Daniel Elkington

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Why I will never drive a car, and why you shouldn't either

Don't read if:
-You have a passionate, irrational interest in cars
-You live in a non-metropolitan region where public transport is minimal or non-existent
-You never intend to drive a car

In Australia, the question of young people first learning how to drive and then acquiring their own car (or vice versa) seems to have changed from "if" to "when." These days there almost seems to be an expectation, in Australia at least, that everyone will learn to drive when they are sixteen or slightly older. People seem to see cars as a necessity, something as essential as food, water, and shelter.

This is as ridiculous a belief as those who believe that all Australians live in the outback.

I can never understand why this assumption exists. In my opinion it would make much more sense if it was the other way round, where an assumption existed that people didn't drive unless there was some particular reason that meant they simply must drive a vehicle. For example if they're a bus driver.

If you are someone who sees cars and driving as essential, perhaps it's worth questioning this assumption. Have you ever really thought about why you believe this? Question this assumption. Think about whether you do need to buy a car. Of course, people do need to get around, but there's an assumption that public transport is inferior to driving. Here are my eight reasons why this is totally rubbish.

1. Cost
Everyone will agree that cars, and driving, is expensive. How expensive? I've worked it all out. Ignoring inflation, here's how much you'd approximately be paying if you used a car as your main method of transportation and you wanted to pay the cheapest amount possible.

First you've got to consider the cost of the car. We'll assume that you can find a really cheap new car for $20,000. Actually, no we won't, because you're really tight we'll assume you've managed to find a really really cheap used car for $2,000. And we'll assume that once you've bought this car you'll keep it for the rest of your life. You get it when you're 20. And you die when you're 120. So $2000 divided by 100 years means the car is costing you $20 a year. (Of course, you'll probably buy a much more expensive car, and keep it for a much shorter amount of time. But we'll assume that you're getting the best deal possible.)

Then you've got to register the car. I'll assume that you're living in Melbourne. On the VicRoads fee calculator page here you'll see that it costs you roughly $700 a year to register your car.

Then you've got to factor in car insurance. The costs of these vary wildly, but perhaps you're able to find a really good deal of $1300 a year.

Then there's petrol. We'll assume for a moment that you live in a suburb fairly close to inner Melbourne, and you only drive to the city and back each day. According to this website at the current fuel prices you'll be paying around $2 a day in petrol. That comes to $730 a year.

Most people will also pay for parking, tolls, and the occasional service. We'll ignore this, assuming the place where you work provides you with a car park and you never drive on toll roads. And you're clever enough to tinker with the bomb you are driving to keep it running.

That comes to about $2,750 a year to keep a car. I must stress that this is the minimum amount humanly possible for a person to legally own a car and use it as their primary mode of transport in Melbourne. Most people drive a lot further than this, most people buy a more expensive car, most people spend more on car insurance, and most people at some time or other have to pay for parking, so in all likelihood the average person would spend something closer to $10,000 a year on their car. But we'll assume you're able to get this fantastic deal of $2,750 a year.

Now for the cost of public transport. Once again, we'll assume you live in Melbourne, but this time we'll assume that you live in the outer suburbs, and travel to the city each day. Plus, you visit friends all over the city. We'll assume that you're a full fare paying passenger. A full fare myki costs $6, and expires after four years, so that's $1.50 per year. Then you'll want to top up 365 days of zone 1 and 2 travel. Which costs $2,158. That comes to $2,159 and 50 cents a year.

So as you can see, it's clearly cheaper to be constantly travelling anywhere in Melbourne 24 hours a day, then travelling a tiny amount each day with a dirt cheap car that's probably falling apart. It could not be clearer. For anyone in Melbourne, it would be far cheaper for them to travel by public transport rather than by car.

If you drive, think about the amount of money you could be saving. If you spend $10,000 a year on your car, you could be saving $7,840 every year simply by getting rid of the car and catching public transport. That's about $653 a month! And that's only the first reason.

2. Environment
This graph, sourced from an Australian government website, says it all.
Some of the more cynical of you may be thinking that the only reason why public transport is smaller than cars on that graph is because the average Australian uses public transport far less than they use cars. So therefore, the average person will consume more emissions due to cars than they do for public transport. If they got rid of the car and caught public transport instead, the emissions due to public transport would be a lot higher.

So is someone actually saving emissions by using public transport?

On page 509 of the Garnaut Climate Change Review from 2008, Ross Garnaut examines the Grams of Carbon Dioxide per kilometre of an average urban commute. He found that travel by car pollutes about 300 grams per kilometre travelled, compared to travel by bus or rail which use about 50 grams per kilometre travelled. It makes sense. Imagine you've got a train with 1000 people on it, running on electricity. Now imagine that those 1000 people are all driving a car instead. Whilst running a train does pollute the environment, its impact is minimal compared to if the passengers on it were all driving cars. So it's clear that if you want to easily reduce your household emissions and do your part to prevent the devastating effects of climate change, don't get a car, and travel by public transport.

