underclass poop around in their old bangers, banned from city centres, forever in fear of compulsory scrappage if it fails the next MOT or a roadside test, and enduring long queues at rare and ever more costly fuel stations.

  2. It’s paradoxical that I fully understand this argument on a factual level – and yet a switch to electric motoring would eradicate the bigger part of my appreciation of the automobile.

    Regrettably, the ICE and its characteristics are a big part of what draws me towards cars. In fact, the recent trends in engineering (downsizing, turbocharging) have rendered the automobile considerably less enticing a topic to me.

    My lack of appreciation of digital technology and egalitarian engineering means I’ll remain a backwards-looking reactionary at heart, when it comes to cars.

    I cannot help but love our stinking machines, and yet I’m fully aware that they’re a problem that needs to be solved. Hopefully, legislation will allow for a certain allocation of fuel for those keeping some of the old machines alive. The rest of the time, it’ll be public transport when travelling on one’s own and some iTesla driving pod for families.

  3. I think I’m with Kris on this one. I can’t help but think of St Francis’ famous prayer (a bit rich coming from an atheist I know) “Lord, save me, but not just yet”. I think I’ll be that old guy driving 30 miles to the nearest petrol station spending the last of my pension on 10 litres of fuel.

  4. I can feel with you, Kris and Mick. Although, for transport on a daily basis I could well imagine switching to an electric car and a good deal of autonomous driving. I don’t mind more being driven than get my fun out of driving if it’s for a boring commute. And yes, I tend to use public transportation as much as possible anyway. But I still hope that, once my restoration project is back on the road, I’ll still be allowed to drive it for a while. That’s real fun, not on a crowded highway, but on lonely alpine roads. The sound is part of it, too.

    1. 80% of my inner-city movements are by bike, tube/U-Bahn or per pedes. If I had to choose a car for inner-city driving, it’d either be a Fiat X1/9 or a BMW i3. I certainly don’t feel particularly smart having a V12 idling during a traffic jam.

      The electric car is the answer to most questions related to commuting, unquestionably, hence my admiration of the i3. But what’s missing is the fascination of the old, mechanical automobile. I accept that having everybody drive around in 20-year-old saloons isn’t the right answer to today’s questions, but I do hope that we’ll be able to enjoy this indulgence in some way in the future, too.

    2. My rather miserable scenario is that it will end up like fox hunting in the UK. A younger generation will have no sympathy at all, and will view ‘us’ as selfish throwbacks who slaughtered the innocents in bloody crashes and did for our atmosphere and climate. And where the ICE is tolerated (and remember that the Netherlands is actually quite a hotbed of old car enthusiasts), it will be tiresomely prescribed, with only 100 litres of fuel available per half-year and the need to pre-book an allotted number of places on the roads for any day.

  5. I would like to know what the impact is if all vehicles would be electrical. To be more precise, the impact on the electrical network, the required amount of electricity, how all that electricity is going to be produced and the actual environmental benefits.

    1. These are relevant questions certainly and, when future power stations are being planned, how often does this get discussed? The other issue, too, has always been that much of this just relocates the environmental impact. But policing the output of a group of power stations is easier that policing every exhaust pipe and relocating the impact from dense population areas is quite justifiable.

    2. There will certainly be an amount of relocating the impact. What often gets overlooked here is the impact we already have – not from burning fuel in our cars, but from sourcing, processing and transporting it in the first place. Another aspect is that an electrical drive has a much better degree of efficiency than an ICE, so the overall amount of energy required should be reduced as well.

      Of course, what Richard also mentions is that it’s better to reduce energy consumption at its roots, i.e. by commuting less. I’m not a great role model in that respect…

  6. I suggest that Holland cannot ban the ICE because Euro legislation prevents it. I read recently that Mr Corbyn has in his manifesto to re-nationalise. However the author of that report suggests that he cannot do this because Euro legislation demands competition. The German auto industry is currently highly dependent on ICE engines and the world is highly dependent on the consumption of oil …. this would seem not a good thing for the capitalist machinery … I suspect that like anything else – the focus is taxation. Until the controllers have enough electric vehicles they cannot politically apply taxation on the fuel. Once there is enough then all those electric vehicles that currently get cheap electric will have to pay the appropriate rate. They’ll not look so good to many people at that point. Electric doesn’t even have 20% vat added if I recall correctly.
    This is also the reason why public transport is always seemingly poor – it’s simply not as good a money spinner, people shout longer and harder about public transport.

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