Friday, April 30, 2010

Musing: Robin Chase on Sharing and Innovation

Robin Chase, widely known as one of the innovators behind Zipcar, has spent a number of years looking at different ways of sharing cars and offers this thoughtful article on her personal blog, Network Musings, which we are pleased to share with you this morning.

I believe there is a strong tie between sharing and the ability to innovate. This post will walk you through the logic.

Innovation is built on these things:

1. The existence of problems and the desire to solve them

2. The ability to apply new ways of thinking to these problems

3. The cost of the inputs needed to solve the problem (skills, data, resources, devices, networks)

4. The ability to iterate, adapt, evolve and scale.

1. PROBLEMS: Frankly, there is no dirth of problems and some kinds of people really like to think about how to solve them if they have the time. So problem-solving people who have at least some time on their hands try to problem-solve and people who don’t have time, can’t. [Why are there so many fewer historical examples of women doing remarkable innovative things? Well, duh…]

2. NEW THINKING: The ability to apply NEW ways of thinking, with an emphasis on the word “new.” Problems that are kept hidden in discipline silos don’t get any new thinking applied to them. See all the great work done by Innocentive, that gets problems out of silos and opens them up to a diverse group of solvers.

3. THE COST OF INPUTS. Here is where I want to linger for a bit. There is a whole world of inputs that could come at much lower cost – wherever there is excess capacity, an underused resource that has already been paid for and which therefore has lots more value locked up in it! If only we could get people, companies, governments to “share” more – to make sure that their unused unneeded excess capacity was made available to others to make use of.

Exactly when are we NOT willing to share?
• When we believe that abundance only comes from hoarding and we perceive that everything is rivalrous (see previous post).

• When we have just witnessed a communal sharing debacle (Chinese cultural revolution) or when goods really are rivalrous.

• When things really are scarce, there is just simply not enough to go around and so we hoard to protect our closest family.

• When things are abundant, why bother?

If we look at these reasons for not sharing excess capacity (and thus facilitating a whole lot more innovation), I see lots of room for improvement. We have to stop our rapid and prejudiced assumption that sharing reduces our own personal abundance. There are lots and lots of goods that are non-rivalrous (the new push towards open data for example), and many once-rivalrous goods that can now be shared (cars) thanks to technology. We’ve also come to appreciate that anything with a network effect actually has a much higher value the more it is shared (carsharing, ridesharing, social networks, mesh networks, the internet).

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of writing and talking on this topic of increasing openness.

4. EXPERIMENTATION & EVOLUTION. The ability to experiment, iterate, adapt and evolve. In some cases, even if we deliver up items 1-3, there are some sectors in which we still don’t get much innovation because of institutional or government barriers. The status quo has developed a whole set of rules and regulations to protect existing ways of doing things, as well as protect the health and safety of people. I would put the automotive, housing, and a good piece of the telecommunications sectors into this category.

Sometimes the rationale is good and sometimes it isn’t. In any event, if we are going to see successful innovation, we have to let small scale (some volume) experiments flourish without many of the safety and regulatory requirements we place on large volume sellers of goods and services. Bureaucratic and even well-meaning red tape just make experimentation impossible.

A quote I heard from Tom Watson, founder of IBM: “if you want to improve your success rate, double your failure rate.” And a far less elegant quote from Robin Chase: “if you want to improve your innovation rate, open up more data, devices, networks, platforms, sources, and stuff.”

# # #

About the author:
Robin Chase leads Meadow Networks, a consulting firm that advises city, state, and federal government agencies about wireless applications in the transportation sector. She is also founder and former CEO of GoLoco, an online ridesharing community, and Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world. Her blog Network Musings is available here -

--> Read on:

Tools: New Mobility Working Groups on line

Just to your left you will see a new section under this title, the goal of which is to permit our readers to follow with a single click progress and postings in the main specialised discussion and reporting fora, for now covering the collaborative working platforms on: the New Mobility Café, World Transport Forum, World Carshare Consortium, World City Bike Forum, Value Capture/Tax Reform, World Car Free Days, and the Sustran Global South Forum.

In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.
- A. de Tocqueville, 1835
World Streets is the voice of a collaborative international venture which builds on several decades of worldwide networking and exchange in the field of sustainable transportation and new mobility. One aspect of this is the organization and maintenance of more than a dozen specialized discussion groups and fora, each of which aims at providing a shared library and discussion space for a specific topic or area of policy concern. You can see their present status by clicking .

--> Read on:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't count on "alternative fuels" to save the world?
(Dark bet on a pessimistic, high tech future)

Here we have an unusually perceptive piece from a specialist in chaos theory who helps us make sense of the "alternative fuels" proposals and claims. It is good to have his hardheaded expert view on the potential of alternative fuels in our future transportation arrangements. But it is important too that we reflect on his dark bet on a pessimistic, high-technology future: in which he sees us as stumbling from crisis to crisis, in response to which we manage each time to come up with last-minute ad hoc "solutions" which leave us as still basically operational, but not all that much more. That I am afraid is the bleak face of the future, unless we are able to find the vision and leadership to do otherwise.

The Methadone Economy
- Tom Konrad, 27 April 2010.

Peak Oil Investments I'm Putting My Money On:
If the measure of success for alternative fuels is the ability to continue to live in suburbs and commute in multi-ton boxes of metal on congested freeways for hours each day, then alternative fuels will fail. No alternative fuel has the existing infrastructure, supply potential, energy density, and low environmental impact that we would need to replace oil without changing our unsustainable lifestyle.

Peak oil may mean the end of bigger and bigger cars driven farther and farther on more and more congested roads. Peak oil may mean the end of suburban life as we know it. Yet life as we don't know it does need not be a vision out of Mad Max. Peak oil will mean changes, some for the better, some for the worse.

The surest change peak oil will bring is less driving, in fewer vehicles that are filled closer to capacity. Those vehicles will use less oil (or alternative fuels) per person-mile. We'll also find ways to satisfy the desires and needs that we currently satisfy with travel without traveling.

Alternative Fuels

The first eight parts of this series looked into alternative fuels. I concluded that no alternative fuel listed could replace oil as we use it today fast enough to replace dwindling oil supplies. Conventional biofuels cannot be produced in enough quantity, and making hydrogen is an inefficient use of electricity or natural gas. Electric vehicles are too expensive or have too little range. There is not enough natural gas and there is too little fueling infrastructure to make natural gas vehicles practical on a large scale. Gas-to-liquids makes sense for stranded natural gas, but there are too many other high value uses for natural gas to make a large dent in declining oil supplies. Coal to liquids does too much environmental harm, and algae needs too much more technological development to achieve its promise in time.

The biggest problem with alternative fueled vehicles, however, is not the alternative fuels, the problem is the vehicles and how we use them.

Oil was a one-time bonanza of a readily available, easily transportable, durable, energy-dense liquid. With oil, humanity won a natural resources lottery ticket. Like a lottery winner who blows cash that could have lasted a lifetime in a few months, we now need to realize that we've spent most of our winnings. It's unreasonable to expect that we're going to win another such jackpot before we have to start watching our fuel budget again. The main question is how soon and how deliberately we will make the necessary adjustment. Will we act like the lottery winner who uses his last hundred thousand to tide him over while he looks for a job? Will we keep partying to the bitter end, until one day we wake up, hung over in the gutter? Will it be something in between?

The Methadone Economy

Switching to a drug analogy, most alternative fuels are the methadone to treat our petroleum / heroin addiction. Methadone is given to heroin addicts in treatment because it mitigates withdrawal symptoms and can block the euphoric effects of heroin, morphine, and similar drugs, reducing the urge to use.