3. Congestion
As the populations of cities continue to increase, so does the congestion of cities. Roads become filled with cars, traffic jams increase, and whenever new roads are built it isn't long before they too become congested. Of course, this wouldn't be so much of a problem if we all caught public transport instead. Take a look at this graphic from the International Association of Public Transport


4. Stress
This may not apply to all people, but I find that as a general rule people get stressed when they're driving a car. Drivers seem to believe that everyone else on the road is their enemy, and often people who normally seem quite rational will become annoyed at many other people on the road. Many people seem to agree that driving in heavy Melbourne traffic is stressful, and even things such as red lights can make people very frustrated. Even as a passenger I find it quite frustrating being in a car and noticing the light turning red just ahead of me. However, most of this stress is lost when on public transport. On a train, tram or bus, it's a lot easier to divert your attention away from the road, whether it be by reading a book or checking your emails, so that you're not constantly focussed on other drivers and red lights.

If anecdotal evidence isn't enough for you, a University of Sussex study has found that travelling by bus is 33% less stressful than driving.

5. Safety
As a general rule, buses, trains and trams have fewer accidents than cars. Of course, the driver of a bus, tram or train is someone who has had much professional training, whereas the driver of a private car has only been taught by the driver of another private car, and often has no professional training.

So how much safer is public transport as compared with cars? The most recent statistics for all Victorian trams and trains are from 2011, and for buses from 2012. In 2011 no train passengers died, no tram passengers died, and in 2012 one bus passenger died. So across all forms of Melbourne public transport, you're looking at around one passenger dying a year.

What about cars? In 2012, there were 199 deaths on Victorian roads of either drivers or passengers. So you can choose a transport system where about 1 person dies a year, or a transport system where about 200 people die a year.

How about injuries that don't result in death? It's a little trickier to compare statistics here. I'll try anyway. In 2011 there were 21 passengers seriously injured on trains, 19 seriously injured on trams, and 42 seriously injured on buses. That gives a total of 82 passengers seriously injured on public transport. The statistics are collected differently in relation to cars, as only "claims involving acute hospitalisation over 14 days" are counted. In 2011 this number was 827, which was many times more so than public transport injuries.

Of course, not all deaths and injuries caused by public transport or cars are those of the passengers or drivers. There are a lot of public transport deaths related to suicides, especially rail suicides, or people trying to run across the tracks ahead of a train. But we're specifically looking at whether you're safer if you travel by car or travel by public transport. And it's clear that travelling by public transport is far safer.

6. Social
Perhaps you may see this as rather a flimsy reason, but public transport is a great way to talk to new people, unlike driving where the only time you're likely to speak to someone in another car is if you're screaming at them to stay in their lane. Occasionally I have conversed with a friendly stranger on public transport. For more information on this benefit of public transport, you may wish to check out the wikiHow page "How to Make Friends on a Bus: 5 steps".

7. Time
Every minute you drive a car is essentially wasted time. To be safe, as you drive you're not allowed to read a book, check your emails, do homework, or read the news. On public transport you can. Some people argue that those who catch public transport are wasting time, because it often takes longer to get somewhere. I would argue that because you can do work related, study related, or entertainment related things on public transport that you cannot do while driving, it's really those who drive cars that are wasting their time.

If you find this difficult to understand, take a look at how long it takes the following two university students to get home and do their studies.

Jim:
15 minutes: driving home
30 minutes: studying uni notes
Total: 45 minutes

John:
30 minutes: studying uni notes while catching the bus home
Total: 30 minutes

Verdict: John saves 15 minutes by catching public transport.

So even whilst it may take longer to get somewhere on public transport, because you're spending your time doing something worthwhile, you're actually saving yourself time.

8. Health
It may actually be better for your health to catch public transport. Think about it. As you walk between stops and stations, and walk from your house to the nearest bus stop, you're actually getting more exercise than if you walked for 10 seconds to get to your car. In fact, a Melbourne researcher has found that those who drive a car weigh more than those who catch public transport.




Those are my eight reasons for choosing public transport over cars. Occasionally I engage in debates with people who think I should learn to drive and forget about public transport. Here are a few of their most common arguments.

If you have a car you have more freedom/independence/convenience.
I'm not totally sure what this argument actually means, but I'll assume they're saying that you can get to places quicker by car than by public transport. I acknowledge that in most circumstances, this is indeed true. But getting somewhere quicker is only beneficial if you actually save time. Which you don't. See reason number 7.

