Thursday, May 7, 2009

Brainfood: Mad Car Owner Speaks Out

(And the New Mobility Agenda listens)

Like it or not in most of our cities on this beleaguered planet, there are growing numbers of people who are driving around in cars. And as much as in our eco-heart of hearts we may want to get most of these cars out of the traffic stream -- which indeed is necessary - the simple reality is that this is not going to happen overnight.

Thus, in the core of the New Mobility Agenda, there is a key principle which states that if we are to succeed in this much needed transformation of our cites, we are going to have to figure out ways to help drivers deal with the new circumstances of traffic in cities, while at the same time reducing their number strategically and steadily. And since sometimes it does not hurt to start with a smile, let's invite you to have a look at this interview that never happened with a Mad Car Owner. (That's him right there. You can see that he's not all that happy)

Driver’s Lament:
Tired of sitting in your car in traffic that doesn’t move?
Feel like you are paying too much for too little?
Panicked at that huge price rise at the pump?
Exhausted in circling the block for that parking place?
Feeling fat and wobbly?
Tired of being pushed around?
Well, speak out, oh Driver!

Interview: Mad Car Owner Speaks Out

Mad Car Owner (MCO): Eric, I'm so mad I could spit.

Eric Britton of World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda (EB): Why's that friend?

MCO: I'm so mad I could spit -- and it's all because of you.

EB: Oh oh! Me?

MCO : Well maybe not just you personally, but you and all those other wise guys who have made up this New Mobility Agenda thing and are now putting it into application in cities around the world. It scares me Eric. It hurts. Don't you understand? Life is already hard for us car drivers. And getting tougher every day. All you and all those righteous friends of yours are doing is making it even more difficult. It's just not fair

EB: Oh dear. That is by no means our intention. Okay, so what do you suggest we do?

MCO: Well Eric why don't you start thinking for change about what you can do for all of those of us honest folks like me and my good lady who have cars and who, to be perfectly fair, don't really have a choice. S ure, I think it's great that you are working to improve transportation for poor people, kids, the elderly, people with handicaps, cyclists, and all of those who want to or are able to get around without cars. But hey! there are a lot of us drivers out here and we think it's high time you did something for us too.

EB: Fair enough MCO. Let's give it a try. Here is our proposal for you: “New driving for new mobility: Handy hints for cars, from cradle to grave.” You'll see, we think you have some interesting choices in this new transportation environment. and you will make them because you want to -- not because someone forces you to do it. After all, the Wall came down and one would hope authoritarian government with it.

MCO: That's right. And don't forget Eric, we vote.


The New Context for “NewDrive

Drivers are our customers too: So let’s help them out

Yes, yes. We are listening to every word you say.

For starters, we have to understand that a good part of the new and very tough transportation context that we are faced with is being driven by forces which are beyond anyone’s control, external to transportation policy: including of course the ongoing energy crisis and the enormous overload that our present mobility patterns are making on the environment and the planet. But public policy -- that third cheer when we say “two cheers for the market, not three” -- has an important role to play in this. Let’s take a look.

Twenty-first century transport policy in those cities that are taking the lead -- the New Mobility Agenda --builds on three strategic pillars, which between them condition pretty much all the rest: There is a very big difference with past policies in the sector, including the no-policy policies which have had a very big role in getting us into the present mess.

Step (1) Expand supply: Work to provide the city with first class new mobility services (i.e., more, better, faster, cheaper than the old mobility options) and a greatly expanded palette of new mobility choices.

Step (2) Manage demand: Reduce substantially, strategically and discretely the amount of road and parking space available to low occupancy vehicles (namely cars and above all ca motor vehicles (namely cars and above all cars with only a single person in them).

Step (3) Full cost pricing: Cars and trucks to pay full costs, especially in space-constrained, environmentally sensitive areas (cities).

