Pig in a Poke

Cars are deleterious in so many ways that it is imperitive that as a society we curb their use. Providing adequate cycling infrastructure is only one small way in which such a positive change can be brought about. Improvements in the pedestrian realm, and regional and inter-regional transit improvements are also important.

It is clear that, while these measures would have a positive impact, more needs to be done to curb automobile use. Cars remain a cheap and convenient way of travelling. Financial disincentives should be applied to motorists, and the resulting funds should be diverted to fund further projects. Usage fees like per mile insurance or road tolls seem attractive to those interested in restructuring the transportation system.

However, there is never the political will to "do the right thing," and there is a reason for this. Any pressure from the government to get people out of cars is met with stiff resistance from the automotive and oil sectors. Large corporations operate within a financial system that sees a shrinking business as a poor investment. Even a modest 1 or 2 percent reduction in car use translates to a 1 or 2 percent reduction in sales, which would be disastrous for car manufacturers and their suppliers. These companies hold considerable political power, both in management, through lobbying, and through labour representatives who speak for large voting blocks.

Crass as it may sound, the current financial crisis provides an opportunity for change. The automotive industry is in a state of flux, and will require significant investment and grants from the government to stay in business (to the tune of billions). Because the government holds more sway than it usually does in this situation, the time to curb automotive use is now.

This could be as simple as allowing one of the big three automakers to fail. If this were to happen, there would be a large production shortfall, accompanied by a weakening of the labour and lobbyist voices. Rather than insure the car companies the government could insure the workers benefits and pensions, and put that money into factories producing environmentally friendly replacements for cars (e.g. trains). Cars companies that stay in business could be given bail-out money on the basis of producing more ecologically sound products (e.g. plug-in hybrids). Doing so would provide employment for the laid off workers.

In the long term, such a plan is definitely worth the short term unpleasantness. To curb aoutomobile use, letting a major automotive manufacturer fail is a small concession. The suffering from this could be minimized with the proper government funding. In the face of peak oil and global warming, there should be no doubt that the ends justify the means.

No comments: