Thursday, 11 November 2010

Freedom and independence

I had a conversation the other day with a couple of family members. One, a woman in her 20s, was asked when she was finally going to get her driver's licence. She reluctantly agreed that she would probably start driving lessons soon but pointed out that she and a number of her friends get around very easily on foot and using the bus. Yes, came the answer, but you need to be independent. She protested that she was independent. Quite right too I think.

It is surprising that the idea that you need a car to be independent still holds so strong. It is nonsense of course and thankfully it seems that many young people these days are not falling for it.

Contrary to the misleading images that are displayed on adverts for cars, they do not make you free. They are a major burden. Calculate how much a car costs per month. Include fuel, tyres, insurance, maintenance, spare parts and depreciation. If you own a car, you will invariably estimate conservatively but that does not matter. Get a monthly or weekly figure and then compare that to what you earn. How much of the first working day each month is spent paying for your car? In other words, how long are you working not for you but for your car?

Whenever you drive somewhere, especially somewhere busy like the CBD, a concert or one of the bigger suburban shopping centres, you cannot just jump out at the door and go in. You have to drive around looking for somewhere to store your car. What's the longest you have ever spent doing that? Add up all of the time you have ever spent doing it?

Now cars can be quite useful. Some people just love them and good on them too. If people choose to drive them more than others do, whatever. That's for them to decide. I do have a problem when it is subsidised though. What I am talking about is the idea that they bring you freedom and independence. That assertion I think is overstated.

People who ride bicycles a lot can sound terribly self-righteous when they bang on about it. Having said that, I seriously enjoy riding home with the wind in my face and smelling what my neighbours are cooking each evening. It's great being able to take my bike on the train and then just chain it to something when I reach my destination. It's free to ride and free to park.

Travelling by train or bus is also great. Sometimes there is a bit of waiting but with trains, you just have to read the timetable and with buses you don't generally have to wait too long especially if you're on a go-zone. The best thing is that when you reach your destination, you just hop off. You're not having to drive around looking for somewhere to leave your car. While you're on the bus/train/tram, you can read, listen to music or just veg out.

Adelaide is way off being a great place for getting around by public transport but it's really not all that bad (depending on where you want to go). Improvements could be made easily and cheaply, such as a proper transit mall on Grenfell Street, friendlier bus stops that tell you how far away the next bus is, decent cycling infrastructure that leads to train stations and transport interchanges with plenty of undercover bike parking when you get there, and so on. That day I am sure will come.

The fact is you don't need a car to be independent when you live in a big city. More people than we realise live without a car. And without doubt, many more of our journeys could be done on foot, on two wheels or using public transport. It is a tried and tested way of unclogging streets. Many more people could be more freer and more independent without a car if we helped them along. Such as all of those children strapped into the backs of 4WDs each morning and the many teenagers who have to rely on their parents to drive them to sports practice. Our children aren't stupid. They're perfectly capable if we just let them.

(stolen from Sue Abbott).

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