This is not all bad news. To the contrary, with the hugely powerful technologies and organizational skills at our disposal today, there is no reason why, in cities at least ,we should not be able to offer new mobility options which compete favorably or even better than driving your own car there (old mobility style).

But what about all those good people, you and all those voting citizens who today are driving their own cars and thoroughly locked into the old mobility (all-car) syndrome? And even it is costing them a bundle, even if the huge increase in gas prices has them shaking, and even if they are losing huge amounts of time in traffic still would prefer to keep on rolling in their cars. The devil they know, etc. etc.

No problem. Let’s see if we can work that into our formula as well. Which brings us to NewDriving, the car owner/operators best friend in 21st century cities.

NewDrive” (The till-now missing link in the New Mobility Bouquet)

In many places there are huge numbers of citizens who are locked into their cars in a no-choice situation. So, if we aspire to provide wise public policy counsel, can we afford just to ignore these honest people, or, worse yet, force them into our cookie-cutter for change? No, of course not. We need consider them – and by the way that’s you and me when we are behind the wheel for instance, both from a human and strategic behavior.

So we ask ourselves: is there some way to roll all these much needed measures, reforms and actions into a single coherent package, which is not only good for the environment and for our cities and good for all those who live and work there? But we need something that has a positive ring to it so that people will welcome it as a great thing to do. Rather than scrape, gripe, grumble, and at the end of the day resist (and maybe successfully at that). Which is almost always the case given the prevalent policy mindset du jour.

The central idea behind NewDrive, as the till-now missing soldier of our strategy, is to treat car owner/drivers, not as adversaries, but as our customers. We want to bring all these good car-captive citizens into that world of new mobility with a smile. So, how can we best serve our good customers? That is the question.

The idea is that as a NewDriver, you will have a better, healthier, more comfortable and more economic life style than before. (And oh yes, you are also cool and have more friends!)

Behind all this new mode of behavior is the fact that our cities are changing because they must, in part before the increasingly urgent climate, energy and resource challenges, -- but also for many other immediate local reasons. But now, you are able to use your car AND be a good citizen and neighbor at the same time.

To achieve this leap, as a new NewDriver you now have at your disposal a rich array of tools, technologies, partners and organizational devices which permit you to be palpably better off than you were under the old mobility arrangements which our cities are increasingly leaving behind it. You are, for sure, a car owner/driver, but as a NewDriver you are not going to spend less time stuck in traffic, you are not spending a bundle, and what is more, in addition to your own much loved car, now a lot more effective than it was in the old days, you also have access to a whole range of the new and improved mobility options which you can use as and when you wish to. (“Look Ma, no compulsion!”)

Now while this single, simple, understandable, positive proposal encompasses goals usually set out in “negative” terms, i.e., traffic reduction, less congestion, lower speeds, fewer places to park, less energy consumed, greenhouse gas reductions, resource savings, and the long list goes on – we can, I am confident, achieve these important objectives, but this time with NewDriving putting the whole thing in a positive frame for an important part of our voting and vocal public.

Also, it is positive and at the same time can be shown to lead to numerous other advantages, including offering improved mobility options and services to many people who simply would not have them if you had not put “newdriving’ into practice in your city.

NewDrive strategies for cities – Getting started

To make it work it has to be a package and different cities will handle it indifferent ways. It will in each case bring together a dynamic set of integrated, synergistic policies, measures and technologies -- and while this is not the place for us to roll out the full red carpet, here in shorthand is a first think list of some of the good things that you might want to consider bringing into your own program:

A. Information/Communications programs launched by city:

1. Match-your-car: I f you are going to be using your car regularly in the city be sure that your choice of vehicle size, energy efficiency, emissions, noise, visibility (eye to eye contact with pedestrians and cyclists is important), and top speeds matches the new driving environment.

2. Eco-driving: This is well charted terrain as a quick Google visit will make clear.

3. Know your costs: We live in times in which most of us have to be very careful about how we spend our money. The city can develop a series of self-audit procedures, and support them with outreach programs.

4. Mixed-mode driver training: Driver training programs for new high density, mixed-mode, variable speed travel patterns to reduce accidents
Now what the above have in common is that they are all strictly information and education program, and involve no changes in law, coercion, or any other constraints on car owners and drivers. And yet, between them, they will already help the city start to rationalize car use, with all the advantages tat this brings with it.

B. Technical initiatives, measures, programs:

Here you have a first sample of initiatives that can be launched by the city, each of which can do its part to create a more positive car ownership and use environment.
1. Carsharing: A car when you need it, but someone else’s problem the rest of the time. There are more than one thousand cities in the world in which you can carshare this morning. There is no reason why such services cannot be greatly expanded in your city. They will mainly serve people who live there. (See http://www.carshare.newmobility.org)

2. PBS - Public Bicycle Systems: True automobility for shorter city trips. Serves both residents as a complement to the public transport system, and makes it easier for incoming travelers to switch to public transit and still get around in the city when they need to. (See http://www.citybike.newmobility.org/)

3. ZRIP - “Zip Right In Parking”: New parking technologies and packages which permit city drivers to reserve their parking slot by mobile phone or internet before they set off on a trip, so that they can on arrival zip straight into their reserved slot without driving all over the place to find one;.

4. HOV parking: Proportional and significant parking fee reductions and increased availability to all those operating their car with three or more passengers aboard.

5. +3 HOV access: Privileged access to HOV lanes and conveniences, if you can figure out how to get more than three people in the car; (Supported by the following)

6. Ride-sharing: This is how you get those people into your car (and their car off the road), helping to share your costs and gaining you in the process that privileged access to the scarce road resources. It’s been around for a long time but things are changing fast.

7. Digital hitchhiking: This twenty-first century fillip for ride-sharing (car and van pools) keys on the dynamic use of mobile phones as the central organizing device. But it’s going to go way further than that and will tie in carsharing, public transport, taxis, etc. (tune in to www.dighitch.org )

8. Shed a car” programs: Vehicle Buy Back incentive programs and packages, together with savings and good deals via transit incentive schemes.
Getting time on your side

Given the extremely stringent time issues, the city’s New Mobility Agenda should be putting a lot of stress on measures which offer big and early pay-offs. And while the main target is certainly anything that will lead to big visible paybacks in less than two years - a target that is in fact be obtainable by at least some of the measures that are getting attention here - the fact is that a couple of years of operational experience will invariably be needed to fine tune, debug and start to get the most out of your new mobility measure

And when it comes to the car ownership and use changes in particular, it will be critical to get time on your side there. There is only so much you can do in the very short run, but stretch your program out to four or five years, and new horizons and possibilities open up. Thus, In addition, within this more extended frame you are going to have time to do things such as . . .
· At the very least to replace your present vehicle with something more appropriate for responsible 21st century city travel.

· Alternatively and better yet If possible where you live and work) shed your car altogether as new affordable mobility alternatives start to come on line in your community (affordable carsharing among them of course)

· To seek a better, more environmentally and economically coherent place to live and work

· And if you are an industrial or service group, enough time to design and bring on line a new range of products and services.
And finally if you are a mayor or elected official, this gives you time to achieve your announced objectives within your electoral term. Four years: Put up or shut up. Seems fair. That's why we have elections.

Conclusion

Any major transportation reform program must bring with it a strong positive message – otherwise it is just one more self-righteous well-meaning phrase. And one that in a pluralistic vigorous democracy is doomed to failure.

The ideas you have sketched here are only a sample of the concepts that you can find, prepare and put to work, to create a more positive transportation environment in your city for all. There are many more where they come from.

The people who own and drive cars, and the businesses and interests behind them, are numerous and powerful. If they are not brought into the New Mobility Agenda in a positive way, it is unlikely to work in your city.

- Comments invited, just below

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