There is a good deal of evidence that increasing car use is contributing to global warming and having other undesirable effects on people’s health and well-being.
What can be done to discourage people from using their cars?
Mass car ownership has a number of undesirable consequences for people’s health and fitness as well as for the environment and community life generally. Nevertheless, owning a car is still seen as a desirable option. In fact, the number of cars in the world today is fast approaching one billion. Although this trend may seem inexorable, there is much that can be done to discourage unnecessary car use.
One possible approach is to make cars expensive to own and use, for example, by taxing them at the point of purchase or annually through a road tax. Certain types of car use, for instance short journeys within already congested cities, can also be discouraged through road pricing schemes such as that operating in London. However, these punitive measures alone are unlikely to have a major impact unless alternative means of transport are available.
Evidence suggests that where public transport options are plentiful, convenient and reliable, people will use them. Inhabitants of cities such as Paris, which have invested heavily in commuter rail networks, are more likely to use public transport than people living in cities where such networks have been neglected.
A less expensive and more environmentally sound option is to create a network of cycle lanes and other facilities for cyclists, such as safe weather-proof shelters for parking bicycles. This has the additional advantage of encouraging people to keep fit whilst allowing them the flexibility of autonomous travel. Cities in the Netherlands, which have relatively high rates of cycling, have shown how this can work.
In brief, the trend towards rising car ownership and use need not to be inexorable. People can be encouraged to use other means of transport. However, rhetoric alone is unlikely to bring about change. Investment in practical alternatives is what is needed above all.