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How to kill the car

Written By: - 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.

45 comments on “How to kill the car ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    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.

    You are describing the Auckland I grew up in. By comparison to many world cities, Auckland, especially when you arrive by air on a beautiful evening, still looks like an overgrown village. But a combination of constrained geography and unimaginative transport planning means that when I visit the place now I feel a small frisson of nostalgia and a large dollop of 'thank God I don't have to live here now'.

    It didn't have to be like this. Brisbane with twice the population is a far more pleasant city to live in.

    But your overall theme hits all the right points. Looking back on major epidemics they do have a history of triggering significant changes in social behaviour. The first SARS event in Asia for instance is directly credited with the growth of online shopping in this region. I did my first Bunnings 'click and collect' in the weekend, just to avoid having to go into the shop.

    It's also an expression of how much technology is changing the nature of work itself. 200 years ago most of us toiled in fields, undertaking hands on labour; now an increasing fraction of us can work from a spare bedroom, a change that's happened within our lifetimes. Every journey we don't take is one less hit on the natural world and is a good example of how advancing technologies have the effect of de-coupling human development from the ecology of the planet.

    This de-coupling process has of course a long way to run, and I freely accept the thesis is both counter-intuitive and unproven, but your post points to at least one way in which it can be true.

  2. gsays 2

    One of the ways that humanity has made other things extinct is to encroach on their environment.

    Pedestrianise the CBDs.

    Nationalise all parking businesses, treble the rates and return that diminishing income to free public transport, walkways etc.

  3. Siobhan 3

    "surrounded by oppressed minimum-wage slaves who hate being there"..much better they go work in a call centre or warehouse where we can pretend they don't exist.

    Funnily enough, my local supermarkets..Pak n Save and Countdown, all employ young and old staff, who actually are very engaging with the customers who enjoy a small dose of human interaction.

    The only fly in the ointment is their employers and employment laws that allow exploitation and abuse..

  4. dv 4

    Re shopping for shoes by car cause you need to fit them

    Why not 3D printing?

    • Carolyn_Nth 4.1

      Clothes also need fitting in person.

      I'm getting supermarket home deliveries – it's not as good as doing the shopping in person. And Countdown charges quite a lot for this. $14.00 +$1 for paper bags for an order under $200.00; $9.00 per bags for over $200. I do an order every 2 weeks to cut down on costs. But I really don't have the storage capacity for 2 weeks of fresh fruit and veges.

      Also, if I forget to include something in the order, I need to wait 2 more weeks to order it, rather than nipping down to the supermarket. And, if they have something when you put in an order, and it's no longer available on the day of delivery, I may not get it. I can tick the box for a near equivalent. But, the last delivery, instead of the dairy (gluten) free 6 seed bread, I got dairy/gluten free white bread – stuck with that for 2 weeks.

      There are many things I prefer to see close up before I buy them – as well as clothes.

      3D printers? Seriously, this post and such comments come from a comfortable middle class perspective.

      First solve the housing crisis, so lots of people are not living in overcrowded homes, where working from home would be a calamity, even if they had such a job.

      • dv 4.1.1

        Clothes -Virtual fitting ie show you in clothes on PC,

        Supermarket – problem of not having items maybe because of current supply chain,

        • Carolyn_Nth 4.1.1.1

          Really? Wouldn't trust it.

          Also requires a good internet connection. The situation with schools shows many households without an internet or computer to support home schooling. First end the digital divide.

          Maybe guys don't have the same difficulties with clothes sizing being all over the place as with women's clothing? And with different cuts, same size, not quite suiting some bodies. Things can look good on a hanger (and on a model), and not so great in reality.

          • Andre 4.1.1.1.1

            For me, as long as the waistband is tight enough the pants don't fall off my ass and my shirt or fleece or jacket is baggy enough to hide my muffin top, I'm good. Easy. Comfortable, too.

            • Carolyn_Nth 4.1.1.1.1.1

              I buy as many men's clothes as women's. I do find men's clothes easier to buy, and more comfortable than most women's. I can pretty much tell by the advertised size if an item of men's clothing will fit me – much harder with women's clothes.

              And generally, a lot of men's clothes fit my body shape better than women's clothes.

              • millsy

                Interesting. I myself have been wearing women's jeans for 3 years now, and found them to be a much better fit than men's jeans.

                • Carolyn_Nth

                  I think something changes in female body shape as we age. A friend who is small, and thin and always worn the same size as when young pointed this out to me – her waist has thickened, so she no longer has the same curves, even though she still wears the same size clothes.

                  I have found that a lot of women's trousers are hip level rather than going up to the waist. And they just keep falling down, so every few minutes I'm hitching them up.

                  Getting really tight fitting trousers doesn't help because, when they cling to thighs and calves, every bend of the leg pulls the trousers downwards.

