Car News: What Alternative?

A weekly look at all that sucks in the automobile world, and some good bits


Can we do without cars? Should we not take to bicycles or walk? Of course not. Not all of us. How many seriously injured can you take to hospital on a bicycle? How many aged couples can ride a tandem? Will the disabled cope? Should we ask one-legged folk to walk to work because it strengthens the muscles?

We have fashioned our cities around the car, the automobile seen as an extension of an individual’s personality and their ‘lifestyle’. There must be millions of garages and lock-ups in the UK, not all attached to homes, or suitable to turn into an extra bedroom or bathroom. The answer is the bicycle? Not from where I am standing.

Where do you keep a bicycle if you live in an apartment? In the 30 inch wide hallway? Crowding the stairwell, ground floor? On your balcony, if you have one, together with the washing line, sad flower pots and a satellite dish, if you have one. I ask because George Monbiot the environmentalist wants to see an end to the car.

An avid cyclist in my youth until aged 16, I shifted in teenage years to a fruiterer’s old bicycle with the crate holder on the front delivering vegetables and fruit to the high and mighty of Morningside in Edinburgh. (High because they lived up hills.) The chain would jump the cogs every few blocks taking skin off my ankles, the front basket a menace to stability, and absence of gears a pain on steep gradients. Cars were few, expensive to buy even on credit, and much slower than today’s vehicles with drivers in a hurry driving on their brakes.

The store owner, a kindly man, his store a fixture in Morningside Road for over fifty years, displayed shop fruit arrayed outside. It sat next to the ironmongery where you could buy three nails and one bracket without purchasing a minimum bag of 100 of each. My wages were given straight to my hard-up guardian. I ate my weekly bonus greedily, a free bag of non-saleable fruit and landed a severe bout of dysentery. On my return to the heady aroma of Fyffes’ bananas, Cox’s Orange Pippins and Midlothian cabbages, he still refused to buy a new bike that actually worked. He’d not get off with that these days under Health and Safety regulations.

Anyhow, the point I makes is the obvious one: bicycles can be as much of a pleasure to own and use and as much of a bind as any car. Back then I used the bus for all city journeys, but hanging around cold bus shelters was a pain.

Accidents happen to cyclists as well as drivers. On one memorable occasion on the fruit bicycle, reaching the top of Orchard Brae, a steep, wide avenue of big Victorian houses flanked by a line of cherry trees to denote the area’s gentility, the front wheel lost traction and both I and the bike fell on our sides spilling the contents of the delivery. Had someone witnessed the accident and had a camera, they would have had sight of a demented teenager chasing a dozen very large oranges down the road in all directions, dropping as many as I managed to catch and cradle in an arm and thus extend the chase. The experience put me off big Orange walks for life. Anyhow, that was life on a bicycle. Now one can cost upwards of £1,000. Thefts of them have greatly increased in the last few years.

I’d need a powerful electric bicycle, with automatic indicators built into it, (not on it easy to steal) to tackle Edinburgh’s hills if I ever thought of sticking my feet on pedals at my age. The hairy orange incident had me scratching my head days back intrigued by Monbiot’s article in the Guardian attacking all cars as evil.

Monbiot was, as one would expect, writing from the point of view of London traffic and pollution, applying the particular to the general. If I lived in London I’d use the smallest electric car I could buy, probably a Smart car.

If you live in the Highlands of Scotland, or the Yorkshire Dales for that matter, told to take to bicycles, you have a good laugh. Hundreds of cyclists are killed every year on European roads. True, fewer might die if roads were without cars, trucks, sharp bends on ravines, a hundred in a bunch in the Tour de France, or tram rails.

I smell a rat. About 20% of the population do not own a car. Slowly but surely I can see freedom of travel being removed entirely from the poor, and soon from the rest of us.

As the Car News slot amply proves, together with the general public,I share a love-hate relationship of cars. The good ones are great; the bad ones clutter up the planet and add more concrete to the countryside. Encouraged by governments for the jobs, VAT and road taxes and charges, (not forgetting big rig trucks getting bigger every five years from haulage lobbying) successive governments gave us all encouragement to take to cars. Now and again I use a taxi, usually to get me to the airport or station.

Monbiot stirred a hornet’s nest demanding the end of the car. We need small cars for city use. Three wheeled enclosed scooters would help too. Most car journeys are short: 50% under 3 miles and 70% under 5 miles. Certainly, on dead flat, horizontal roads, or downhill, where cyclists can fly by doing 35 mph in a 20 mph zone, cycling is faster. In some places, walking is faster, but not as fast if on roller skates, or one leg atop those new-fangled electric skateboard. True, people are walking less but cycling won’t take off in Scotland’s hilly pastures with our gale force winds, downpours and snow drifts! Our cities are a mass of potholes ruinous and dangerous to cyclists.

European cities such as Helsinki rely on an excellent tram service. Such places have maintained their electric trams, which are used for 30% of trips. Is Edinburgh’s service paying its way? The trams always look empty to me, and worse, covered in the visual ugliness of CR Smith advertising for double glazing, a sign the service needs subsidy.

Again in Europe, where it’s sunny and warm a lot of the year, there are places that have halved urban car trips and upped cycling from 3% to 25% – the rest walk. Those places have much less traffic than the UK’s constricted highways and byways, some without any congestion, the populace enjoying low pollution levels.

