Inverting the Intervention

Problem: Way too many cars. Car dominance. Car dependency. Congestion. Carbon emissions. Pollution. Obesity. Unattractive places…

Solution: Increase use of alternative modes – walking, cycling, and public transport.

Approach: ‘Smarter Choices’ – basically, persuade people that alternative modes are better than driving.

Result: Slowed the pace at which things got worse.

Inspirational pessimism: Transport planners have failed. But maybe we need to seize the day and be radical, change the framing, consider that not all growth is good.

New Approach: Invert the intervention.

Example: Rather than asking how we can make public transport more appealing by making it more like driving, we ask how do we make car travel less appealing and level the playing field with public transport?

Principle 1: Cars should be no more, nor less convenient than public transport. They should not offer door to door service other than in exceptional circumstances.

How it could work: Build new developments without drive-ways or private parking, prohibit the replacement of gardens with driveways, and support the return of existing private parking space to gardens or residential extensions. The default position where no road markings exist would ban not only pavement, but also kerbside parking. Instead, designated parking areas would be provided an average of 400m away from residential properties. These might be placed in spaces created by selective road mouth closures and filtered permeability schemes. They might be located alongside other transport and complimentary services in ‘mobility hubs’, which could include electric charging points. Loading, dropping off and picking up would only be permitted on a limited basis or on application, ensuring that many streets remain car-free or low traffic even if driverless vehicles become the norm.

Principle 2: The use of cars should be pay-as-you-go, rather than primarily up-front or sunk cost models.

How it could work: The cost of driving should be paid per trip / per mile. Part of this cost should be a tax that replaces fuel tax (which would disappear with electric vehicles anyway) and annual road taxes. Part could be a fare if car club style operators took responsibility for purchasing and maintaining the vehicles. If anyone chose to own a car directly, they would have to pay the purchase and maintenance costs themselves on top of the per trip / per mile tax, at a rate that puts ownership at a premium, whilst there would also be restrictions on space within the designated areas for cars that were not shared.

Principle 3: Cars and public transport would each have a fair share of advantages and disadvantages depending upon the user group, journey purpose, and destination.

How it could work: Public transport should be cheaper and more convenient for some journeys, particularly commuting and shopping along dense corridors and to city centres, as efforts would continue to improve its frequency and quality of service. Cars might be the more efficient choice for a family group travelling together or to access more isolated workplaces or dispersed activities.

Next Steps: Even with a fair wind and a sympathetic political climate, neither of which is available at the moment, getting the above principles accepted as policy would be difficult. And implementation requires research to model what levels of car provision, distribution, typology, and space requirements are appropriate.

I haven’t done any of this modelling. I’m starting with the policy implications and working backwards. We want to reduce car use and dependency and the externalities from both. Past interventions have done little, so let’s try inverting our interventions.

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