                  Usually don't have such problems with men's trousers.

                • rod

                  Did you put your own zipper in millsy ? smiley

              • Andre

                For me, M or 86 below the waist and L above the waist almost always works just fine.

          • millsy 4.1.1.1.2

            Don't worry, men have the same struggle. 3XL shirts can vary from store to store.

  5. Gosman 5

    In a World where social distancing has become much more important there is a corresponding INCREASE in demand for cars rather than less. Public transport has become far LESS attractive.

    • RedLogix 5.1

      That's a good point that needs addressing by authorities here.

      I'd guess it's partly why Asians are so accustomed to wearing masks in public; for many they have to use PT and masks are a visible part of their adaptation.

    • Maurice 5.2

      Public Transport kills and/or makes ill

      Have you noticed how few ordinary colds about now?

      Social distancing and isolation has had this effect.

      Private cars allow isolation and control of virus breathing environment.

      The rural areas demand individual mobility – if the cities want to continue to be fed

      • Carolyn_Nth 5.2.1

        Public transport will not die, but it may, hopefully change. Hopefully the days of squashing people like cattle into buses and trains at peak times will change.

        Auckland public transport is still operating, but they have enforced social distancing, and contactless travel. And it's free at alert levels 3 & 4. I'm told by someone who uses buses, they don't stop if they are up to physically distanced passengers.

        • Maurice 5.2.1.1

          One cough inside the bus door and everyone walks in and out through a virus droplet cloud. Enforced social distancing and contactless travel has no effect upon this reality.

          There ain't no such thing as "free" – someone pays and in this case our children and grandchildren will be saddled with the debt for a very long time.

          • Carolyn_Nth 5.2.1.1.1

            Ah well, so that's an end to restaurants, public gatherings, weddings, funerals, private parties…etc, etc.

            Public transport should be free. It's cheaper in the long run than the constant road upkeep necessary for large amounts of, inefficient, private cars.

            • Gosman 5.2.1.1.1.1

              Running services not based on whether they are financially viable is inefficient as well.

            • Maurice 5.2.1.1.1.2

              "Free" simply means paid for by someone else or by debt

              There ain't no such thing as a free lunch – Heinlein's TANSTAFL principle writ large.

              The next two generations of wealth has already been spent and harvested.

              • roblogic

                Tell that to the bankers who create money out of thin air, clip the ticket by legal fiat, thereby stealing the actual wealth (physical assets and labour) of the productive sector.

                The fiat money system and private banks are a total scam. Burn the banks down. Money creation should be a government function

                https://www.positivemoney.org.nz/

              • "Free" simply means paid for by someone else or by debt

                "There's no such thing as society!" cries the sociopath, while busy enjoying all the benefits of living in a society.

      • Psycho Milt 5.2.2

        Public Transport kills and/or makes ill

        There's nothing inherent in public transport that causes illness. What you're referring to is close proximity to other people, which applies to everyone in an urban environment regardless of whether they use public transport or not. You driving a car from one close proximity instance to another may allow you to fantasise it as a healthier option, but a fantasy is all it is.

  6. MartinC 6

    At least a good culling [of cars].

  7. James 7

    People use their car for a lot more than just groceries.

    Seems that it might be more of a killer for public transport – as a lot of people in the world are not going to want to be in tight conditions in a tube / bus / trains.

    In fact car sales post covid in Wuhan are going very well: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-08/quick-rebound-in-wuhan-car-sales-give-hope-to-battered-industry

  8. Kay 8

    Disclaimer: my life-long medical driving ban probably makes me a tad biased on this topic.

    For the past 5 weeks I have for the first time been able to cross the road outside my house without fear of getting bowled. Said road leads to a huge retail park, obviously closed. On the flip side, there are times where maintaining one's bubble out walking around here is quite difficult due to the large amount of pedestrians that have suddenly popped up on usually quiet footpaths.

    While I have 2 supermarkets only 10 minutes walk from me unfortunately I'm stuck with home delivery for the duration which I do not like at all and will be abandoning as soon as possible. Countdown is much dearer than Pak n Save for starters, and online supermarket shopping will never be able to replace the ability to find the best deals one can find shopping in store (NZers are the most price sensitive shoppers in the world apparently, can't imagine why), so until our grocery cartel is broken then no, in store shopping has to stay. Those of us who don't drive rely on walking, taxi or buses, or hitch a lift with someone else for our groceries. Personally, I'd be up for fewer supermarket trips if I could do a large shop in person and the store delivered it for me.

    I love the fact that many people have had a break (albeit enforced) from daily driving for a few weeks and have discovered that it's not that difficult to get from A to B by foot/bike locally. Unfortunately I can't see NZ giving up their cars in a hurry, or having restrictions put on them, and many would fight tooth and nail against pedestrianised CBDs, which we've already seen every time it's been mooted. It's our version of the 2nd Amendment. But until their licences are physically take away from them (medical or legal ban) the driving culture is just too ingrained here.