Alternative fuels can be sufficient to allow our society to function, but we're not going to feel the highs we felt when the oil was flowing freely. Alternative fuels cannot take us back to a "normal" pre-peak oil state because our use of petroleum over the last few decades as been far from "normal:" it has been one long, fossil-fueled high. We will eventually kick the petroleum habit with the help of alternative fuels not because alternative fuels are better than petroleum and can bring us something that petroleum cannot, but because our supplier will be getting smaller shipments over time, while the number of fellow junkies knocking on his door will keep going up with big increases in petroleum demand from emerging economies.

There are several competing visions of a future powered by alternative fuels, ranging from wildly optimistic to gloom-and-doom, with variations depending on how effectively the prognosticator thinks we can replace fossil fuels with alternatives.

A high-technology optimistic vision includes smoothly running efficient pods in mass transit systems powered by renewable energy. High speed bullet trains network the land, making overland air travel unnecessary. The low-technology optimistic vision involves a peaceful return to local economies where food is grown locally, and increasing local interdependence fosters strong local community ties, and people grow happier as they become more connected to the land and each other. The low-technology pessimistic vision is a free-for-all scramble for dwindling resources like the vision out of Mad Max referenced above.

I'm long on optimism about technology, but short on optimism about our will to make the necessary sacrifices to implement that technology quickly or efficiently. I'm betting on a pessimistic, high-technology future. In this future, we manage to cobble together a hodge-podge of last-minute, jerry-rigged solutions to keep the economy functioning at a basic level, but not at all smoothly or evenly. In it, we lurch from a crisis caused by financial melt-down, to a crisis caused by peak-oil to one caused by climate change. We'll tackle each crisis with incredible ingenuity, staving off total chaos, but at the cost of mis-allocated resources and a deteriorating standard of living. We hold out in the belief that after just this one more fix, the world will be back to normal and we can stop worrying. But that day will never come.

Forward thinking planners in some municipalities and communities will work on implementing true, long-term solutions. But they will not have enough money or resources to do more than ameliorate the next crisis. The large-scale, system wide solutions of better mass transit, algae biofuels, and continent-wide electricity transmission of the high-technology optimistic vision will be implemented too slowly, on too small a scale to achieve the economic stability the techno-optimists hope for. But these half-built systems will still bring considerable benefit, and keep the succession of crises from being the complete disaster that would come with a complete lack of planning.

This is the Methadone Economy. Alternative-fuel oil replacement therapy is necessary because oil supply will not keep pace with demand; we must replace oil or do without. But alternative fuels are not oil, and will require more effort devoted to energy production to produce the same effect. The Methadone economy will function, but it won't give us the highs we got from the cheap, concentrated, easily accessible energy of oil.

A future characterized by thoughtful, long-range planning seems unlikely to arise from the same political class and voting public that has not meaningfully prepared for anything but good times in decades. The first IPCC report was released in 1990, and it made clear that human activities were substantially increasing levels of greenhouse gasses which would warm the planet. Two decades later, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. We had the first warnings about peak oil in the 1970s oil crises, but only now are we starting to put serious political and economic capital into searching for solutions. When the pre-2008 global debt bubble was on, NINJA (No Income No Job no Assets) loans were welcomed by politicians praising financial innovation and its ability to bring home ownership to people who could not previously afford it.

The Methadone Economy may sound gloomy, but I see it as the most optimistic vision possible given the political reality we see around us. More pessimistic visions abound, but if you expect them, you're probably better off investing in guns and physical gold than you are investing in the stock market.


I see three major investment themes in the Methadone Economy.

First, there is the knowledge that long-term solutions will be implemented, although not completely and at insufficient scale. Investors in contractors who specialize in mass transit and high-speed rail should do well, as should the longer-term alternative fuel solutions discussed in earlier articles of this series. Vehicle efficiency improvements will find rapidly growing markets as fuel becomes more expensive.

Second, band-aid solutions will thrive. Bike lanes, electric scooters, buses, and any other transportation solution which can be implemented with only small changes to existing infrastructure. Road pricing schemes and the software technology to help people coordinate ride sharing. The clever use of a few resources will always win over grand schemes when there are few resources to spare.

Finally, the Methadone Economy is an economy where we cannot expect long term growth. More likely, we will see periods of anemic (and occasionally robust) growth punctuated by periodic crisis-driven declines. This will be mirrored in the stock market, and so investors in the above two solutions should do well to hedge their overall exposure to the market.

# # #
About the author:
Tom Konrad, PhD., CFA is a regulatory consultant and financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In his consulting role, he testifies on behalf of clients before public utilities commissions and state legislatures to promote clean energy. In addition to, he writes about clean energy and economics as a freelancer. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Purdue University, where he wrote his thesis on Complex Dynamics, a branch of chaos theory. His study of chaos theory led to his conviction that knowing the limits of our ability to predict is much more important than predictions themselves.

This article originally appeared on 27 April 2010 and can be seen here. Kind thanks for the author for permission to reprint in these pages.

--> Read on:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prisoner of car?
(Working note from Communications 101)

If it is your firm belief that God is on our side (Gott mit uns) and that we are winning the battle of sustainable transport and sustainable lives, you will probably have little use for anything that might show up on a popular environmental site like TreeHugger. But hey! we are losing, so we need to be prepared to use every trick, talent and channel we can lay our hands on. Here is a piece that appeared in TreeHugger last week that will tell you, dear reader, nothing you do not already know -- but it is the telling of it that is the point. Let me put that in other words: we have plenty to learn from them when it comes to getting our message across to the general public. And that includes thee . . . and me.

Drive No More: 6 Alternatives to Your Car

by Michael Graham Richard, Ottawa, Canada, Treehugger. Original here.

rush hour traffic photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

Do You Want to Go Car Free?
We often write about how our society is too car-centric, and while it's important to improve cars so they're orders of magnitude greener (because they aren't going away anytime soon), it's also crucial to have a wide variety of alternatives to the automobile. What are these alternatives? To some of you they might be obvious - you might use some of them every day - but to others who are just starting to try to reduce their dependence on cars, an overview of what's out there will be useful. Here we go!

bus photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

1. Buses

Probably the most obvious choice, the bus can either be a great way to get around or a nightmare, depending on where you live. Sadly, in many places there's been a comparatively small investment in bus transit compared to the money that goes into the infrastructure used by cars.

One way to make the bus more attractive is to create more reserved lanes and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems (check out Curitiba's BRT: 2.3 million passengers/day). If buses have to spend too much time using the same lanes as cars, they just end up swallowed up by the masses of cars during peak traffic times and there's very little benefit to taking the bus. But if they can bypass all that, a lot more people will use them.

light-rail train photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

2. Rail (Light, High-Speed, Underground, etc)

The other big player in public transit, rail tends to be more expensive than bus systems, but it has other benefits, like not sharing the road with cars and trucks and it is easier to electrify (making its operation greener).

Ideally, all cities of a certain size would have light-rail/subways within the city limits, and high-speed rail would link big cities so that people and freight could use it as an alternative to airplanes and trucks.

A national survey of Americans shows broad support for more investments in public transit (which means primarily buses, mentioned above, and various types of rail), and a National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) shows that there's been a 23.5% increase in the share of trips done using transit.

walking shoes photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

3. Walking

Ok, "duh" you say. But with this one, the problem needs to be looked at from a different angle. Here the decision isn't just to walk or not, because we're pretty limited in speed and range and many people can have all the motivation they want, if they live many miles from where they're going and they have to cross many freeways to get there, it's not going to happen.

The decision here is, on the individual level, whether it's possible to change where you live to make walking a more realistic option. Living closer to the office and family & friends is the best way to reduce the amount of time you spend in a car. Most of the time this means a combination of walking, biking, and public transit.

