- Date published:
7:17 am, April 29th, 2020 - 45 comments
Categories: Economy, energy, Environment, local government, public transport, supercity, sustainability, tech industry, transport, uncategorized - Tags:
Here is your new car.
Once you have placed your order through your intelligent fridge, it is delivered straight to your door.
New Zealand supermarkets are increasing their online ordering+delivery capacity in response to Covid19.
So rather than wander endlessly through the tilt-slab monstrosity soaked in 80s music and fluorescent lighting and surrounded by oppressed minimum-wage slaves who hate being there, and you hating being there, anxious about getting a space and worried about your wheeled asset damaged in their carpark, instead you get instead freedom. You just wait for the bags to be delivered to your door.
For the younger generations, this is not a particularly strong push. They hardly ever cook, and increasingly tend not to do supermarkets anyway.
From Tuesday we will see a little more traffic on our roads – but the full level may never come back.
We can do this in no small part because a decade ago Minister Stephen Joyce rolled out the ultrafast broadband programme.
There is no way we could hold our work meetings without this capacity.
Broadband is our newest and most powerful superhighway, and our car is now a mouse travelling millimetres in milliseconds to do the same job as the car could over kilometres and take whole weeks out of our year.
We will look back on 2020 as the year the car started to die.
On the left we are used to conspiracies about how public transport was deliberately killed off in the 1950s by National. In a 2005 article Dr Chris Harris described the Ministry of Works’ plans for an integrated Auckland in a document called The Shape of Things to Come:
… in which the government promised to electrify Auckland’s railways and extend the eastern semi-circle in to a complete circle accessing western suburbs … The existing Southern and Western lines would cross the circle, and a harbour bridge would extend the railway service to the North Shore.” (quoted in Chris Trotter’s No Left Turn, 2007, “The Auckland That Never Was”, p. 206)
But alternative histories are such a bittersweet exercise. This is reality happening how, far from the planners’ desks and straight from the travel behaviour of the consumer, the worker, and the citizen.
On any given pre-Covid worday evening, you could climb atop One Tree Hill or Mt Eden or Mt Albert and see the city pulse with red-lit ribbons of energy and wasted time as the motorways pushed us one way or the other.
We are about 86% urbanised, heading towards 90%. Over half a century of driving has told us that we are codependent with our car. Cars no longer give us liberty and joy. We have designed Auckland – 40% of us – as a gridlocked state from its auto-bred lifestyle , an environmental choking on its exhausts and its land dominance, a landscape sacked by its highways.
Now, in the moments before our society starts to shift to Level 2, there are choices that are real for our lives, and they are choices within our power.
Not only are they in our power, we are positively required to take them. The social gatherings we took for granted may not be back for months – and if there’s another outbreak – perhaps years. The reasons to go to the mall in the car are almost wiped away.
Apart from shoes, there is perhaps nothing we need to shop for by car.
Many of us have been able to walk and run and cycle the streets of our neighbourhoods over the last month and understand not only freedom, but also silence. A beautiful observance of all the sounds that were clouded from our perception.
If we were lucky enough to walk or run at night, we would have seen a sky free from pollution and the most remarkably detailed Milky Way.
This is not only a consumer choice away from your car via your fridge or other ordering device, it is also commercially mandated. Businesses can offload costs to the worker by requiring you to do your work and your meetings from home. They can then offload their commercial leases and save on other overheads. When a town as car-addicted as Tauranga starts to consider working from home as a dominant mode, you know you’re in for change.
The case for road user charges for all – which is supported by both the AA and GreaterAuckland – will become stronger and stronger, because it will be clear that each journey has a cost to business and to society and to the environment.
Even National sees the policy need for this very clearly. Pricing will come, and it will further push people away from roads.
Even with spectacular rises in public transport in our cities that have it in any measure (Auckland in particular), a post-Covid world will see a massive public transport use reversal for some time. Covid-19’s effects question the need to travel at all, not on which mode.
All of these dead ends make this a time for larger considerations. Motor traffic will at some point increase again. But this is already looking like the accidental shift away from dependence not only on the car, but on urban travel full stop.
Directed by the post-Covid state, required by many of our jobs, enabled by broadband infrastructure and other technology, and encouraged by online purchasing, 2020 is the year that will start the death of the car.