30 January 2007

Death To The Automobile

I've decided I need a new cause, not that I haven't banged on about this one before. But having just read this appropos and apposite article by David Aaronovitch, I'm motivated all over to declare war on the accursed automobile and all those who drive one.

I know, some of my best friends, etc., and actually, I myself may be driving one, albeit briefly, if I go ahead with plans for an out of town holiday in the next few weeks. So I'm a hypocrite and I contradict myself occasionally. But I also make a point of using public transportation, no matter how time-consuming and inconvenient, no matter how much people ridicule me for making such naff choices ("Dude, you can afford a car, why in the hell are you riding buses?") and/or walking, which in many cities, Sydney being one, is often faster and more reliable.

It's true that many conveniences and advantages have come to us as a result of the private automobile. But very few of them wouldn't exist, probably in greater abundance, were we served by affordable, convenient and reliable public transportation augmented by the opportunity to use rental cars for those relatively few occasions when trains or buses just wouldn't suit our needs. But with society structured the way it is, where it is extremely difficult, other than in a handful of modern cities, to function without your own car, the inevitable result is that public transport services wither away or are callously killed off by oblivious bureaucrats and self-serving trade unionists, neither of whom would dream of setting foot on a bus if you paid them to.

Thus the vicious circle: public transport gets worse and worse, until its customer base is reduced to the desperate and deranged (take your pick as to which category yours truly belongs in), and cities and suburbs become little more than rat runs for ever-increasing hordes of self-obsessed automobile drivers, each of whom is convinced that his or her journey is absolutely essential and would be greatly improved if only the rest of those idiots would get off the road, and each of whom is also blithely unaware of the ecological and social devastation he or she is wreaking on the community. Try walking a few miles through your average city, breathing the exhaust fumes, jumping out of the way to avoid being killed by drivers who see no reason why they should waste a few precious seconds stopping for a red light or a pedestrian crosswalk and are fully prepared to kill and maim for that principle.

Think I'm talking about someone else? Hell, nearly every one of us who's ever gotten behind the wheel of a car has done something akin to this, because being cocooned into a ton or two of metal and glass, harnessed to the power of hundreds of slaves (okay, horses if you prefer) does something to a person. It removes us from realising the full consequences of our actions, turns us into exactly the kind of jerks we'd never dream of putting up with if they were to come barging into our path on foot, belching toxins and scattering obscenities in their wake.

Look at it this way: after a couple centuries of the sheer craziness of putting up with people who assumed it was their divine right to fill up any room they occupied with foul, carcinogenic pollution, we finally came (or are coming) to our senses and banned cigarette smoking in most public places. Similarly, we passed laws that greatly limited the ability of corporations or individuals to dump poisons and waste into our rivers and skies. Yet we still tolerate, even champion in some quarters, the right - nay, not even the right, the necessity - of billions of motorists not only to befoul the atmosphere, but to occupy a third to a half of the total area of any given city, to have said cities designed and re-designed to suit their convenience, to demolish whole neighbourhoods to make way for their motorways, to fight endless and ruinously expensive wars to secure affordable fuel, and to produce a degree of social and physical alienation that could ultimately reduce us to a sort of neo-feudalism.

Okay, I'm a nutter, I'll admit it. But come back in a century or two, should this planet survive in its present form, and I'm willing to bet that whoever's running the show in those days, not to mention the common, ordinary person like you or me, will think the way we let the private automobile run roughshod over nearly everything and everyone else in 20th and 21st century society was every bit as bizarre and insane as slavery or imperialism or the subjugation of women. And with that, I think I'll take a leisurely walk home, and depending on my mood, may or may not pause to deliver a leisurely kick to a few shiny new cars I pass along the way. Probably not, as I've got soft shoes on and would damage myself more than the car. But the sentiment is definitely there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope that in the near future, people who drive huge SUVs and 4x4s where good mass transit is available, will be ostracized.

In fact, careless drivers of these monster vehicles should be treated like sex-offenders or Guantanamo prisoners. To warn pedestrians and bicyclist about them, special licence plates (sealed to the car to prevent removal) should be issued to the offender: "GZ GUZZLER" "PED MENAS" or "OBES 1 KILLR" are some examples.