On the societal level, the decision we need to make is to design cities and neighborhood so it's easier to walk. New urbanism has a lot of tools for this, we just need to use them.

bicycles bike photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

4. Bicycles

Bikes! Another obvious choice, but a lot could be done to get more mileage out of it (pun intended). We know that bicycles could play a huge role in many big cities - places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have shown it to us - yet bike culture is only starting to get going in most places, and we're far from the much talked about critical mass. Some cities are investing more in bike infrastructure (things like safe bike parkings, bike boulevards, bike-sharing programs, and physically separated bike lanes), but it's still relatively marginal.

Let's hope that transportation secretary Ray LaHood really means what he said, and that other officials around the world will pay attention...

telecommuting home office photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

5. Telecommuting

Not everybody can do this, and some bosses still resist it, but if it can work for you, it's a great way to cut on your car use.

Telecommuting doesn't only have advantages, and the relative isolation isn't for everybody, but a smaller environmental footprint is certainly one of them.

car sharing zipcar photo
Photo: Flickr, CC

6. Car-Sharing

This one might seem like cheating, but hear me out; car-sharing can actually kind of be an alternative to the car. Owning the car, that is. It's been shown time and time again that car-sharing members tend to drive less often than it they owned a car, and they plan their trips better, leading to less wasted fuel.

Paying for each car trip you make is a powerful incentive to use alternatives, even if the total amount of money it costs you is a lot less than if you actually owned a car.

There's some good news on that front: Car-Sharing Membership Grew by 117% in North-America Between 2007-2009.

# # #

Thanks to alert reader Chris Bradshaw of Ottawa Canada, city planner, evnironmental activist, and Founder of Vrtucar Carshare for the heads-up.

--> Read on:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Honey, you gotta slow down

A bare five miles per hour over the speed limit on a city street, and . . .

Editor's comment:
It is the consistent position of this journal that much of what is wrong with our current transportation arrangements in cites could be greatly alleviated if we can find ways just to slow down. And it's not that hard. Stay tuned.

(If you click here to you will have before you all of the postings thus far published in our "slow it down" series.)

On slowth: And here is an entry we made some time back in Wikipedia on the concept of slowth to get the ball rolling. Have a look and if you are up to it, please improve.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Slowth is a new mobility transport planning concept, usually deployed in congested urban environments, where transport is calibrated for lower top speeds, but the result is shorter overall travel times across the entire system.[1]

The concept of slowth is sometimes compared to the story of The Tortoise and the Hare; the paradoxical notion that slowing the top speeds of transport will when properly engineered allow more people to get to their destinations more quickly. An example is that where there is sufficient traffic congestion, a bicycle may get to its destination more quickly than say a Ferrari. When a city adopts a policy of slowth, the top speeds will be lower, but congestion decreases because the slower speeds result in steadier traffic flow.[1]

This is a powerful model which urban planners and traffic engineers, with a few notable exceptions, are only recently starting to take seriously. An important new mobility concept, it is also referred to as "slow transport."

In the report "Speed Control and Transport Policy" (Chapter 10, on speed limits in towns, Policy Studies Institute, 1996) Mayer Hillman and Stephen Plowden describe an experiment in Växjö, a Swedish town of 70,000, which showed very small time penalties arising from some fairly substantial speed reductions at 20 junctions. The Swedish researchers used the results to simulate what would happen if similar speed-reducing measures were introduced at 111 junctions throughout the town and concluded that there would probably be a small net time saving.[2]

In recent years it has gotten steadily increasing attention both in the literature but above all as part of the on-street sustainable transport strategies of a growing number of leading programs and projects around the world (See listing below).

See also (Hot links in Wikipedia article -

• Cittaslow (Slow cities movement, in English)
• Home zones
• Livable Streets
• New Mobility Agenda
• Pedestrian#edestrianisation
• Public space management
• Road traffic control
• Shared space
• Slow movement
• Street hierarchy
• Sustainable transportation
• Traffic calming
• Walkability
• Walking
• Woonerf
• World Streets
Again, please consider adding to and improving this article.

--> Read on:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Musing: How far is World Streets willing to go to get sponsorship support for 2010?

How would you feel about World Streets if we organize a special edition on electric cars with the sponsorship of General Motors or any other a major automotive manufacturer or upstream supplier? I hope you would feel at least a bit puzzled or impatient. And hopefully actually disappointed that we tumbled into that facile trap. Sure, electric vehicles are to be part of our future. No problem there. But they are not going to be the path for moving towards sustainable transportation, sustainable cities, or sustainable lives. Bottom line: in terms of sustainability electric cars are a sideshow. Don't you forget it!

Against this background, here is an article that appears in today's New York Times (hey New York Times are getting better all the time) in which GM pulls out all the stops to flaunt their sustainability credentials. And they get some highly distinguished help in this. Which I find very worrying. Do you?

A High-Minded Look at Electric Cars

- Jim Motavalli, New York Times. April 23, 2010.
Click here for original article -

The setting was the sun-dappled campus of Columbia University, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that today’s forum on “New York and the Electric Car,” sponsored by the university and General Motors, took on a somewhat elevated tone.

Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of how the city’s many apartment-dwelling electric vehicle owners will plug in, the forum celebrated the prospective role of electric cars in changing the world. Several speakers compared the present period to the revolution from horses to horseless carriages more than a century ago.

John Gilbert, executive vice president of the real estate firm Rudin Management, invoked the transforming technology displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He challenged the audience to think of the modern building as a smart phone that will blossom when applications are created to aid car charging and efficiently manage the flow of electrons.

A highlight of the morning talk was the appearance of Lawrence Burns, the former longtime General Motors vice president, who functioned as the company’s hydrogen fuel-cell champion and big-picture guru of sustainability. Far from retiring, Mr. Burns is a corporate adviser and has academic appointments at both Columbia’s Earth Institute (as director of sustainable mobility) and the University of Michigan.

Mr. Burns said that 29 or 30 green cars of various types, including his former company’s Chevrolet Volt, would be on the market in the next few years. “The new DNA of the automobile is electrically driven,” he said.

He agreed with Mr. Gilbert that information technology would shape the car of the future, and invoked the “mobility Internet” to imagine a time when cars drive themselves and “don’t crash.”

“Texting won’t be an issue, and driving will be the distraction,” said Mr. Burns. “And because cars won’t crash we’ll be able to reduce their mass significantly.”

Among Mr. Burns’ last endeavors at G.M. was Project P.U.M.A., a collaboration with Segway that posits small pod-like 750-pound city cars that can drive autonomously. A second generation of G.M.’s city vehicles, called EN-V, are being put on display at Expo Shanghai in China.

Jeffrey Sachs, who heads Columbia’s Earth Institute, added a note of impatience to the proceedings. He invoked the specter of global warming and the auto tailpipe’s role in hastening it, and said the electrification of the automobile “will have to happen a lot faster than such a complex process would normally require.” Effective public policy, he said, can help accelerate E.V. adoption.

“We are on the cusp of an historic worldwide transformation in transportation that starts in the world’s biggest cities,” Mr. Sachs said in an interview. “It’s important from a resource point of view and an environmental point of view.”

A pre-production Chevy Volt was parked on College Walk for the event. Tony Posawatz, the Volt’s line director, said the company was “on a very good glide path to deliver the car.” The first retail cars will be delivered in November, he said. The Volt plugs in and will be home charged; Mr. Posawatz said he was looking forward to “having a gas station in my garage.”

So is New York ready to charge E.V.’s? Arthur Kressner, director of power supply research and development at Con Edison, cited the electric delivery trucks that plied the city’s streets 110 years ago and answered in the affirmative. Except for relatively rare peak demand times, he said, “the grid is more than capable of meeting the demands of electric vehicles.”

In an interview after the forum, Mr. Kressner said Con Ed has recently met with several charging companies, including the global player Better Place, and with the owners of city parking garages who are likely to add E.V. charging.

