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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Are we heading for a car-free future?
Drivers across Europe were asked to leave their car at home Friday and walk, cycle or use public transport to move around.
It was the second car-free day organised by the European Union. They say sixty five million people across Europe will take part.
Motorist organisations have dismissed the campaign as a public relations gimmick, but environmental groups say it helps to raise awareness of the problems with our increasing reliance on the car.
Is this a glimpse of a car free future? Or is this day of action a waste of time? What will you be doing about transport today?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
B. Martin, UK
Car-free day is undoubtedly a PR gimmick but it serves to raise our awareness of the issue at stake - environmental protection. While we should somehow lessen our dependence on cars, it's far better we make every endeavour to develop real, more environmentally friendly vehicles.
I think we can make great progress in reducing car use, especially in urban centres. Another Canadian claimed that public transport is not practicable in our country, due to the vast territory and cold temperatures. Rubbish! Most people driving cars are commuting within urban areas - it is not the few people in rural or wilderness areas who are causing air pollution and urban sprawl.
It would be difficult to rid the highways of the USA of their vehicles. We have a strong love affair with our cars and the bigger and more expensive and more gasoline they use the better it seems.
I think it's time, perhaps past time, to get tough on the issue. There is no good reason for so many vehicles to be used every day on our highways.
I was fine using public transport until I came to live in London a month ago (from West Yorkshire). Now I understand why people use their cars in central London and withstand hours of queues.
I hope that the pro-car correspondents on these pages can feel proud of themselves when due to their selfishness, their children and grandchildren are living in a polluted wasteland. Being of the younger generation myself, I and others my age will have to live with the consequences i.e. global warming, flooding, droughts, air pollution etc, caused largely by today's motorists.
Sadly it seems some people will wait until they are ankle-deep in water before they consider giving up their beloved motor cars.
So if we all decide to leave our cars and pile onto public transport where is the money for hospitals and schools going to come from?
What angers me is the number of unnecessary journeys some people make in cars; 300 yards to the shops; half-a-mile to pick the kids up from school. If only people would think before they drive, congestion and pollution would be reduced, as would the amount they have to spend on fuel!
We are lucky to live in an area with adequate public transport, and made a conscious decision to sell our car so I can speak from both sides. Two years later, we are healthier, fitter and considerably better off.
I look forward to car free days, the freedom, the joy of being in your car whilst those suckers that fall this sort of government gimmick, are smelling someone else's armpit in a cramped and crowded train or bus.
I live in heavily populated Northern New Jersey, and am have been car-less for ten years. I love it. I never realised what an irrational waste of money an auto is until I got rid of mine, and started walking and using public transportation.
T. Gill, UK
Sorry folks I disagree with many of the anti-car sentiments expressed. For the majority of the world's population, the private car represents a huge step forward in their personal freedom. No longer bound by territory as dictated by the time it takes to ride or walk or by the governments of the nations of the world.
If petrol is so bad for kids why do parents insist on placing their children in schools other than the one closest to home and then driving them there? Alternative means of individual transport to the car - has anybody noticed the increasing numbers of powered two-wheelers about? True they burn petrol but motorcycles rarely cause gridlock and as a means of transporting one or two people it beats the car every time.
I live in rural Hampshire, only 8 miles from my office. There is only one but an hour for a couple of hours in the morning and they are not running at the time that I finish work. I would ride my bike, but the A325 is the most dangerous road in the county!
In the days before cars, we had a huge infrastructure of horse breeders, saddlers, wagon makers, wheelwrights, smithies, coaching inns, to support horse-based transportation. We managed to discard all of that without grinding to a halt.
We can change the entire car-based infrastructure if we want to.
Give me cheap, frequent and reliable public transport and I will consider reducing my so-called dependence on the motorbike and car. The vast majority of society lives further away from our place of employment, our relatives and friends than previous generations. It will take a lot more than the occasional "car-free" day to reverse this process. I find it incredible that parents complain about the levels of pollution due to car usage. The decrease in traffic levels (on commuter routes at least) when the schools are on holiday seem to indicate that they are part of the problem!
Will someone explain how public transport is expensive? I have just bought a car to get to work. Annual cost: £300 loan interest, £800 depreciation, £155 tax, £450 Insurance, £100 MOT/servicing, petrol £520. Total £2325. I'd love to go by bus, but I can't get there until 10:30 and would have to leave at 3 p.m. Mr Blair,
please nationalise the buses and trains and give us back a decent level of public transport.
No one is suggesting that we create a car-free society. City officials realise that many people have no other option than the automobile. But there are many people who DO have other options, and the whole purpose of the car free day was to introduce them to these options. The goal of the car free day is NOT to eliminate cars completely, but to reduce the amount of cars driven in our cities to sustainable levels.