    Non-drivers do tend to have a different view on other cities or countries when visiting them, the first one of course, 'how easy is it to get around by public transport'- this frequently determines if a place can be visited or lived in. In NZ, the majority of places are still near impossible to live in without at least access to a car of sorts. And don't get me started on travelling around the country.

    Yes we have a small population. That line is always pulled out. Of course we can't be like Europe, but we did it pretty well in the past here. In the provincial town I grew up in in the 70s/80s (pop.35,000 then) there was a good bus network. Last time I visited there about 3 years ago, population close to 80,000 and extremely minimal buses and routes working days only, stopping at 6pm. And the roads way to hazerdous to cycle on. I also remember being able to quite safely cycle Ponsonby Rd in the 90s. So did the buses get worse because cars became cheaper so patronage dropped? If so, do cars need to become dearer again?

    Obviously people are going to be wary of travelling in large groups in enclosed spaces for some time. But please remember, for a many of us, we have no choice and you could also find yourself in the same position tomorrow. So it's a no brainer that for a start, local transport has to be set up so people aren't jammed together. Unfortunately this will result in fewer services, but if they can work on making those buses/trains run on time then the public have a reliable alternative to get places.

  9. Carolyn_Nth 9

    Public (mass) transport will always be an important part of our transport system. I prefer to use it rather than my car when I can, especially as I get older. And many young colleagues I worked with are just not into cars. They use public transport a lot in normal times.

    The amount people were enjoying getting out and about yesterday shows that many people prefer to be going out and about in cities: to cafes; to work, etc.

    Things that may hopefully change with future public transport:

    • people with streaming colds/flu now know not to travel when sick, and not to go to work. It always pissed me off when I found myself next to someone sniffling, coughing, blowing their noses etc in winter.
    • An end to the centralising moves since Auckland supercity amalgamation. Workplaces and businesses to be located nearer to where people live, so traveling is less.
    • More focus on transport systems that favour pedestrians, and those using small machines (bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc) – separation of machine transport from pedestrians.
    • Cheap, comfortable, safe and healthy mass transit systems – including ferries in Auckland – including more physical distancing than in the past.

    While I much prefer public transport and walking to using my car, it was easy getting into Auckland Hospital yesterday for my appointment with fewer cars on the road than normal. I was able to park in an unrestricted street park, next to the railway line and opposite Mt Eden prison.

    From there it was a pleasant walk to the Grafton hospital. There were a fair amount of cars and buses about – quite a few people waiting at the bus stop outside the hospital. And a fair amount of people enjoying walking and cycling.

    Public/mass transit is essential in NZ's highly urbanised living – and most people I know, who are currently working from home, find it hard, and would prefer to be going into a workplace where they are with other people.

  10. woodart 10

    personal transport is not going to die. but the need for so many people to jam the roads at the same time will decrease with working from home . maybe the biggest change in personal transport will be the increased demand for electric vehicles. big cities have seen there skies for the first time in years, and that has awakened many people to the amount of shit that burning fossils throws into the atmosphere.

  11. AB 11

    Cars give us freedom to get out of cities. While we still have an outdoors worth visiting (one of the handful of good reasons to live in NZ) we will want personalised ways to get there.

    We will still need good, free public transport – especially in urban areas – and post-COVID we will be back to using it. But the most ardent PT advocates are trying to solve a problem that (as Chris Trotter describes) should have been solved in the 1950s. But time has moved on, not all of us need to physically crisscross cities – or even live in cities at all. And 3-4 degrees of warming will reduce us to essentials – and shake out a number of the bullshit urban jobs that have no human or social value. So populations may become less dense in a warmed world – and the need for personalised ways of getting around will still exist.

  12. bwaghorn 12

    Nice fantasy post .

    We are probably about 2 weeks away from the rds being exactly how they were pre covid.

    Rich people can afford internet supermarket shopping, but us lesser mortals need to be there to grab those on sale items .

    • Chris T 12.1

      This pretty much

      Cars aren't going any where soon.

      For a start Auckland public transport is shit. Wellington is better, but the rest of a the country is crap as well.

      A lot of people can't sit there conveniently tapping their credit card number into a supermarket delivery site.

      There are kids that still haven't got access to studying online ffs

  13. bill 13

    Disclaimer. Never driven….

    Treat broadband as a public utility so it is accessible by everyone. A lot of stuff can be ordered online and delivered/posted. It seems that many jobs do not require a physical presence in some dedicated workplace. Hopefully, there will be a resurgence of local businesses catering to local people who can then walk to get their messages.

    If individuals discover they have less need to spend time sitting in a four wheeled tub, then maybe 'car share' could be taken a step further.