# # #

Editor's note:
Since the issue of sustainability credentials of electric vehicles is one that comes up time and again, often with high profile and great help from the communications resources and excellent PR skills of the groups behind them, it is important that this journal provides a clear and consistent statement of our views on these issues. More on this in our recent article, "Honk? Green power for electric cars: Let's think about it before hitting the road this time" at

There is an interesting upside to EV story of which we are not hearing very much and which apparently was not a topic for discussion at the joint Columbia/GM high-profile event. And that is the concept of electric cars which behave as they should in a city, meaning that they should be slow enough to be safe on city streets and much smaller so as to take less precious urban real estate. And while this is by no means in itself a magic wand for sustainability, it can serve to offer certain number of improvements which are not to be sneezed at altogether. It is not a big deal really, and that perhaps is part of the problem.

The difficulty is that the automobile industry and there accolates are putting close to zero priority on these kinds of vehicles. Look at the one just your right here: that little lead acid powered electric car provided me with 10 years of reliable, affordable slow speed mobility for my day-to-day transport purposes in Paris which, while once again not the key to sustainable transport, nonetheless represents a kind of pattern break that might in turn create a new set of attitudes about what is really needed. (And the fact that these kinds of vehicles could also be put into a carshare operation (which in fact is she object of discussion and some modest demonstrations), is something which is also worth a thought. Sadly however the bulk of the money spent in this broad area aims to create something rather closer to an electrical Porsche. Pity!)

To conclude on this for now: Let's not fool ourselves. We have to be very careful day after day to avoid being diverted from the fundamental and huge sustainability challenges that are before us. We need to remain rigorously focused, scrupulously ethical, and relentlessly consistent. Without these qualities, we will never get there. So please, let us not permit ourselves to get distracted. Next?

Eric Britton

--> Read on:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The future for roads in 2050
- Australian perspectives on sustainable transportation

Several days ago Peter Newman of Infrastructure Australia and Professor of Sustainability at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute was asked by the Sydney Morning Herald what the future for roads was going to look like in Australia in 2050. He gave them this:

I think we will have roads with about 50% fewer cars on them in 2050 compared to today.

The first signs are there as all Australian cities have reduced their per person car use over the past 6 years. This is consistent with US cities. Its' a structural shift as public transport use has accelerated rapidly and younger people are driving the market for more urban locations where they need cars less.

We are starting to be over cars, at least over car dependence.

Thus as this trend sets in we will be reclaiming road space for more urban uses, e.g. taking down the freeway at Circular Quay, replacing one lane each way on roads such as Canterbury and Paramatta Roads with a light rail, removing cars altogether from most of the city centre road system and in sub centres.

These sub-centres will be built across the polycentric city. Cycling and walking will be the preferred choice for all local trips as parking will be so expensive and car access into all centres across the city will be much less attractive for cars.

By 2050 we will have a much more extensive electric rail system and all cars will be plug-in electric. This will be run entirely on renewable energy as will the electric power system in our buildings and industry.

Freight will still be by truck but will be using natural gas instead of diesel as oil will have been reduced to simply a fuel for air travel, though that will be about half of present levels as oil-based fuels become incredibly expensive, so electric fast rail between the major capitals will be a significant competitor. Natural gas in freight and industry will have started to be produced from solar energy by then.

The only alternative to this scenario will be business as usual which will lead to collapse of the city as oil becomes scarcer. Then freeways will become sites for market gardening or just weeds as there would be mega death from the economic collapse.

# # #

About the author:
Peter Newman is Professor of Sustainability at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute. His book with Jeff Kenworthy 'Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence' was launched in the White House in 1999. He invented the term 'automobile dependence' to de-scribe how we have created cities where we have to drive everywhere. In 2001-3 Peter directed the Western Australia's Sustainability Strategy , the first state sustainability strategy in the world. In 2004-5 he was Sustainability Commissioner in Sydney. He was a Local Government Councillor in the City of Fremantle from 1976-80, and is a Board Member of Infrastructure Australia that is funding infrastructure for the long term sustainability of Australian cities.

--> Read on:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The End of Climate? Hello Professor Krugman.

Engaging the battle to mitigate climate change is one of the fundamental driving principles behind World Streets, since we have taken it as our main metric for remedial action in the transport sector, which as you all know accounts for something like 20% +/-5% of all GHG emissions. By "metric" we mean that the climate emergency calls for sharp near-term reductions in emissions, and it just so happens that the transport sector is extremely well placed to do its part. But in light of recent attacks on the part of climate deniers, what is the score? Should we now give up on our climate metric? Let us hear what Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, has to say about it.

Building a Green Economy

- Paul Krugman, New York Times Magazine

If you listen to climate scientists — and despite the relentless campaign to discredit their work, you should — it is long past time to do something about emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. If we continue with business as usual, they say, we are facing a rise in global temperatures that will be little short of apocalyptic. And to avoid that apocalypse, we have to wean our economy from the use of fossil fuels, coal above all.

But is it possible to make drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions without destroying our economy?

Like the debate over climate change itself, the debate over climate economics looks very different from the inside than it often does in popular media. The casual reader might have the impression that there are real doubts about whether emissions can be reduced without inflicting severe damage on the economy.

In fact, once you filter out the noise generated by special-interest groups, you discover that there is widespread agreement among environmental economists that a market-based program to deal with the threat of climate change — one that limits carbon emissions by putting a price on them — can achieve large results at modest, though not trivial, cost. There is, however, much less agreement on how fast we should move, whether major conservation efforts should start almost immediately or be gradually increased over the course of many decades.

In what follows, I will offer a brief survey of the economics of climate change or, more precisely, the economics of lessening climate change. I’ll try to lay out the areas of broad agreement as well as those that remain in major dispute. First, though, a primer in the basic economics of environmental protection.

The full text of this article can be accessed here:

# # #

About the author:
Paul Krugman is a Times columnist and winner of the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. His latest book is “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.” You can read his Conscience of a Liberal blog at And as you see here he can also ride a bike (at least he could back in 1973 when this picure was taken.)

# # #

From the editor:

Thanks Paul. Getting the climate metric right is critical not only for the planet and our future, but also for sustainable transportation. Getting the carbon out of the sector is an important goal. It is important because it puts pressure on us all to get results in very short period of time -- we have taken our primary time horizon for action and scale results as the period starting tomorrow morning and going out to 2015.

But there is far more to it than that. When we achieve sharp reductions at this rate, we succeed in accomplishing many other important things as well, a long list which includes fossil fuel and resource savings, reduced geopolitical tensions and interventions, traffic reductions, more affordable transport for all, fewer injuries and accidents, reduced bills for infrastructure construction and maintenance, safer and healthier cities, stronger economies, and the long list goes on.

What is so particularly interesting about the mobility sector is that there is really a great deal we can do in a relatively little time. And at relatively low cost. Beyond this, there is an important joker which also needs to be brought into the picture from the very beginning, and that is that these reductions can be achieved not only without harming the economy or quality of life for the vast majority of all people. To the contrary sustainable transport reform can be part of a 21st century economic revival which places increased emphasis on services and not products.

But that's what Professor Krugman has just said, as you will see if you take the time to get to the full piece here: And should you need any further convincing let me share with you the words that the redoubtable Lee Schipper sent on with a copy of this piece: "Best article I have read in years."

--> Read on:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honk! Complex thinking on reducing traffic signals in cities

What is that old saw that goes something like "the definition of high intelligence is the ability to keep two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time without ones head exploding?" Well, whatever the exact wording there is no doubt that this is an imperative capability for making wise policy in terms of our transportation arrangements. Here is an exchange taken from several leading newmobility discussion fora, which offers some complex views on the advantages of removing at least some, possibly many, traffic lights from our cities. Maybe.

This exchange took place on the several indicated discussion fora.

Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal


-----Original Message-----
On Behalf Of Eric Britton
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2010 4:09 PM
Subject: London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Transport for London has identified 140 traffic signals across the capital that may no longer perform a useful role and could be removed.