You'll get bashed while you're waiting at your train/tram/bus stop.
If I don't provoke anyone, why would I get "bashed?" Unprovoked crime at public transport stops is very rare. Statistics for tram and bus stops are hard to find, but here you can see the various crime statistics for your local train station. My local train station has no staff members, but in the four years between July 2007 and June 2011 there were about 2 kidnappings, 10 assaults, 2 harassments, 13 property damages, 10 robberies, and 1 incident involving weapons or explosives. In four years. So in other words, you are very unlikely to ever experience crime at my local train station. Maybe every five months you might get an assault or a robbery. Of course, this varies between train stations, but I don't see any real evidence that suggests the rate of crime around public transport stops is any different to the rate of crime around public car parks.
But I know such and such who got bashed for no reason while waiting for his tram!
And I know so and so who got injured in a hit and run car crash. Anecdotal evidence can be used to prove anything.

Public transport is always late.
No it isn't! As a regular user of Melbourne trains, trams and buses, I can give my own anecdotal evidence to counter any of yours. Trains, trams, and buses are very rarely significantly late. Luckily, you don't have to believe my anecdotal evidence, because Public Transport Victoria publishes punctuality figures. The most recent figures are available for the quarter between July and September 2012. Punctuality is defined as being within 59 seconds before the scheduled time, and 4 minutes 59 seconds after the scheduled time. 92.6% of Melbourne trains, 82.3% of Melbourne trams and 94.6% of Melbourne buses were punctual in the most recent statistics. These are excellent results, and whilst trams are a little less punctual than trains and buses, they come so frequently it really doesn't matter.

Your train will be cancelled!
Regular listeners to traffic reports on Melbourne radio will always hear about how a train has been cancelled. But with the sheer amount of train services, a cancellation here and there is understandable, will very rarely happen to you, and another train will soon be following you. From the same source as before, the most recent set of statistics show that 98.5% of Melbourne trains, 99.2% of Melbourne trams, and greater than 99.9% of Melbourne bus services are delivered. In other words, there's probably a greater chance of your car breaking down than your bus being cancelled.

Public transport is too crowded.
Naturally during peak times trains, trams and buses can become a little full. But so do freeways and roads. Just like people who drive, if you plan your journey well when travelling on public transport you can avoid the huge crowds. Also, public transport operators are continuously reviewing congestion issues and updating timetables to try to address these concerns. I'll stress that it's only on some peak services when public transport is overcrowded. According to a report in The Age, only one in six train services are overcrowded.

What about hybrid cars?
Hybrid cars still partly use petrol, so if you really want to be environmentally friendly, you'll want to go for a fully electric car. I accept that this type of vehicle powered by renewable energy would eliminate my second reason for why public transport is better than cars. However, whilst in the long term it could be more cost effective than buying a petrol-guzzling car, having an electric car would still be much more expensive than using public transport, and does not solve congestion, stress, safety, or time concerns.

What if you live outside a city where there isn't any public transport?
Someone in this sort of circumstance may indeed have to drive. However, I live in a city well serviced by public transport, as do most of the world's population. I concede that some people in some jobs (such as a bricklayer) need a driver's licence and need to drive a vehicle as part of their job. However for the average citizen this is simply not necessary.

Even if you don't intend to regularly drive, you at least need to get your license!
Why?
What if you're out in the middle of nowhere with someone in your car and they have an injury and you have to take over the wheel?
Of course you can think up the most unrealistic story imaginable, and indeed in any of these circumstances it would be useful for me to have a driver's licence. But the problem is that all of these scenarios that people come up have so little chance of occurring that there's no point planning for them. As for people who argue that you need to know how to drive in case of an emergency, in a real emergency you call emergency services. That's why they were invented.

You can't get everywhere by public transport.
Maybe not everywhere, but there's a good chance you can get anywhere that you need to go, assuming you live in a major city. In Melbourne I've found that I can get to all sorts of weird places by public transport. The PTV journey planner has surprised me many times, showing me that it's possible to travel to virtually any address in Victoria that I've ever tried by public transport.

That's as many of the ridiculous arguments that I can think of right now. If you have another argument about why you should drive rather than catch public transport in a major city, feel free to add it as a comment and I'll attempt to respond to it.

Overall, in terms of saving yourself time, money, stress, health, saving the environment and improving congestion issues, there really is no other alternative then to do all your travelling by public transport.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. You won't get any arguments from me mate, you are a very wise and intelligent person for choosing to not drive. I myself keep it between riding a bike or public transit. Shorter distances I bike but longer ones I take a bus.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback, and well done for not driving! I've been hearing from quite a few young people in recent years who have similar views, and have seen reports stating that young people these days are less likely to want to drive than any generation in recent history.

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I can take criticism, so feel free to respond. You can even do so anonymously if you want to be really cruel, but I will delete your comment if I find it too offensive. Oh, and I can't stand swearing.