Car Busters 32, Winter 2007/8
When I am in a rush I canít help but drive. Journey times are quicker. My life is very busy and free time is precious to me because I work long hours. Explain why I should choose public transport, bike or walking when it takes longer than driving?
Yes the pace of modern life is quick. Too fast. Contrary to intuition, research shows that people are happier with access to fewer labour saving devices I.e. there is a more convivial society in tune with a natural pace of life. Proponents of slow food are rising and, Iíll argue for less, slower and local travel.
Yet, sustainable travel doesnít always take longer. Cycling is quicker than car use in many towns. It beats bus use for trips of up to 8 miles. In traffic jams, bikes can overtake cars or use other routes. Itís easier to find bike parking. There are some very fast inter city train routes and walking can beat driving if there are pedestrian only short cuts.
However, eco travel generally does take longer than driving per trip. Consider all the factors and decide if a few extra minutes are worth it.
1) Perception of Time. When asked, drivers massively overestimate public transport journey times and underestimate drive times. Are you sure driving is quicker? If so, by how much?
2) Overall Time. Total time in car ownership is huge - three hours a day writes Lynn Slowman in Car Sick. Not just paying for the car, fuel, tax, maintenance, parking etc but also the car care and extra costs in lost interest and garaging. Also landscapes and lifestyles change so that people are more distanced. Ivan Illich in Energy and Equity (1974) calculated that "the model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society's time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent" The bicycle is the most efficient of all transportation aids.
3) Speeding. Most UK car drivers deliberately break the urban 30mph road limit (59%). Do they save time? Not useful amounts of it. Research on three mile trips across York in stop go driving conditions found a 20 second difference between 30 and 25 mph. What use is 20 seconds?
4) Danger. Excessive and inappropriate speeds contribute to a third of all crashes. Drive slower! Be civilized if only because fast travel leads to more collisions and it hurts more. Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Every one mile per hour less reduces crashes by 3-6%. At 10-20mph cyclists and walkers survive a car crash in 95% of cases. At 20-30mph 55% survive and at 30-40mph only 15% survive. Cut rural speeds as 70% of fatal car crashes and 50% of cycle deaths happen on rural roads. Letting a professional drive is safer and far less stressful.
5) Journey Cost. Faster transport costs more than slower pace travel - with the exception of planes (which do not pay enough taxes given how polluting they are). Walking costs are small - shoes, maps and rainwear. Cycling allowances are 20p a mile tax free in the UK. Bus and train use can cost around 20p per mile and car use around 45p a mile. You can get a refund for serious train delay but not for traffic jams/gridlock.
6) Opportunity Costs. Whilst driving there is little else you can usefully do other than half listen to passengers or a stereo. Mobile phone use is very dangerous, even a hands free set. Working en route is fine when on a train. If you travel actively (walking, cycling etc) it gives exercise which adults need half an hour most days and children for an hour. Travelling other than by car means that you can pay full attention to your family and friends.
7) Community Involvement. Robert Putnamís US research Bowling Alone found that for every 10 minutes daily commuting time by car, there was a 10% reduction in community involvement. Cars isolate us from our neighbours. Walking, cycling and public transport provide opportunities for social interaction.
8) Pollution. Faster travel equals more fuel use, poisonous fumes, particulates and climate change gases, faster depletion of the worldís stock of liquid fuels and brings us closer to peak oil. This is especially true of flying.
9) Noise. Fast vehicles are noisier - negatively affecting everyone.
10) Surroundings. Car use is dull. Out of a metal box, you might enjoy nature, often using traffic free routes and it will always be more interesting.
We can all can cut journeys by minimising travel through strategies like home working, phone, text, email, internet, home delivery and trip planning - carefully picking the right routes or waiting to chain purposes by linking two or more reasons for travel into one circular journey. These cut overall mileage, avoid getting lost and we can try not to travel at peak times.
We have only 24 hours a day. Time is limited. Spend your time budget wisely through less and smarter travel for a more satisfying work life balance.
Anna Semlyen wrote Cutting Your Car Use www.cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk. We are actively looking for publishers and
authors in other countries (except North America). Email
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