Let's not pretend we could all get by with a bike if we tried, because not many people are physically capable (or stupid) enough to pedal 30 miles home in the rain after a hard day's work. And you can forget buses as well. I live 45 miles from the nearest bus depot, and if I relied on the service we get here, I'd have starved to death years ago.
Paul Hicks, UK
We managed well enough for 5 million years without the car so I guess we might just manage it.
All these people predicting the end of convenient transport are just not being realistic. The car is so useful and convenient and invention that it will never stop being used. People seem to think without oil the car will be no more - that is just underestimating the power of human inventiveness. The car will be around just running on something else - Hydrogen is my fave with three times the power per Kg of Petrol.
Isn't it high time the governments in Europe and the EU promoted and subsidised the use of public transport. At least in metropolitan areas.
It's perfectly okay to use your car if you live in remote country areas. But I am fed up with those ignorants who reduce the life quality of our cities by blocking the streets each peak hour, pumping carbon monoxide into residential areas, jeopardising cyclists and pedestrians and using their car even for a drive to the local shop.
Lars Werner, Germany, currently New Zealand
It is a waste of time trying to envision
how we might give up something
that clearly most people desire to have:
individual powered transportation.
Well for a start all the car manufacturers would go out of business causing mass unemployment. (At least they won't need their car anymore to get to work.) Then all the associated manufacturing and retail businesses would go under as a result of our car free society. Who would need a car mechanic or car spares?(e.g. every branch of your trusty Halfords would shut down.) Who would need car sponges, car polish, car radios, roof racks, trailers, caravans or spare bulbs? (I work for a lighting manufacturer).
What about all the car insurance policies we pay for that would get cancelled. Doubtless many of these companies also manage your life insurance and pension plans. What about all the government revenues that are generated by the direct or indirect use of the motor car? Plus of course all the income tax and NI contributions that would disappear as a result of the millions of unemployed people. The list is obviously endless. I think the car is here to stay, don't you...?
I think our hope for getting the message over that we have to find alternative ways to move goods and people lies in the hands of the young and the intelligent. Visiting Paris over the weekend, what impressed me was the number of bright young professionals out there on foot, cycles and roller blades winding in and out among the frequently gridlocked traffic.
It's about time pro-car campaigners realised the depth of damage that the car-culture is doing to this country's social fabric and environment, and stopped burying their faces in the sumptuous leather of their mobile egos (because let's face it - that's all cars are to most people), and got on foot/bike/bus/train to work instead.
Who knows, we may actually lose some weight through the exercise we'll get, and the chances are that if the government see more of us actually using public transport, then they might just be inclined to spend some of the untold billions we pay in fuel tax each year on it! We live in hope!
Dave Strong, UK
Realistically, we must find alternative ways of providing transport since oil supplies are not going to last half of our lifetimes. However, I think this will merely result in cars powered by different energy sources. Less pollution, but no less congestion. If only the railways were like Holland - Amsterdam to Utrecht, every 15 minutes till 1am, then once an hour between 1 and 5am. Even on Sundays, and its cheap.
If the oil reserves get that low you can chuck away the business suit and ride your bike to the farm.
Over the past few weeks, I've been close to giving up. But I'll keep banging my head against the wall, in the hope that one day, our government will see sense, and agree, (by saying it in public!) that petrol is bad for the environment, and for me and my children. And if driving your car is so, so important to you, you have my permission to move abroad. No, honest, go on¿
Car free future? And what will people use
if they're not conveniently living near a rail
link, bus line, or within walking distance,
(re: everyone living outside the downtown area of major cities)
go back to riding horses?
Anna Maria Venetou, Greece
The problem is not too many cars - it is too many people.
The closer to being unique a journey is the less practical public transport becomes. This means that away from the movement of the commuter hoards every rush hour public transport rapidly becomes uneconomic. There is a place for all forms of transport "including" the private car. For medium to long journeys where time is an issue there is no better transport than the car. We certainly need to seek cleaner alternative power sources for all motor transport, but to say 'everyone out of your car, henceforth you will use public transport' is an attack on personal freedom.
Car Free! Never, it would be like saying building houses is bad for the environment so lets all live in caves and mud huts. I do cycle to work most days but between my wife and I we still own two cars and a motorbike. Freedom of choice the Government can bump their gums all day about it but when was the last time you saw any of them tip up in Downing Street on a Bike or in a small economical car!
There is absolutely no reason why any of this should be a waste of time but the lack of publicity and governmental emphasis on events such as this 'car free day' doesn't hold much promise for a car free future. The government needs to take a tougher hand and if it can't take advantage of a simple day without non-essential driving - especially when it holds so much promise after the recent fuel crisis - then it certainly hasn't got the iron will to make any radical changes such as those that are needed. When the long-term (or even short-term) future of the world is at stake it is simply not rational to give in to public opinion.