Officials are finalising the collection of data on traffic flows and accidents from each site to verify that the signals are no longer useful in traffic, pedestrian or safety terms.

David Brown, TfL's managing director for surface transport, told last week's meeting of the TfL board that 28 sets of traffic signals had already been removed in the capital this financial year, ten of which were on TfL's road network.

Board members also received an update on the proposed trial of pedestrian 'countdown' signals. TfL submitted plans to the DfT at the beginning of March to trial the technology at eight locations in the capital. If approval is granted the first trial site could be installed as early as June.

Countdown signals will show pedestrians how many seconds are left in the 'blackout' period - the phase between the green man being extinguished and road traffic receiving a green light.

Brown also provided the board with details of TfL's lane rental plans under which utility companies would have to pay a charge for the time they occupy the road when conducting streetworks.

Brown said utility companies could avoid paying the charge if they undertook work at non-traffic sensitive times or employed "innovative working practices" so that the carriageway was returned to traffic use at peak times.

Brown said TfL's plans would need amendments to existing legislation. Lane rental powers were included in the New Roads and Streetworks Act but have only ever been trialled, in Camden and Middlesbrough.

Transport minister Sadiq Khan said in December that the DfT would consult on lane rental this summer and that regulations could be introduced in October 2011. They would only be available for use on the "most sensitive roads in the most congested urban areas".

(Thanks to Ian Perry for the heads-up)

-----Original Message-----
From: Simon Bishop, Delhi
Sent: Monday, 05 April, 2010 08:01
To: Eric Britton
Subject: RE: [sustran] London Mayor identifies 140 traffic signals for removal

Dear Madhav, Paul, and Everyone,

This raises an interesting issue Eric. Here in Delhi you may be aware that there are a comparatively very small number of signals, 700 whereas London has around 6,500 for a similar land area and lower population density.

In some senses then you have 'naked streets' in Delhi. However, on most roads in the city this is an unenviable state of affairs. The rising motorized middle class neither want to see more signals hindering their path and are pushing for 'signal free' stretches where they can drive non-stop and unhindered. The results are there to be found in the road casualty statistics.

In this scenario I find myself arguing for the implementation of many more signals in Delhi precisely because the 'roads' are designed to facilitate car movement (ironically like many of the 'roads' in London too). There is also an 'imperialistic' attitude towards vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists, ignored most of the time and hooted at when they get in the way. So called zebras are worth less than the paint they use to make them with.

A combination of these reasons leads me to think that it is very well to have naked streets when a) you clearly have a 'street' and not a 'road' (many of the 'colonies' or residential areas here in Delhi would come under this category and could work as such with minor traffic calming measures, and b) equally importantly, you have a sufficiently 'democratic' approach to the use of road space and a respect for vulnerable modes. It is questionable that both exist in Delhi or London.

I'm a bit out of touch with London but I understand that Boris also wants to remove signals because they are a hindrance to motorized vehicles. If this is the case then I'm afraid I'm not in favor of the concept. The UK has a long way to go to reach the attitudes of Dutch drivers when it comes to sharing the road - one of the main reasons because cycling is still an activity of health freaks and eccentrics (so you're not mowing down a friend or family member if you drive fast).

In the UK there has to be a change in mindset and an effort to remove all of the risk averse, health and safety regulatory culture which leads local authorities to make roads out of streets if naked streets are to work. At the same time, we have to start somewhere and attitudes will change when our urban environment becomes more friendly to vulnerable users, so let's get the ball rolling.

In London removing signals could be started on quieter streets with appropriately designed traffic calming measures. Delhi could leapfrog London by going straight ahead for traffic calming on streets. But in London and Delhi signals are still needed on main roads designed for traffic movement.

I have an idea, Boris can give the signals he's removing to Delhi to put on their roads..... Who could facilitate this I wonder?

# # #

--> Read on:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hell is a gyratory system . . . so we want our cities back
- Views from Britain on our one-way past

We put in traffic lights and stop signs in order to make our streets safe. We convert from two-way streets to one-way streets in order to permit cars to move more rapidly down them. And in almost all cases these decisions are made not on the basis of a broader systemic understanding of the traffic network as a whole, nor from an explicit philosophy as to what the basic underlying values and priorities should be, but always piecemeal, ad hoc, and one of the time. All of which renders the networks of most of our cities ripe for rethinking and redesign. Here is one view from London.

Hell is a gyratory system,
so let’s celebrate the return of cheerful anarchy to our roads

- Stephen Bayley, from The Times

It is the end of the road for the detested one-way street. Transport for London, perhaps the biggest manager of one-way systems in the world, at last acknowledges a truth painfully proved by harrowed pedestrians, bruised bicyclists and infuriated drivers: one-way systems do not work. Cities have been wastefully sacrificed to the false gods of efficiency and rationality. Now we want our cities back.

After a consultation in 2006 Tottenham Court Road — and soon Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Gower Street and the notorious Wandsworth one-way system (a congealed eternity of hot metal and annoyed people) — will return to two-way traffic. So a ruinous experiment is under final notice after 50 years of fuming. A culture that thought speed a measure of success and volume a measure of prosperity is being driven down the off-ramp.

This is a powerful metaphor for the new, more liberal, reasonable, responsible, lightly governed future that we are told awaits us. Certainly the one-way past created absurdities we could do without.

What is more existentially exasperating than a No Entry sign? This graphic of universal urban frustration was standardised by the League of Nations in 1931 (the year that the same ineffectual busybodies merely tut-tutted about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria).

Roads are not natural; they are inventions. And sealed roads to carry heavy traffic are inventions as typical of the 19th century as the typewriter and the diesel engine. MacAdam created the information superhighway of Victoriana. One-way streets were the final, and now obsolete, refinement of the road as a communications medium. They remain as dread memorials to vanished concerns, alien values and hopeless, irrelevant targets.

The concept began with good intentions. Albemarle Street in Mayfair became uni-directional in 1808 when crowds attending Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lectures at the Royal Institution made traffic-planning necessary. But the modern theology of traffic management dates back only to 1963 when Colin Buchanan, a town planner, published his ruinously influential report Traffic in Towns.

Wheeled traffic has been successfully mingling in towns and cities since the Etruscans, but Professor Buchanan took great exception to the idea and intended, with great athletic earnestness, to separate people and cars, the better for us to prosper by accelerator. The official attitude to cars in 1963 was curiously similar to Victorian ideas about prostitution: a mixture of acceptance and disgust.

With a fixity of purpose perhaps inviting Freudian interpretations, Buchanan wanted flyovers, clearways and pedestrianisation. Out went the clutter of accumulated townscape. Towns were to be cleansed of intimacy, hazard and surprise. In came Mr and Mrs Citizen swooping at high speed along urban motorways in a bizarre dystopia where your Cortina “saloon” would drive you to a Ballardian destiny in a tower block (where unspeakable crimes might be perpetrated).

In towns, the false god of the one-way street was an agent of change that proved catastrophic. This, of course, was the very moment that other visionaries thought it wise to, quite literally, decimate the railway system in the interests of “economy”. The M25 between Junctions 8 and 9 northbound on a Monday morning is their memorial. And the hell of Wandsworth, Vauxhall Cross or Hammersmith is Buchanan’s.

One-way systems are wrong because they are counterintuitive and seek to impose a spurious logic on human behaviour, something always at its most interesting when irrational. There is surely something very nasty in the concept and expression “gyratory”. It suggests circles of Hell and invites the conjoined idea of futility and an endless quest for an impossible goal.

To enter any gyratory system — often survivable in a car, more precarious on a bike, but suicidal on foot — is to go on bargaining terms with urban aggression and the one-dimensional solutions of the traffic engineer. In pursuit of something that looks good on a graphic, but does not work on the ground, sinister gyratory systems generate millions of unnecessary miles and thousands of tons of pollution.