I am all for, we are all for, cleaner forms of transport, but more bicycles on the road, weather permitting, isn’t the answer, not in Scotland. Small, clean vehicles that take two passengers plus some luggage, made of recyclable materials, are a better solution. The French are not embarrassed to have invented the two-seat Twizy, but Brits are too proud to be seen driving one. And they don’t have to reach 60 mph in under 7 seconds!


Electric Mini

As posted earlier, BMW has its electric Mini in production at last and taking orders. It looks a handsome wee bumble bee in its yellow and grey livery, but at £25,000 to £30,000 is for the trendy or those with money to buy a second car. Westminster is dead slow and stop in creating a thorough charging infrastructure, and by reducing the cash incentive, does its best to slow down sales of cars that are environmentally non-polluters. What one can say is, an electric car ought to last a lot longer than one propelled by the combustion engine with all those moving parts. In that regard, it has an advantage.

Thanks, ta.

Driving through the city I found myself behind a brand new Aston Martin DB11. It sure has a lot of road presence. I like the single rear tail light line that incorporates the indicators. Minimalism made elegant. As we waited at the traffic lights the driver thrust his hand out the all-too narrow side window and gave my old jalopy the thumbs up. Such elegant vehicles can brighten up a busy day but not as much as a meadow in flower around an oak tree, or a child’s laughter.

Bays too small

I picked up another ding on my car from a clumsy driver in Sainsbury’s car park. The size of a bay is legislated by law but they are far too small to contain today’s cars, with the exception of my Smart and the old style Mini. (Both look like a penguin in a desert.) Unless you park in a disabled  bay – no, I’m not advocating readers do that – the normal bay is without the handy no no-man’s strip for egress and access. The result is people constantly hitting their door off another car’s door or wing. In California the bays are wider, and there are bigger ones set aside for pick up trucks. Here, if you’re a builder with a Toyota Hilux you park in a normal bay, arse end sticking out into the flow of store traffic. Time the authorities reconsidered bay sizes!



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8 Responses to Car News: What Alternative?

  1. Bugger le Panda says:

    Problem with electric cars is that their see autonomy is no where as good as claimed.
    The DoT have all the real-time data for the actual normal achievable but does not publish it..

    Small tip, Hydrogen is the rising star in this multivariate development period, especially as a storage medium for regenerative electricity.
    Infrastructure is the key here, as always.

    Scotland has the generative capacity and potential for further expansion. Hydrogen will allow both storage and decentralisation of use, even personal mobility.

    The DoT does have a dedicated large task force examining the strategy but choice of direction and speed of adoption is in the purvey of politicians and politics.

    Scotland would have a much better chance of implementing any strategy than the UK.

    Independence anyone.

  2. angusskye says:

    Spot on, GB. London-born Monbiot, who I believe lives in Oxford, offers his transport solution from his own blinkered perspective without an iota of thought for those of us who do not share it. I live 16 miles from a doctor, dentist, small supermarket, entertainment (of a sort), bus “hub” and most other things that Monbiet has on his doorstep. And I will not even start on having to take a 260 mile round trip for hospital consultancy or to buy most normal requirements of living. I am not complaining as it is my choice to live where I do, but, access, even to local facilities, makes a car essential. Until technology offers a real alternative I’ll stick with my car thank you. (I do cycle occasionally for a cuppa in my local cafe but that’s as far as the aged knees are up to these days, which is another thing Monbiot hasn’t even thought about. He eventually will be forced to when age hits him too!)

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    The I-Pace Jaguar claiming over 300 miles on a full charge will lose about 50 miles in freezing weather, so correspondingly small electric cars will lose some mileage. The manufacturers are doing what they can to protect the cells from the elements, and of course, side impact, all of which makes a car heavier.

  4. greig12 says:

    I’ve been reading about a thing called range anxiety which some folk with electric cars get.

    I had a few years as an IBS sufferer. They should try air travel with that, then they’ll know what anxiety is. Especially when the trolley blocks the route to the lavvy for an hour after take off.

  5. What your piece and Monbiot’s prove conclusively is that the U.K. is pretty much the crappest place in the developed world in terms of transport vision and has been for at least sixty years.
    Angus rightly notes that living in s rural area he is totally stuffed without his car.
    This is both cause and effect as the car culture itself helped fuel the rise of the all conquering supermarket and retail park, killing the local shops, traders and bus/train services in rural areas.
    We were fools to adopt the American model but then those who promoted it only had their own private interests at heart.

  6. As usual I’ll sneak a rail reference in, but David Henshaw’s The Great Railway Conspiracy (1991) is an interesting read into the habitual postwar ‘British’ transport folly and incompetence.

    Henshaw noted even back then that Westminster documents relating to the Maroles/Beeching pre-report studies did the now classic Tory ‘disappearing’ trick. It’s almost like it was the test prototype for what was to follow universally upon the arrival of Thatcher…

  7. Grouse Beater says:

    The rail reference is okay by be, Max. I had a paragraph on the rail and then deleted it because I like to stick to things that go by road. I must have a look at the Conspiracy book, new to me. Yes, when you think about it Beeching’s savage rail cuts predated neo-liberal austerity as a way of controlling the masses. On that score, have you been watching a rather interesting television series on abandoned rail lines? Those one man and a backpack travel shows can be very instructive.

  8. I’ve heard of it but I haven’t had a TV since 2013 after I ‘Keith Moon-ed’ mine during an especially bad edition of Reporting Scotland…

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