    And matchsticks wedged down tyre valves tended to 'kill' cars when I was a kid. 🙂

  14. Lettuce 14

    "We can do this in no small part because a decade ago Minister Stephen Joyce rolled out the ultrafast broadband programme."

    And here I was thinking Joyce was just an arrogant blowhard who wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on his clusterfuck MBIE vanity project. I always thought his greatest achievement was the delusional "$11 billion budget hole" that he pulled out of his arse right before the last election. Maybe I should up upgrade my opinion of him to a self-important tosser instead.

  15. McFlock 15

    Couple of points.

    I live alone. Grocery shopping has been the closest I get to real people in the past month. Thank fuck for supermarkets.

    "Working from home" is a privilege on many levels, both in type of work but also in what resources you have at home: at work I have two screens close to me, few distractions, and colleagues right there to ask random questions.

    At home I have a laptop with a smallish screen (or a TV as monitor across the room) on which to read my remote terminal extended desktop. Many distractions, because I don't have a separate office/spare room. Terminal lag. A daily zoom meeting that is sterile and without real connection. It's driving me nuts and I'm getting FA done, even though I live alone.

    Sure, the quiet is pretty awesome. This morning there was a beautiful bird call through the closed window and it sounded like an hd remastered recording.

    But as personal interaction goes, Zoom is the equivalent of phone sex instead of making love with someone. Sure, it has its charms, but it's not easily mistaken for the real thing.

    • Incognito 15.1

      yes

    • Working from home sucks ass, as they'd say on South Park. My job can theoretically be done online, but it's a shit experience and really bad for my productivity. Of the people I know who are keen to see working from home at least some days per week become a permanent fixture, two of them want some days away from the boss they hate and the rest are just interested in doing less work for the same salary. Those are not good reasons.

      As soon as we get to level 2 I'm going back to my office – and will try and up the number of times I bike there rather than drive, because yes it's been fucking wonderful having fewer cars on the road the last month.

      • Andre 15.2.1

        Oh yes, the bike ride out to Massey and back. No hills, but the normal daily thermal wind pattern made it an upwind ride on the way there and into the fucking wind again on the way home.

        • Psycho Milt 15.2.1.1

          They built a cycling/pedestrian bridge across the Manawatū not far from my place so the trip is down to 4 k, in fact it's now quicker to bike than drive during rush hour (such as it is here). So I now have no excuse, other than that I won't bike to work in the rain.

          • Andre 15.2.1.1.1

            Wow, that looks sweet!

            I was there in the days of the old Fitzherbert bridge. One of my high school mates at Awatapu lived up Atawhai Rd. For a while he had an exchange student living with him. One day they turned up late and the exchange student was soaking wet. Turns out going across the bridge someone clipped the end of his handlebars, his front wheel went into a railing support and stopped dead, and he went over the railing into the river. Lucky it was where there actually was water flowing, rather than gravel bank.

            • Psycho Milt 15.2.1.1.1.1

              Farkinell! The replacement road bridge also has vertical slats in the railing so that could still happen. I live near Awatapu so my kids went there, it's a good school – decile 5 because it draws on my well-off neighbourhood and on Highbury, which is an interesting mix. Presume it was the same when you were there.

              • Andre

                The old bridge railing was only about waist high, and the vertical supports were big concrete things that stuck way out into where people were trying to ride in both directions and fit pedestrians into quite a narrow area. Looks like the new bridge railing is almost shoulder high, the verticals don't stick out much, and there's that continuous rail down the bottom that might deflect a wheel back online anyway. Plus the cycle/pedestrian lane looks quite wide.

                I was part of the first class year at Awatapu when it first started up in the 70s. Thinking back, yeah it was a mix then, too. A lot of kids of academics from Massey, Teachers College, DSIR and Dairy Research Institute, plus kids from Highbury, Takaro, Awapuni etc. But I don't recall that as being much of an issue back then.

                The school management really involved the community in trying to set the school culture, so it ended up tending towards a little bit hippie. No prefects etc. School colours were kinda eye-watering tho – harvest gold and dog-turd brown.

                • Ha! That's the 70s for you, beige and brown. The colours are still the same, and still no prefects, much more relaxed hair etc rules than other schools and no uniform for years 12-13. The girls' uniform includes a tartan miniskirt that any punk rocker would have proud to own back in the late 70s/early 80s – definitely my kind of school.

                  EDIT: ahem… my apologies to the author of the OP…

  16. Foreign waka 16

    The public transport is a joke. Full stop, end of story. If it would actually rival what you can see in major cities in Europe, yes I would give up my car. Honest.

    I love driving and I am absolute sure that I am not the only one. And I might add, as long as public transport equals that I need to set aside 3 hours per day to get to and from work….hell freezes over before I stop using my car that does the same in 40 minutes. Shopping would be an utter nightmare….

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