And people hate them. Best to reinstate the Darwinian struggle of the two-way street and re-create cities that respond to the cheerful anarchy of individual purpose, not a chilly master plan. This is a prospect pleasantly hinted at in a new exhibition. The architectural publisher and bike evangelist Peter Murray has created a series of enamel plaques mocking London’s one-way system. Of Fitzrovia he says it “fails in its aspirations to speed the traffic, but succeeds in confusing cyclists and traffic alike”.

One-way was designed to “reduce congestion”. In true conformity with the Orwellian model, it did the opposite. One-way ? “Wrong way, go back” as the signs say on US freeways. I’m glad to say we are.

# # #

About the author:
Let me quote the author directly from his website you can find at "Stephen Bayley was once described as ‘the second most intelligent man in Britain’. This is controversial and very possibly untrue, but what is indisputable is that – as the author of more than ten books, nearly thirty exhibition catalogues, countless articles, broadcasts and newspaper columns – he is one of the world's best known commentators on modern culture. Tom Wolfe said of him “I don't know anybody with more interesting observations about style, taste and contemporary design.”


--> Read on:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hundreds of Cars, No Garage: Recipe for a low carbon future
- Australian perspectives on sustainable transportation

We are trying to get a better look at how sustainable transportation is coming along in Australia, as an example of one of the several handfuls of heavily motorized countries which have for decades concentrated on building (and in the process unknowingly locking themselves into) what is basically an all-car infrastructure. This is the second in what we intend to be a series of articles on this topic. Published with the permission of the author, a professor in the media department of a leading Australian university, it takes an outside-looking-in perspective of our topic.

Cars, Climates and Subjectivity:
Car Sharing and Resisting Hegemonic Automobile Culture?

- Catherine Marie Simpson, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Al Gore brought climate change into … our living rooms. … The 2008 oil price hikes [and the global financial crisis] awakened the world to potential economic hardship in a rapidly urbanising world where the petrol-driven automobile is still king. (Mouritz 47)
Six hundred million cars (Urry, “Climate Change” 265) traverse the world’s roads, or sit idly in garages and clogging city streets. The West’s economic progress has been built in part around the success of the automotive industry, where the private car rules the spaces and rhythms of daily life. The problem of “automobile dependence” (Newman and Kenworthy) is often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing countries attempting to combat anthropogenic climate change. Sociologist John Urry has claimed that automobility is an “entire culture” that has re-defined movement in the contemporary world (Urry Mobilities 133). As such, it is the single most significant environmental challenge “because of the intensity of resource use, the production of pollutants and the dominant culture which sustains the major discourses of what constitutes the good life” (Urry Sociology 57-8). Climate change has forced a re-thinking of not only how we produce and dispose of cars, but also how we use them. What might a society not dominated by the private, petrol-driven car look like?

Some of the pre-eminent writers on climate change futures, such as Gwynne Dyer, James Lovelock and John Urry, discuss one possibility that might emerge when oil becomes scarce: societies will descend into civil chaos, “a Hobbesian war of all against all” where “regional warlordism” and the most brutish, barbaric aspects of human nature come to the fore (Urry, “Climate Change” 261). Discussing a post-car society, John Urry also proffers another scenario in his “sociologies of the future:” an Orwellian “digital panopticon” in which other modes of transport, far more suited to a networked society, might emerge on a large scale and, in the long run, “might tip the system” into post-car one before it is too late (Urry, “Climate Change” 261). Amongst the many options he discusses is car sharing. Since its introduction in Germany more than 30 years ago, most of the critical literature has been devoted to the planning, environmental and business innovation aspects of car sharing; however very little has been written on its cultural dimensions. This paper analyses this small but developing trend in many Western countries, but more specifically its emergence in Sydney.

The convergence of climate change discourse with that of the global financial crisis has resulted in a focus in the mainstream media, over the last few months, on technologies and practices that might save us money and also help the environment. For instance, a Channel 10 News story in May 2009 focused on the boom in car sharing in Sydney (see: v=EPTT8vYVXro). Car sharing is an adaptive technology that doesn’t do away with the car altogether, but rather transforms the ways in which cars are used, thought about and promoted. I argue that car sharing provides a challenge to the dominant consumerist model of the privately owned car that has sustained capitalist structures for at least the last 50 years.

In addition, through looking at some marketing and promotion tactics of car sharing in Australia, I examine some emerging car sharing subjectivities that both extend and subvert the long-established discourses of the automobile’s flexibility and autonomy to tempt monogamous car buyers into becoming philandering car sharers.

Much literature has emerged over the last decade devoted to the ubiquitous phenomenon of automobility. “The car is the literal ‘iron cage’ of modernity, motorised, moving and domestic,” claims Urry (“Connections” 28). Over the course of twentieth century, automobility became “the dominant form of daily movement over much of the planet (dominating even those who do not move by cars)” (Paterson 132). Underpinning Urry’s prolific production of literature is his concept of automobility. This he defines as a complex system of “intersecting assemblages” that is not only about driving cars but the nexus between “production, consumption, machinic complexes, mobility, culture and environmental resource use” (Urry, “Connections” 28). In addition, Matthew Paterson, in his Automobile Politics, asserts that “automobility” should be viewed as everything that makes driving around in a car possible: highways, parking structures and traffic rules (87).

While the private car seems an inevitable outcome of a capitalistic, individualistic modern society, much work has gone into the process of naturalising a dominant notion of automobility on drivers’ horizons. Through art, literature, popular music and brand advertising, the car has long been associated with seductive forms of identity, and societies have been built around a hegemonic culture of car ownership and driving as the pre-eminent, modern mode of self-expression. And more than 50 years of a popular Hollywood film genre—road movies—has been devoted to glorifying the car as total freedom, or in its more nihilistic version, “freedom on the road to nowhere” (Corrigan). As Paterson claims, “autonomous mobility of car driving is socially produced … by a range of interventions that have made it possible” (18). One of the main reasons automobility has been so successful, he claims, is through its ability to reproduce capitalist society. It provided a commodity around which a whole set of symbols, images and discourses could be constructed which served to effectively legitimise capitalist society. (30)

Once the process is locked-in, it then becomes difficult to reverse as billions of agents have adapted to it and built their lives around “automobility’s strange mixture of co-ercion and flexibility” (Urry, “Climate Change” 266).

The Decline of the Car

Globally, the greatest recent rupture in the automobile’s meta-narrative of success came about in October 2008 when three CEOs from the major US car firms (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) begged the United States Senate for emergency loan funds to avoid going bankrupt. To put the economic significance of this into context, Emma Rothschild notes “when the listing of the ‘Fortune 500’ began in 1955, General Motors was the largest American corporation, and it was one of the three largest, measured in revenues, every year until 2007” (Rothschilds, “Can we transform”). Curiously, instead of focusing on the death of the car (industry), as we know it, that this scenario might inevitably herald, much of the media attention focused on the hypocrisy and environmental hubris of the fact that all the CEOs had flown in private luxury jets to Washington. “Couldn’t they have at least jet-pooled?” complained one Democrat Senator (Wutkowski). In their next visit to Washington, most of them drove up in experimental vehicles still in pre-production, including plug-in hybrids. Up until that point no other manufacturing industry had been bailed out in the current financial crisis. Of course it’s not the first time the automobile industries have been given government assistance. The Australian automotive industry has received on-going government subsidies since the 1980s. Most recently, PM Kevin Rudd granted a 6.2 billion dollar ‘green car’ package to Australian automotive manufacturers. His justification to the growing chorus of doubts about the economic legitimacy of such a move was: “Some might say it's not worth trying to have a car industry, that is not my view, it is not the view of the Australian government and it never will be the view of any government which I lead” (The Australian).

Amongst the many reasons for the government support of these industries must include the extraordinary interweaving of discourses of nationhood and progress with the success of the car industry. As the last few months reveal, evidently the mantra still prevails of “what’s good for the country is good for GM and vice versa”, as the former CEO of General Motors, Charles “Engine” Wilson, argued back in 1952 (Hirsch).

