This is an odd subject for a site devoted to automobiles. Have we made a bit of mistake? Can we avoid another?
Two items appeared on the ghostly, glowing timewaste that is my iPhone. In one article the CEO of Lyft, John Zimmer, observed that Americans were pouring away an average of about $9000 a year owing a car. He estimated the occupancy rate was about one percent given that most cars have four seats and are used less than 5% of the time. The Lyft chap predicts car ownership in cities will decline markedly in the next decade: “Every year, more and more people are concluding that it is simpler and more affordable to live without a car,” he wrote. “And when networked autonomous vehicles come onto the scene, below the cost of car ownership, most city dwellers will stop using a personal car.”
In another article George Monbiot lamented the waste of time and material devoted to transport. “It was a mistake – a monumental, world-class mistake. Cars for everyone was one of the most stupid promises politicians ever made. Cars are meant to meet a simple need: quick and efficient mobility. Observe an urban artery during the school run, or a trunk road on a bank holiday weekend, and ask yourself whether the current system meets that need. The vast expanse of road space, the massive investment in metal and fossil fuel, has delivered the freedom to sit fuming in a toxic cloud as your life ticks by.
The primary aim has become snarled up with other, implicit objectives: the sense of autonomy, the desire for self-expression through the configuration of metal and plastic you drive, and the demand for profit by car manufacturers and fossil fuel producers whose lobbying keeps us on the road rather than moving along it.”
In a third article I read that Apple is about to try to for the car what it did for mobile phones. Apple are in talks, it is said, with McLaren. Are they going to sell software or are they planning to make cars themselves. Autocar speculated a little about Apple’s intentions. And also here.
What will the iCar be like? It will really have little to do with driving although it’ll do that too: “The iCar will get you from A to B, but it’s set to be much more than mere transport for masses. Like the iPhone, it has been conceived to also be a personal assistant with a level of connectivity far beyond that of any existing car of today”.
For various reasons I have been making very little use of the family chariot and have subsisted on rental cars, bikes and trains plus the odd loan when none of the above suited. When I reflect particularly on the ease of using trains and the vast cost of the train network, I realise that if I had to get rid of either the motorways or the rail network, I’d scrap the motorways. As Monbiot points out, the dream has not materialised (or it went away in 1979) and as the Lyft guy points out (obliquely) you can get a lot of alternative transport for $9000 a year. I wonder if Apple’s intervention in the car business is yet another staggering mis-allocation of resources. Do we really need a thing as distracting as an iPhone but fitted with 100 kgs of battery packs and four Recaros? You do everything that the iCar can do (it’s a phone on wheels) on a train or in a rental car. But maybe not on a bike.
While I see electric cars as a good replacement for ICE cars, I would not like to see a one for one replacement. Rather better would be for car ownership to become the province of Sixt and Avis and leave private car ownership to enthusiasts who probably aren’t interested in running their cars daily anyway. Monbiot and Zimmer point to the huge cost of cars. Apple’s intervention indicates we’re about to have another stab at making mass private transport work. As the whale said when falling to Earth: oh no, not again.