Ways to end car culture
Source Jan Lundberg
Date 05/03/11/21:21

Kyoto with guts
Car cooperatives will slash car population and instill responsibility

by Julian Darley
9th March 2005

[Complementary report to Jan Lundberg's The No New Car Movement above]

Once we take seriously the notion that the industrial way of life is moving into its closing phase, and that one of the most unfortunate parts of that highly mistaken system is the large-scale use of the private automobile (and large trucks), then it becomes obvious that one should do everything possible, and as quickly as possible, to move away from a system of living and provisioning that depends on cars.

For North Americans, this prospect is going to be very tough indeed, but one of the most important things that can and must be done is the immediate creation of car co-ops across North America, and indeed anywhere that has been stupid enough to build their living arrangements with the internal combustion engine at its heart. Widespread car co-ops will form a very useful transitionary strategy towards eradicating privately owned internal combustion engine cars altogether. Here is a proposal, based on extending the idea of already existing car co-ops in two large North American cities.

If one assumes that average car ownership turnover is about 9 or 10 years, then this plan will be quite reasonable and feasible, if the municipality or local government is part of the plan.

* In a given locale, bring in a car co-op based on existing models in North America. If the place is large, look at San Francisco - this one is not a co-op, but is at least non-profit; if the place is small to medium-sized, look at Nelson or Vancouver in British Columbia:
o Work out what the initial donation needs to be in order to get started (avoid loans and investors like the plague). The starting number of people probably needs to be at least a dozen, and at least two cars. This ratio will soon improve. San Francisco started with a bang, and had hundreds of members from the beginning. This takes a lot of planning and resources, but the knowledge and help is available for any scale.
o Try to estimate how long it will be before the car co-op reaches 'ignition,' to use a fusion word! In other words, how long before the thing is generating more money than it costs, and is thus self-sustaining. It is absolutely vital that the system becomes self-sustaining as quickly as possible, and again, there are excellent examples to copy.
o Aim for a sustainable member-to-car ratio of about 20 to 1. This is roughly the ratio of Vancouver’s car co-op; San Francisco achieves about 30 to 1, which is probably near the upper limit, given North American infrastructure. Twenty to one should be easily and normally attainable, once the system is running properly.
* Once self-sustaining, a car co-op is ready to become a core part of the "Local Energy Bank" and "Transit Center" system (and be a part of helping expand or introduce local currency). Amongst many other things, this Energy Bank and Transit Center system, along with local government and other service providers, can be the organizational device for
o Testing locally grown and produced biofuels for non-private vehicles only - i.e., buses, co-op cars, taxis, small delivery vehicles.
o Introducing (and later locally producing) slow electric vehicles, including
+ PEVs - (small) personal EVs,
+ DEVs - larger delivery EVs (though these will be much smaller than the 40 ton trucks currently wrecking North America and Europe).
o Introduce (and eventually make) old-fashioned trams. This means that the EV (Electric Vehicle) manufactories (manufactory is an old term, but one that we are using in the Post Carbon CSM concept - Community Supported Manufacturing) will need to be in place first.
+ The trams envisaged shall be, by design, not particularly fast and therefore simple and cheap to build (and maintain), and inherently safer.
+ All the power for all the electric vehicles shall be local renewable electricity (some of it coming from the Local Energy Bank). The capacity of the renewable power system will form an upper limit to the number of vehicles and miles that can be driven - if efficiency works too well, which I doubt, then a mandatory cap must be brought in, but that won't be a worry for a long time, if ever.
* Key target: within 5 years aim to reduce private car ownership by 50% (e.g., by 2010).
o To help this modest and sensible aim along, locales should introduce:
+ 100% purchase tax on all new cars
+ 50% transfer tax on secondhand cars
+ 0% tax on cars that are sold to the car co-op. Only cars in very good condition and with good reliability and relatively cheap spare parts (at least made in the same country, and preferably within the same region) should be bought by the co-op
+ A very high yearly registration tax
+ A serious rebate for anyone that gets rid of a car and doesn't replace it
+ Local gasoline tax, but not too large - enough to be a warning signal, but low enough to make it not worthwhile to go outside the locale to get gasoline - 1 or 2 cents may have to be the limit, but the higher the better
+ Formal ride-sharing, similar to the highly successful German system called ‘Mitfahrgelenheit’. (I think we can call it something else that is a little easier on the tongue.)
o Also important to promote anti-car culture, modeled on anti-tobacco - it's a curse and an addiction, and we have to get rid of cars, and ultimately almost all internal combustion engines, which are much too efficient at delivering immense power, which we almost invariably abuse and misuse.

* Within 10 years aim to reduce private ownership to 5% of what it was at start date, but better still, for those wishing to the operate the genuine ‘Kyoto with guts’ program (and get a gold star if they even come close to achieving it), the target should be 5% ownership of 1990 level by 2012.

None of the above is impossible, far from it – the central idea of car co-ops works now in various locations across the world. But the scale and reach is much greater, and we know from many other areas of industrial existence that scale issues do pose new problems.

