Personal mobility

You know what narks me? It’s the argument that we have to build lots more roads because people have to drive so that they have personal mobility.

It’s an argument from the road lobby that is basically saying wherever you go, you have to be able to take your car.

And it gets traction because in much of Australia, the alternatives are crap. PT often does well for commuting to work, if your trip is along a frequent route, but for most it’s awkward to live the rest of your life without driving, unless you confine yourself to places within walking and cycling distances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason we can’t set up our cities so that people can live their lives without having to drive. Check this short, reasonably amusing, advert:

(Catch the Gordon Ramsay cameo? Better quality, but shorter, version here.)

This guy in the advert manages to do a myriad of activities in just one day, without ever getting behind the wheel of a car. He has personal mobility.

In Melbourne, people who come into the CBD without their cars don’t complain about a lack of personal mobility for getting to lunch, or meetings, or running errands. Most things you need are within walking distance, and the trams run every few minutes if you need to get further.

But most of the rest of the city misses out on this convenience. If the whole metropolis was covered in a grid of trains, trams and buses running every few minutes all day, backed-up by better pedestrian and bike facilities, then we could all leave the car behind more often, or even choose not to have one, with no consequent cramping of our lifestyles.

And while some may claim Melbourne’s population isn’t dense enough to do this, count the cars on a main road in any developed suburb and it’s obvious that if you really wanted to get a substantial number of trips out of cars and onto PT, services every few minutes would be viable.

It can be done right. And it does make a difference. As the Wikipedia article for New York City notes:

New York is the only city in the United States where more than half of all households do not own a car (in Manhattan, more than 75% of residents do not own a car; nationally, the percentage is 8%).

New York City’s dense population and low automobile dependence help make New York among the most energy efficient in the United States. The city’s greenhouse gas emission levels are relatively low when measured per capita, at 7.1 metric tons per person, below the national average, 24.5.

(The Australian average is 14 tonnes per household. My rough estimate for my household is 9 tonnes… though I need to re-do the calculations, and more accurately.)

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “Personal mobility”

I’ve never been a fan of public transport. Lived almost all my life driving where ever I needed to go. It was just automatic to get into the car to go anywhere. That was living in a regional town in North Qld, where buses where infrequent and didn’t go where you wanted. In January I moved to Sydney. Admittedly picked a place to live near a train line and where I could walk to shops etc. Now its trains and (infrequently) buses. I drive my car maybe once a week and I love not driving. I last filled the car with petrol in February and its still got half a tank in it. Now if only Sydney would stop canceling the trains on the weekends for maintenance work all the time…

I can’t drive anymore (except my hubby up the wall :P ) and PT is my only way to get to places.
I discovered the Tramway Museum at Bylands – only 1 hour from Melb CBD – doesn’t have any PT servicing it
A museum for a form of PT is only accessible by car!
That typifies how screwed the system is and how much work it needs.
I’ve emailed Lynne Kosky but strangely I haven’t heard back from her…..*sound of crickets

Sorry, I hadn’t read your post about the Adelaide tram museum, Daniel.
Bylands is a tad remote but a V/Line coach sails past the front door quite frequently on the way to Kilmore and beyond.
Wouldn’t it be simple just to whack a coach stop in there?
Tram museum at Hawthorn is brilliant, off to the railway one tomorrow lol.

I really must go visit the Hawthorn Museum considering I’ve lived 5 minutes walk from it for 6 years now!!!

Meanwhile as I’ve posted in your blog previously Daniel I sold my car in March last year and have not replaced it. Living in Hawthorn in visual range of the station and between the 70/75 and very close to the 48 tram lines I have a plethora of options. I don’t miss the car at all.

While walking to the South Melbourne Market today I passed a Smart car that is meant to be shared (perhaps to run errands) and returned to its spot for the next person to use. You pay by the hour with some sort of card and maintenance and insurance are provided. I forget the name of the program and I’m not exactly sure how it works. Have you heard of this program? I predict that the car will have a short and abuse filled life.

This reminds me of a similar program I heard of in Amsterdam where yellow bicycles were scattered about the city to be used for free and left in the street for the next user. These bicycles gradually disappeared as people took and repainted them with a different color to keep them.

Nathan, it sounds like you live very near where I used to live (166 Power St).

Jed, there are two main car share companies, GoGet and FlexiCar, which between them would have a couple of dozen shared cars around Melbourne. They’d track who uses each car, and damage would get reported pretty quickly. Given how little I drive, I’d love to use something like this, but they have no cars yet outside the CBD and inner suburbs.

Dnaiel, I have huge admiration for your role in the PTUA and your passion for PT. I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne (just past Ringwood), and the train was a major lifeline. It was not always ideal, but I appreciated it. When I grew older, I moved closer to the city and grew to love the proximity of tram lines. I’ve travelled a fair bit, and have always appreciated good PT in countries I’ve visited. Now in a regional city in Japan, I love the PT that’s available here (although at a steep price, and no multimode card system – I use a ‘pay-for-each-trip PT debit card). It’s not always been an environmental issue for me, but one of democractic infrastructure – a government *should* provide an adequate transport for its citizens. I just wish, in Australia, people would treat PT with a bit more respect instead of physically trashing facilties and equipment – the vandalism culture just doesn’t exist in Japan.

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