Friday, October 7, 2011

Decline of the Car - Again

The mainstream press have been turning out more articles about the fact that the British, and Londoners in particular are driving less, and fewer of us have licenses. Andrew Neather is the latest, in the Standard. Cycalogical picked up the story in May from an Independent article.

There's more evidence just lately: various sources report petrol sales declining by 15% since the credit crunch, and more gloomy news from the car industry that September sales were down 0.8% on the same period in 2010 - which was itself hardly a vintage year. Crucially demand from private buyers fell 9.3 per cent. On the other hand Halfords, one of the few businesses to have a horse in both races, reported a decline in car-related business being compensated by robust bike sales.

And it ain't about to end any time soon. Although oil prices have taken a battering just recently, approaching the $100/bbl level earlier in the week before ending just over $106 today, the dollar has been rising in value which will negate some of the benefit to UK consumers. And the most optimistic scenario for the world economy seems to be low growth for some years, while the worst-case is complete armageddon, so consumers are unlikely to rediscover their profligate pre-recession spending habits for a while.

 So the question seems to be, how long will the Tories persist in gearing their transport policy around the motor car, if more and more people are looking for lower-cost ways of travelling?


  1. Tfl is basing a lot of their research on the 2001 survey. So it's a 10 year long innertia period. Around 2021 we will see more investment in cycle infrastructure :)
    But on a more serious note - I see ample cars displaying the "for sale" message in their windows - and I doubt the owner is upgrading.
    I see much more "plain clothes cyclists" or simply regular people on bicycles on my way to work. My local supermarkets are installing more bicycle parking. It's still a drop in the ocean, but compared to last year it's a huge leap forward. I think continued pressure will bear fruit - if not for us then perhaps for our children.

  2. I fear it is not just the Tories who persist in gearing their transport policy around the car. Was it not Tony Bliar who invented "Mondeo Man"? Some of the biggest and most expensive road projects ever, notably the Hindhead Tunnel on the A3 (for which, personally, as a near neighbour of the old road, I am truly grateful) were given the go-ahead by Labour. Also, it was a Labour minister who approved the appalling concessions to the Olympic Committee to permit vast numbers of senior bureaucrats and other hangers-on to hog entire stretches of London's roads in their "Zil lanes". Meanwhile Labour presided over the continuing decline in public transport, especially in rural areas where cycling is often harder.

    Perhaps the lib-dem influence on the coalition has had some beneficial effect, with Norman Baker being a real advocate if not one of the showy "I cycle myself, with my retinue and papers following me in a car" poseurs who show through their real actions how hostile they really are to mass cycling.

    Fundamentally, though, all politicians have feet of clay. They react to the pressure placed on them by media barons and their editors and the partial demise of Murdoch isn't going to fundamentally change that. The press in particular relies on motor manufacturers and their peripheral industries (spares, fuel, insurance, car hire etc) to pay for advertising which keeps them afloat. he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    All I can hope for is that realisation will gradually creep in, that something perceived as glamorous, or a badge of personal freedom, will eventually be exposed for what it is. It happened with Big Tobacco, so it could happen again.

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