Fuel and car insurance costs are sky-high and traffic levels are reaching gridlock – it’s enough to make us fall out of love with motoring. But have we reached ‘peak car’ saturation where we choose to cast off the car?
Some transport commentators certainly think so, according to a thought-provoking article in last week’s Independent. They talk about Britain having reached ‘peak car’ saturation, with motorists now deciding to get out from behind the wheel.
This ‘self-regulating’ change appears to have been prompted by a number of factors: migration back towards major cities (with better public transport options); the high price of fuel; the rise of the internet; and the extortionate insurance costs of becoming a driver before the age of 25.
Commuting by car is hell
I, for one, am not a great fan of the car for commuting. In a previous job, I spent up to four hours a day in South London gridlock driving to and from the office (I was expected to drive for the job, despite it being quicker by train or bike). Not only did I find the traffic hugely frustrating, I also resented wasting so many waking hours stuck behind the wheel.
These days, I commute 13 miles into central London every day, mostly by train, and the journey takes an hour door-to-door. The train is far from perfect, but at least I can use the time productively if I wish – catching up on work papers and emails at the start and end of the day, or unwinding with a good book or my iPod.
When I do drive to and from the office, it’s actually a nice change. I’m normally trying out one of the cars we have on test, which makes the journey interesting, but I know I’d quickly tire of it if I was pounding the same route day-in, day-out, in the same old car. There’s only so much Radio 4 I can listen to, and so many roadworks I can stomach…
Do cars equal freedom?
I still love cars (as you’d expect from the motoring editor), but that’s partly because I use my car mainly for leisure. I associate it with personal freedom and days out with my family – not with being stuck in a metal cage on the daily drudge.
But I know I’m in the lucky minority – I live in a city where the public transport links are very good, despite the fact that everyone loves to moan about them. I’ve got options for how I travel to work, and I’ve opted to leave the car at home.
Of course, if more of us start leaving the car at home it creates pressure on trains and buses. These are already crammed to bursting in rush hour, so if the growing demand isn’t well managed, some people could easily switch back to driving again.
It’s a delicate situation for our governments, local authorities and transport companies – after decades of growing car use, they must wish they had a crystal ball to help spot whether this decline is a continuing trend or a minor blip.
I suspect we may well have reached ‘peak car’, which is causing many of us to change our behaviour. I certainly don’t think this spells the end of the car, but it does suggest its role in our lives is changing. And maybe, just maybe, this will help us get back to what motoring was originally all about?