One day, when the oil runs out and America has bought up the last reserves, we will all have to get on without our cars. Unfortunately we will also have to live without many of our other comforts such as plastic goods made from oil (i.e. your computer) and nobody will be able to use bicycles because oil is used in the building process. Buses won't run without petrol. Trains will be the only effective form of transport. You can kiss goodbye to travelling by plane. It will be back on the boats, weeks of travel when it used to be just hours. And guess what, this could happen in our lifetime.
What does not mix is motor vehicles and town/city centres. This can only be addressed by better public transport, which requires more public investment.
The green lobby cannot make a logical case for alternatives to road for the movement of goods and longer distance private journeys, other than between city centres, because viable alternatives simply do not exist. Their assumption seems to be that a railway or bus runs directly between every home, office, factory and shop. I am sorry to say that it doesn't and never will.
What a stupid idea!! All you Euros would be doing is giving these people who drive gas hogs (SUVs and V8 Pickups)a respite. While ya'll suffer they will keep on burning fuel like there is no tomorrow!! My auto gets 26 miles in the city and 36 miles on the highway per gallon. The SUVs and Pickups average 12 and 22 miles per gallon. Time to make them pay up!!
Like it or not, the world's oil supply
IS finite and a day will come when
there is no more oil and the car-culture
will grind to a halt.
I support the idea of "car-free" days
because it is much cheaper and safer
to use public transport. More
Americans have been killed in car
accidents in the last fifty years than
were killed in Korea and Vietnam. The
U.S. has spent more than $1.5 trillion
on oil in the last fifty years.
Has anybody heard about "hybrid" vehicles. These use regular gasoline engines and batteries, which are charged as the car slows down. When stationary the engine is switched off, and electricity used to accelerate, when the gas engine comes on again. Here in LA a few friends of mine have them, and manage anywhere between 60 and 100 mpg! Honda, and Toyota make them here in the US, so I wonder when when they will be sold in the UK? Incidentally they cost about 12,000 pounds new, just in case they decide to sell them and rip you guys off. Just so you can ask for a fair price!
"Andy, England" has the germ of a very good idea. But government should take the lead. Give free passes to all government workers to ride mass transit to and from work. Maybe the private sector would then follow government's lead.
David John, England
It is very laudable if you live in London to use a bus or the tube, but what about elsewhere in the country? My parents live in rural Leicestershire. They are 8 miles from the nearest town. A bus comes once a week on a Wednesday. We have to be practical and ensure that those who live in rural areas are protected from policies designed to prevent car use, until a decent alternative system has been thoroughly implemented.
I believe that petrol powered automobiles will be phased out in favour of green alternatives (electric, hydrogen, etc). However, the car itself will not go away in this century. People have to right to freely travel anywhere they wish, and not on someone else's schedule. Until the transporter from Star Trek appears, the car isn't going anywhere.
Yes, there will be are car-less future! That'll be the day when we all commute, do are shopping and pick the kids up from school in our little Spaceships. As for the question of whether individual transportation will be eradicated the answer is no!
The personal automobile will be with us forever ... it may not run on fossil fuels, per se, but it's here to stay. This is just another EU gimmick, doubtless dreamed up by some euro-geek, lost in the nightmare of "sameness": We all take buses/trains to and from our 35 hour a week job, and take August off to all vacation together in some hell-hole by the sea "somewhere" in the Med. Gee, don't you just hate these people?!?!?!
This could never happen in the USA. Our country is to big for public transportation to solve all problems. I'm at college and I'm a 6 hour drive from home. This is short compared to most people from my high school. We have a country that is a few thousand miles from point to point and hundreds of cities spread out all over the place, some in very rural areas. We will always need something like a car here.
Cars are a mass of waste. 90% of car usage is travelling around one's hometown, essentially going nowhere. The other 10% percent could be transferred to more efficient forms of transportation. However, as long as humans remain selfish and prefer comfort over conservation, "gas-guzzlers" will remain.
The Sun newspaper this week stated that people had a right to drive cars. Having just returned from Barcelona seeing the car-free day being promoted, I find much of the right-wing newspapers attitudes towards such events as arrogant. Anyone who claims looking for ways of achieving a sustainable future are 'politically correct nonsense' are simple unable to look at an issue critically and intelligently and are happy to stick with their inherited prejudices and assumptions - perfect fodder for certain newspapers.