In post-industrial societies like Australia it’s not only the economic aspects of the automotive industries that are criticised. Cars seem to be slowly losing their grip on identity-formation that they managed to maintain throughout “the century of the car” (Gilroy). They are no longer unproblematically associated with progress, freedom, youthfulness and absolute autonomy. The decline and eventual death of the automobile as we know it will be long, arduous and drawn-out. But there are some signs of a post-automobile society emerging, perhaps where cars will still be used but they will not dominate our society, urban space and culture in quite the same way that they have over the last 50 years. Urry discusses six transformations that might ‘tip’ the hegemonic system of automobility into a post-car one. He mentions new fuel systems, new materials for car construction, the de-privatisation of cars, development of communications technologies and integration of networked public transport through smart card technology and systems (Urry, Mobilities 281-284). As Paterson and others have argued, computers and mobile phones have somehow become “more genuine symbols of mobility and in turn progress” than the car (157). As a result, much automobile advertising now intertwines communications technologies with brand to valorise mobility. Car sharing goes some way in not only de-privatising cars but also using smart card technology and networked systems enabling an association with mobility futures.

In Automobile Politics Paterson asks, “Is the car fundamentally unsustainable? Can it be greened? Has the car been so naturalised on our mobile horizons that we can’t imagine a society without it?” (27). From a sustainability perspective, one of the biggest problems with cars is still the amount of space devoted to them; highways, garages, car parks. About one-quarter of the land in London and nearly one-half of that in Los Angeles is devoted to car-only environments (Urry, “Connections” 29). In Sydney, it is more like a quarter. We have to reduce the numbers of cars on our roads to make our societies livable (Newman and Kenworthy). Car sharing provokes a re-thinking of urban space. If one quarter of Sydney’s population car shared and we converted this space into green use or local market gardens, then we’d have a radically transformed city.

Car sharing, not to be confused with ‘ride sharing’ or ‘car pooling,’ involves a number of people using cars that are parked centrally in dedicated car bays around the inner city. After becoming a member (much like a 6 or 12 monthly gym membership), the cars can be booked (and extended) by the hour via the web or phone. They can then be accessed via a smart card. In Sydney there are 3 car sharing organisations operating: Flexicar (, CharterDrive ( and GoGet ([1] The largest of these, GoGet, has been operating for 6 years and has over 5000 members and 200 cars located predominantly in the inner city suburbs. Anecdotally, GoGet claims its membership is primarily drawn from professionals living in the inner-urban ring. Their motivation for joining is, firstly, the convenience that car sharing provides in a congested, public transport-challenged city like Sydney; secondly, the financial savings derived; and thirdly, members consider the environmental and social benefits axiomatic. [2] The promotion tactics of car sharing seems to reflect this by barely mentioning the environment but focusing on those aspects which link car sharing to futuristic and flexible subjectivities which I outline in the next section.

Unlike traditional car rental, the vehicles in car sharing are scattered through local streets in a network allowing local residents and businesses access to the vehicles mostly on foot. One car share vehicle is used by 22-24 members and gets about seven cars off the street (Mehlman 22). With lots of different makes and models of vehicles in each of their fleets, Flexicar’s website claims, “around the corner, around the clock” “Flexicar offers you the freedom of driving your own car without the costs and hassles of owning one,” while GoGet asserts, “like owning a car only better.” Due to the initial lack of interest from government, all the car sharing organisations in Australia are privately owned. This is very different to the situation in Europe where governments grant considerable financial assistance and have often integrated car sharing into pre-existing public transport networks. Urry discusses the spread of car sharing across the Western world:
Six hundred plus cities across Europe have developed car-sharing schemes involving 50,000 people (Cervero, 2001). Prototype examples are found such as Liselec in La Rochelle, and in northern California, Berlin and Japan (Motavalli, 2000: 233). In Deptford there is an on-site car pooling service organized by Avis attached to a new housing development, while in Jersey electric hire cars have been introduced by Toyota. (Urry, “Connections” 34)
‘Collaborative Consumption’ and Flexible, Philandering Subjectivities

Car sharing shifts the dominant conception of a car from being a ‘commodity’, which people purchase and subsequently identify with, to a ‘service’ or network of vehicles that are collectively used. It does this through breaking down the one car = one person (or one family) ratio with one car instead servicing 20 or more people. One of Paterson’s biggest criticisms concerns car driving as “a form of social exclusion” (44). Car sharing goes some way in subverting the model of hyper-individualism that supports both hegemonic automobility and capitalist structures, whereby the private motorcar produces a “separation of individuals from one another driving in their own private universes with no account for anyone else” (Paterson 90).

As a car sharer, the driver has to acknowledge that this is not their private domain, and the car no longer becomes an extension of their living room or bedroom, as is noted in much literature around car cultures (Morris, Sheller, Simpson). There are a community of people using the car, so the driver needs to be attentive to things like keeping the car clean and bringing it back on time so another person can use it. So while car sharing may change the affective relationship and self-identification with the vehicle itself, it doesn’t necessarily change the phenomenological dimensions of car driving, such as the nostalgic pleasure of driving on the open road, or perhaps more realistically in Sydney, the frustration of being caught in a traffic jam. However, the fact the driver doesn’t own the vehicle does alter their relationship to the space and the commodity in a literal as well as a figurative way.

Like car ownership, evidently car sharing also produces its own set of limitations on freedom and convenience. That mobility and car ownership equals freedom—the ‘freedom to drive’—is one imaginary which car firms were able to successfully manipulate and perpetuate throughout the twentieth century. However, car sharing also attaches itself to the same discourses of freedom and pervasive individualism and then thwarts them. For instance, GoGet in Sydney have run numerous marketing campaigns that attempt to contest several ‘self-evident truths’ about automobility. One is flexibility. Flexibility (and associated convenience) was one thing that ownership of a car in the late twentieth century was firmly able to affiliate itself with. However, car ownership is now more often associated with being expensive, a hassle and a long-term commitment, through things like buying, licensing, service and maintenance, cleaning, fuelling, parking permits, etc.

Cars have also long been linked with sexuality. When in the 1970s financial challenges to the car were coming as a result of the oil shocks, Chair of General Motors, James Roche stated that, “America’s romance with the car is not over. Instead it has blossomed into a marriage” (Rothschilds, Paradise Lost). In one marketing campaign GoGet asked, ‘Why buy a car when all you need is a one night stand?’, implying that owning a car is much like a monogamous relationship that engenders particular commitments and responsibilities, whereas car sharing can just be a ‘flirtation’ or a ‘one night stand’ and you don’t have to come back if you find it a hassle. Car sharing produces a philandering subjectivity that gives individuals the freedom to have lots of different types of cars, and therefore relationships with each of them: I can be a Mini Cooper driver one day and a Falcon driver the next. This disrupts the whole kind of identification with one type of car that ownership encourages. It also breaks down a stalwart of capitalism—brand loyalty to a particular make of car with models changing throughout a person’s lifetime. Car sharing engenders far more fluid types of subjectivities as opposed to those rigid identities associated with ownership of one car.

Car sharing can also be regarded as part of an emerging phenomenon of what Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers have called “collaborative consumption”—when a community gets together “through organized sharing, swapping, bartering, trading, gifting and renting to get the same pleasures of ownership with reduced personal cost and burden, and lower environmental impact” ( As Urry has stated, these developments indicate a gradual transformation in current economic structures from ownership to access, as shown more generally by many services offered and accessed via the web (Urry Mobilities 283). Rogers and Botsman maintain that this has come about through the “convergence of online social networks increasing cost consciousness and environmental necessity." In the future we could predict an increasing shift to payment to ‘access’ for mobility services, rather than the outright private ownerships of vehicles (Urry, “Connections”).