However the kinds of scale problem faced by the absurd Hydrogen Economy or trying to move to an electricity grid powered mostly by solar and wind are completely different from those facing a widespread roll-out of car co-ops. Large scale adoption of car co-ops will face few if any new technical problems (unless the Internet goes down – then telephones would have to be used en masse – unless they go down too! Then we shall have to walk to our Local Transport Center…). The problems involved will be mainly human and cultural. Can we really face up to reducing our private car use – eventually to zero? The answer is that we simply must. We either plan for it and do it now - or geology will do it for us.

It is fair and reasonable to wonder how many cities or municipalities would even dare to discuss such schemes as this Kyoto With Guts, even behind locked doors at the dead of night. Well, that was a good joke, now get real, many will say. But consider this: United Kingdom petroleum extraction fell 22.1% in a year, according to the December 2004 Royal Bank of Scotland Oil & Gas Index! And even more amazing, the final month recorded by the RBS saw a 5.5% production fall.[1] That would be 66% per cent if annualized (in other words 5.5% x 12 months = 66. I am not suggesting that this latter will happen, but the December monthly decline would be high for many producing countries, if it were for the whole year). So maybe the car co-op plan wouldn't be so crazy for Britain, after all. And we can notice that U.S. oil imports in Aug 2004 came within 0.2% of 60% according to data from the EIA (Energy Information Administration), and the average imports for 2004 were only just below this at 58%. I estimate that U.S. imports are rising at about 2 percentage points per year; at this rate of increase, that would mean 70% oil imports by 2010. How's that for 'oil independence' and energy security? Talk about 'no mullah left behind.'

Part of the reason for the increase in US oil imports is of course that American oil output is falling. Just look at the graph below, from the EIA. Things would be absolutely disastrous without offshore, which effectively means Gulf of Mexico (GoM):

US 2003 oil output was achieved using 520,000 wells, many of which produce only 10 barrels a day (the US uses about 21 million barrels a day). The big question is what is the prognosis for GoM? When that peaks and starts to fall, people really had better have their solar-powered lifeboats all ship-shape and nicely caulked (an Oil and Gas Journal graph suggests a soft peak for GoM within the next six years).

So, in fact, in the light of the above, and the rest of the negative petroleum production news flooding in, I hope that it will be possible to find at least a few municipalities or districts that are willing to go after this apparently wild car-eradication idea – an idea that I regard as quite moderate and sensible. We shall see.

One reason many places will be reticent to take up the idea of pervasive car co-ops is one of the very reasons I think that car co-ops are such a good idea: they break the terrible grip of ownership obsession, whilst building a sense of general responsibility. I don't personally have any sense of owning any one of the roughly 90 co-op cars here in Vancouver, but I know that in general, we (members of the car co-op) all need to look after the wretched things, not because they are nice machines, but because we should make these kinds of items last as long as possible. Replacing them and carelessly damaging them will also cost us money which could be much better spent on relocalising the infrastructure, in order to make cars completely redundant, which should be the ultimate and underlying goal of car co-ops.

We must, I believe, use every device we can to build or rekindle a sense of general reciprocity (giving with no sense of specified return – in other words doing things for the common good), rather than the constant reinforcement of ‘specific reciprocity’, which is so damaging both to a greater sense of the common good, and to hopes of de-monitizing major parts of the provisioning system (I refuse to use that filthy word ‘economy’ whenever I can). Specific reciprocity (everything as individual and isolated contracts or transactions which form no lasting local or human bonds) also makes it harder to build trust and get people to keep promises and do things reliably without a contract, be they paid or not.

It is important that car co-ops are seen as a transition mechanism to other methods of mobility, starting with our own muscles ('Moving From a Fuel to a Foot Economy' - there I have used that blasted word), and, where appropriate, using locally built, slow electric vehicles, especially if possible, running on metal rails. ‘Normal’ city planners, I have discovered, hate metal rails, and love to speak of rubber wheels - "it's what the market wants" is the usual repulsive phrase of justification. What that really means is the old Thrasymachus argument (reported by Plato) that 'might makes right'. As far as I recall, that is the only argument that Socrates ever lost. It just happens to be the most important argument of all, and undercuts everything else.

Dave Room, Post Carbon Institute’s North American Director, suggests that our 5% car ownership plan should be part of a “car free challenge,” and that in order to support this aim, “cities should apply a moratorium on building parking garages and all energy intensive development. In many places, it would be advisable to supplement this program with rebuilding the city around high density centers. Many of cities are so spread out that just adding mass transportation and car sharing may not be enough. Here are some other measures that the locale could choose among to meet their interim 50% and ultimate 5% goals:

* Raise tolls for bridges
* Higher parking fees
* Higher parking tickets
* Incentives for
o local businesses (locally owned and sourcing locally)


o locally produced goods
* Car-free tenancy agreements
* Promote informal ride sharing
* Offer telecommute incentives.”

Given the "lateness of the hour," I suggest the following:

a) If people won't try to abandon their private cars, then they may as well abandon all other 'green' activity as pointless - like a smoker going to the gym - what's the point?


b) Call on people to aim to eradicate cars and capitalism - the phrase even has alliteration and assonance on its side, and we Anglo-Saxons (=me anyway) love a bit of assonance. It seems a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for. I am suggesting that the Democrats put it in their next campaign as a central policy plank. The American people will love it - it has just never been offered to them before.


Julian Darley is Author of High Noon for Natural Gas - The New Energy Crisis and Director of Post Carbon Institute, Vancouver, British Columbia.

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