All that is now required is a long period of intermittent fuel supplies to make many commuters change from their cars and motorbikes onto bicycles and public transport. In the past couple of weeks there have been far more bicycles on the road, including children on their way to school. Ironically though Car Free Day has brought the environment back onto the agenda, it is the bullying tactics of the fuel protesters which will could finally break the Thacherite Car culture in this country.
Only the naive can believe there will be a car free future. The fuel crisis is artificial, caused by greedy OPEC members and governments who what to tax people to force them to live differently. Once the idea of freedom once again reigns supreme the car will return.
I think a better idea would be a "public transport free day" when for one day the providers of public transport run their services for free. This would be a good indicator as to the amount of people who would choose to use public transport if the costs were reduced.
Steve Knowlson, UK
You will only have a car-free society if we roll back society to live, work and behave as we did over 150 years ago. And let's face it that won't happen voluntarily but only when oil runs out and we are forced to.
Probably not car-free, but distinctly car-reduced. Today's patterns of car use will be looked back on in the same disgusted way that we now look back at 17th century open sewers. One day we will realise the utter madness that is that the death toll, pollution, noise, social division and economic stranglehold that results from depending on our cars for virtually every journey we make and designing our whole built environment for cars rather than people.
I have a car-free life. I walk to work and back each day, a round trip of about three miles. Out of concern for the environmental impact of the internal combustion engine? No, it's because I can't afford to run a car! I hate dirty, crowded, unreliable public transport. Given the choice (and the money), I'd travel by car any day.
Last weekend I organised a long-standing walking trip to Dorset. Needless to say, people were worried about getting there due to the fuel crisis.
I researched and informed everyone going that there was a good rail service to near our destination. And then arranged a lift for anyone who decided to go by train.
I was ridiculed and, in one case, sent an abusive e-mail in response to this suggestion. People decided not to go at all if it were not in their cars.
In the light of this, I am now convinced that any move to get people out of their cars is a complete waste of time and energy.
Andrew J. Chisholm, UK
It doesn't take a genius to predict complete apathy on the part of the British public to this enterprise. They will be reliant on the car until oil runs out or until this country's appalling public transport system is overhauled. If Tony Blair will not reduce fuel tax, he should use the extra revenue to provide motorists with an efficient and low cost alternative.
Why must people look for absolute solutions? Perhaps a more realistic aspiration would be to provide an effective, efficient transport system and let the people choose between traffic jams and public transport: then we would have the best of both worlds. Equally if ways were found to move freight by rail in a cost effective, timely and efficient manner this would attract many of those heavy loads from the long haul routes up and down our motorways.
Today I drove to work as usual; I had no alternative. I wish the small number of woolly-brained car-haters had less publicity given to them until they can answer the question, "How do you replace the 94% of journeys taken by road with a cuddly green alternative?" I wish they would put up or shut up.
Ian Dugdale, UK
I live on a cul-de-sac of twenty houses in a small village in rural East Yorkshire. There are a total of 49 cars in the drives of these houses every night, making an average of 2.45 cars per household. We have an excellent public transport provision with at least one bus per hour all day every day of the week to both Hull (20 miles) in one direction and York (7 miles) in the other. These buses serve the majority of small villages and market towns in the area, so why on earth do people need so many cars?
On returning to the UK, I looked into the feasibility of leaving my car at home and found that the timing and connections were impractical and the cost is just too much. In the UK we just don't seem to have the right infrastructure yet.
David Finch, UK
A pathetic gesture. Until the geographic separation of home, work and suppliers of provisions is reversed, we will continue to rely on personal transport, of which the car is by far the most convenient.
Errrm ... what European Car-Free day? Yes, I fully support these sort
of campaigns in principle, but it would help if people actually knew this
day existed. I didn't until now, and I'm sure I can't be the only one.
We really need to plough serious amounts of cash into public transport. Trams, monorails, urban underground railways. However, where will this cash come from? We need to think long and hard about our transport. A reduction in traffic would be great, but I think unachievable.
Mobility is a basic human right - we should be promoting it - in all forms - car, bus, plane, train, rather than trying to reduce it. I'm driving 150 miles today.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
The transport day is going to be a splinter in the eye of all macho motorists who drive the cars mostly because it makes them feel important and in control. The cars ruin our streets with noise, pollution and physical danger, they isolate people rather than connect. Cars are needed of course, but this is way too much.
Today I'm using the car as normal.
I believe that public transport would grind to a standstill if everyone left their cars at home. As an example : the train from Southampton to Portsmouth consists of 3 carriages, but the motorway is packed every morning and evening. If everyone was to use public transport instead of their cars, a lot of people wouldn't be able to get to work.
Why doesn't the EU organise a "Plonker-Free Day", when, just for a brief period, politically correct nonsense like this will be banned?
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