Networked-Subjectivities or a ‘Digital Panopticon’?
Cars, no longer able on their own to signify progress in either technical or social terms, attain their symbolic value through their connection to other, now more prevalently ‘progressive’ technologies. (Paterson 155)
The term ‘digital panopticon’ has often been used to describe a dystopian world of virtual surveillance through such things as web-enabled social networking sites where much information is public, or alternatively, for example, the traffic surveillance system in London whereby the public can be constantly scrutinised through the centrally monitored cameras that track people’s/vehicle’s movements on city streets. In his “sociologies of the future,” Urry maintains that one thing which might save us from descending into post-car civil chaos is a system governed by a “digital panopticon” mobility system. This would be governed by a nexus system “that orders, regulates, tracks and relatively soon would ‘drive’ each vehicle and monitor each driver/passenger” (Urry, “Connections” 33). The transformation of mobile technologies over the last decade has made car sharing, as a viable business model, possible. Through car sharing’s exploitation of an online booking system, and cars that can be tracked, monitored and traced, the seeds of a mobile “networked-subjectivity” are emerging.

But it’s not just the technology people are embracing; a cultural shift is occurring in the way that people understand mobility, their own subjectivity, and more importantly, the role of cars. NETT Magazine did a feature on car sharing, and advertised it on their front cover as “GoGet’s web and mobile challenge to car owners” (May 2009). Car sharing seems to be able to tap into more contemporary understandings of what mobility and flexibility might mean in the twenty-first century. In their marketing and promotion tactics, car sharing organisations often discursively exploit science fiction terminology and generate a subjectivity much more dependent on networks and accessibility (158). In the suburbs people park their cars in garages. In car sharing, the vehicles are parked not in car bays or car parks, but in publically accessible ‘pods’, which promotes a futuristic, sci-fi experience. Even the phenomenological dimensions of swiping a smart card over the front of the windscreen to open the car engender a transformation in access to the car, instead of through a key. This is service-technology of the future while those stuck in car ownership are from the old economy and the “century of the car” (Gilroy).

The connections between car sharing and the mobile phone and other communications technologies are part of the notion of a networked, accessible vehicle. However, the more problematic side to this is the car under surveillance. Nic Lowe, of his car sharing organisation GoGet says, “Because you’re tagged on and we know it’s you, you are able to drive the car… every event you do is logged, so we know what time you turned the key, what time you turned it off and we know how far you drove … if a car is lost we can sound the horn to disable it remotely to prevent theft. We can track how fast you were going and even how fast you accelerated … track the kilometres for billing purposes and even find out when people are using the car when they shouldn’t be” (Mehlman 27). The possibility with the GPS technology installed in the car is being able to monitor speeds at which people drive, thereby fining then every minute spent going over the speed limit. While this conjures up the notion of the car under surveillance, it is also a much less bleaker scenario than “a Hobbesian war of all against all”.

Conclusion: “Hundreds of Cars, No Garage”

The prospect of climate change is provoking innovation at a whole range of levels, as well as providing a re-thinking of how we use taken-for-granted technologies. Sometime this century the one tonne, privately owned, petrol-driven car will become an artefact, much like Sydney trams did last century.

At this point in time, car sharing can be regarded as an emerging transitional technology to a post-car society that provides a challenge to hegemonic automobile culture. It is evidently not a radical departure from the car’s vast machinic complex and still remains a part of what Urry calls the “system of automobility”. From a pro-car perspective, its networked surveillance places constraints on the free agency of the car, while for those of the deep green variety it is, no doubt, a compromise. Nevertheless, it provides a starting point for re-thinking the foundations of the privately-owned car.

While Urry makes an important point in relation to a society moving from ownership to access, he doesn’t take into account the cultural shifts occurring that are enabling car sharing to be attractive to prospective members: the notion of networked subjectivities, the discursive constructs used to establish car sharing as a thing of the future with pods and smart cards instead of garages and keys. If car sharing became mainstream it could have radical environmental impacts on things like urban space and pollution, as well as the dominant culture of “automobile dependence” (Newman and Kenworthy), as Australia attempts to move to a low carbon economy.

# # #


[1] My partner Bruce Jeffreys, together with Nic Lowe, founded Newtown Car Share in 2002, which is now called GoGet.

[2] Several layers down in the ‘About Us’ link on GoGet’s website is the following information about the environmental benefits of car sharing: “GoGet's aim is to provide a reliable, convenient and affordable transport service that: allows people to live car-free, decreases car usage, improves local air quality, removes private cars from local streets, increases patronage for public transport, allows people to lead more active lives” (


The Australian. “Kevin Rudd Throws $6.2bn Lifeline to Car Industry.” 10 Nov. 2008. < 0,28124,24628026-5018011,00.html >.

Corrigan, Tim. “Genre, Gender, and Hysteria: The Road Movie in Outer Space.” A Cinema Without Walls: Movies, Culture after Vietnam. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Dwyer, Gwynne. Climate Wars. North Carlton: Scribe, 2008.

Featherstone, Mike. “Automobilities: An Introduction.” Theory, Culture and Society 21.4-5 (2004): 1-24.

Gilroy, Paul. “Driving while Black.” Car Cultures. Ed. Daniel Miller. Oxford: Berg, 2000.

Hirsch, Michael. “Barack the Saviour.” Newsweek 13 Nov. 2008. < >.

Lovelock, James. The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity. Penguin, 2007.

Lovelock, James. The Vanishing Face of Gaia. Penguin, 2009.

Mehlman, Josh. “Community Driven Success.” NETT Magazine (May 2009): 22-28.

Morris, Meaghan. “Fate and the Family Sedan.” East West Film Journal 4.1 (1989): 113-134.

Mouritz, Mike. “City Views.” Fast Thinking Winter 2009: 47-50.

Newman, P. and J. Kenworthy. Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming Automobile Dependence. Washington DC: Island Press, 1999.

Paterson, Matthew. Automobile Politics: Ecology and Cultural Political Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Rothschilds, Emma. Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age. New York: Radom House, 1973.

Rothschilds, Emma. “Can We Transform the Auto-Industrial Society?” New York Review of Books 56.3 (2009). < >.

Sheller, Mimi. “Automotive Emotions: Feeling the Car.” Theory, Culture and Society 21 (2004): 221–42.

Simpson, Catherine. “Volatile Vehicles: When Women Take the Wheel.” Womenvision. Ed. Lisa French. Melbourne: Damned Publishing, 2003. 197-210.

Urry, John. Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the 21st Century. London: Routledge, 2000.

Urry, John. “Connections.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 22 (2004): 27-37.

Urry, John. Mobilities. Cambridge, and Maiden, MA: Polity Press, 2008.

Urry, John. “Climate Change, Travel and Complex Futures.” British Journal of Sociology 59. 2 (2008): 261-279.

Watts, Laura, and John Urry. “Moving Methods, Travelling Times.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26 (2008): 860-874.

Wutkowski, Karey. “Auto Execs' Private Flights to Washington Draw Ire.” Reuters News Agency 19 Nov. 2008. < >.

# # #

About the author:

Catherine Marie Simpson is lecturer in the Media Department at Macquarie University. Her research areas include: Australian and Turkish cinema; construction of identity and space on screen especially in relation to nationhood, gender and the body; screen automobile cultures; film festivals; transnational, diasporic and small national cinemas; the work of Australian female filmmakers.

Before joining Macquarie, Dr. Simpson taught media, film and cultural studies at a number of institutions around Australia. She was co-director of the Australian film festival in Istanbul in 1994 and a reciprocal Turkish film festival that toured Sydney, Melbourne and Perth in 1998. Her PhD thesis, Imagined Geographies: Women's Negotiation of Space in Contemporary Australian Cinema, was undertaken at Murdoch University.

This article earlier appeared in the M/C Journal, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2009).

--> Read on: