Being a non-driver


in Canada, Economics, Politics, Rants, The environment

When I was in high school, I took the written test that kicks off British Columbia’s graduated vehicle licensing program. I took some lessons, but never progressed through the multiple stages required to get a full license. I left for university without one, and have never since had much opportunity or incentive to get a license. I may never decided to do so.

Quite possibly, that is becoming a less unusual choice for city-dwellers. Treehugger is reporting on a study of Canadian attitudes by GWL Realty Advisors. Some of the results are encouraging from an environmental perspective, such as a growing preference for apartments over houses. The commentary on the views of young people on driving is also of interest:

There is also growing research that younger generations do not relate to the automobile as enabling “freedom.” Instead, their electronic and social media devices–whether a smart phone, small lap top computer, music player, etc.–provide an alternate means for self expression and being free to do what they want. In the United States, kilometers driven by 18-34 year olds is declining, and this is likely the case in Canada as well (Neff, 2010). Younger generations seem to have less interest in automotive use, making apartment living in dense, walkable and transit-oriented urban areas a more natural fit for their lifestyles.

For those living in rural areas – or the 1950s – driving really is freedom. For those living in the cities of 2010, cars probably do more harm than good. Rather than spending money to further accommodate the dangerous, climate-destroying machines, it seems sensible that we should focus on building walkable neighbourhoods and good public transportation networks.

I have written before about driving’s declining appeal. I have also written about how the internet increases the social value of skills other than driving, such as photography.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Mica Prazak October 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

Stay Strong Mil! Sasha and I are right here with you.

R.K. October 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

As a photographer, not having a car must be at least a bit limiting.

alena October 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I agree with you completely that driving in the city is wasteful and bad for the environment. However, I feel that driving is a necessary skill to master until we have a more affordable and extensive public transit system between cities. Looking back on when our children were small, if we did not drive, we could not have done the multitude of wonderful camping trips and adventures that surely added joy and educational value to our lives. It also enabled many after school activities, I believe that you don’t have to drive if you don’t want to, but you should know how to for emergencies and other situations. Otherwise, you have to rely on other people to do it for you.

Matt October 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I think the assessment that driving’s appeal is declining is not in line with car ownership numbers. It may be true that fewer 16 year olds are getting their licenses, but is that the correct metric to be looking at?

Matt October 25, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I want to further my above thought:

It may be that more and more people are shunning driving but I doubt it’s due to appeal. More specifically, it’s probably due to cost. The economy is going relatively poorly and in cities it is often expensive to commute via car due to parking rates.

I mention this not because I don’t agree that car emissions are a very serious environmental problem, but rather because it’s important to realize that having viable electric vehicles is probably the only way we are going to convince a large portion of people to reduce their CO2 output.

Milan October 25, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I think isolating ‘cost’ from ‘appeal’ is a problematic way of looking at the situation. People don’t ‘shun’ Rolexes due to lack of appeal; they generally do so because the things are absurdly expensive.

Driving is both expensive to individuals and expensive to society as a whole. Individual drivers who are imposing costs on others should be paying even more than they are now for the privelege. For instance, they should be paying much of the cost of road maintenance, global security costs linked to oil dependence, air pollution, and climate change.

Driving deserves to be more expensive, and will hopefully decline in appeal on that basis.

Matt October 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I disagree that driving “deserves” anything. It’s possible to drive a carbon neutral vehicle, depending on its fuel source. I don’t disagree that fossil fuel usage should be more expensive.

Milan October 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

True, though climate change is only one of a great many costs created by driving and imposed on society. Look at how much space within cities is wasted by roads. Look at the share of SOx NOx pollution from cars, as well as particulate matter and ozone. Look at all the pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers.

Admittedly, electric vehicles powered by renewables would not directly produce pollution, but they would still be noisy, dangerous, space hogs.

There are all sorts of non-climatic reasons to discourage driving, especially in cities.

BuddyRich October 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Considering that perhaps only 10 of the major urban centres in Canada have a well-enough functioning transit system to support a car-less lifestyle, I don’t think driving is going anywhere, at least in Canada. Perhaps in the US with its larger population density, but not Canada.

Even if driving does get displaced for commuting (which I doubt), it will still have its place for city to city transport as neither rail or plane (perhaps worse CO2 offenders anyway) are extensive enough to be effective.

Also considering the largest population increases are still in suburbia, where a car is a virtual requirement, most kids are still not growing up with easy access to mass transit. Until intensification becomes mainstream and (sub) urban sprawl slows driving will remain king. Price plays a big part into that. Infill house prices, condo prices (when they are even built to accommodate a family and not a single person or a couple) price themselves out of reach of most people and fuel the sprawl. If driving were more expensive it might balance that out somewhat but the pricing on infill also has to give way as well.

Mark October 26, 2010 at 5:27 am

I have been living in LA for a couple of months now without a car. I very much prefer it this way. Public transport is not much good here, but I can easily get to work and do my shopping by bicycle. I occassionally rent a car for weekend trips. My friend James also moved here and doesn’t even have a driver’s license. Even in a city as car-centric as LA, it is surprisingly easy to live without a car.

oleh November 2, 2010 at 4:51 am

One in three Canadians live in the urban centers of Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver all of which have well developed public transit systems and I expect generally congested road conditions. Driving in those cities would be less attractive.

Last week I was in Montreal and saw the presence of a public bikes which can basically be rented for $5 a day assuming that all trips are less than 30 minutes. That is another alternative assuming that the the bike locations were of assistance to the user.

I wonder what role ad hoc ride-sharing (“hitch-hiking”) could play.

Milan November 2, 2010 at 11:43 am

Ottawa also had a Biki Bike trial.

. November 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

Among other things, the proportion of automobile miles driven by younger workers has plunged in the last 15 years, from 21 per cent in 1995 to 14 per cent in 2009.

If it were a shorter timescale, I might put that trend down to a lousy economy meaning fewer 21-to-30-year-olds are getting jobs that allow them to buy cars or suburban homes, but that’s a pretty long-term pattern. The suburban dream may not be shared by the new generation.

Angela Browne January 2, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I would love to see the cost of driving go through the roof and employers, retailers, cities, and taxpayers to stop subsidizing it. For those of us that do not drive, due to disability or its high costs, we do not get jobs – period. Perhaps, a higher tax can be imposed on these employers that keep demanding that you must have a car and license to work there to pay people who can’t get work a higher social wage until an employer comes along that will hire non-drivers for decent paying employment? We have made driving too cheap for far too long.

. October 8, 2012 at 1:02 pm

The road less travelled
Car use is peaking in the rich world. Governments should take advantage of that

Sep 22nd 2012 | from the print edition

IN 1888 Bertha Benz, wife of the carmaker Karl, drove 66 miles from one German city to another to prove to the world that the “horseless carriage” was suited to everyday use. Mrs Benz succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

Modern life is unimaginable without the car. The automobile has powered the growth of cities and steered their sprawl. Its manufacture has created millions of jobs and eased the development of many millions more. In rich countries, 70% of journeys are now by car. More than a billion cars now roll on the world’s roads.

Measured globally, car use will go on rising, for as people in emerging markets get rich, they want the mobility and status that car-ownership offers. But in the rich world the decades-long link between rising incomes and car use has been severed (see article), and miles driven per person have been falling. That is partly because of recession and high oil prices, but the trend pre-dates 2007. Other, longer-term, factors are at work. One is generational: car-ownership is reaching saturation. The current cohort of retirees is the first for whom driving was commonplace, so new generations of vehicle-owners will replace rather than add to existing ones. Young people, meanwhile, are falling out of love with cars. All over the rich world they are getting their licences later, and they use other forms of transport more than the young did a generation ago.

. October 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm

All over the rich world, young people are getting their licences later than they used to—in America (see chart) and also in Britain, Canada, France, Norway, South Korea and Sweden. Even in Germany, car-culture-vulture of Europe, the share of young households without cars increased from 20% to 28% between 1998 and 2008. Unsurprisingly, this goes along with driving less. American youngsters with jobs drive less far and less often than before the recession. 16- to 34-year-olds in American households with incomes over $70,000 increased their public-transport use by 100% from 2001 to 2009, according to the Frontier Group, a think-tank.

Cost is one factor: fuel prices have risen for all; insurance premiums for the young have soared. Youth unemployment has not helped. But there is also the influence of a new kid on the block: the internet. A University of Michigan survey of 15 countries found that in areas where a lot of young people use the internet, fewer than normal have driving licences. A global survey of teen attitudes by TNS, a consultancy, found that young people increasingly view cars as appliances not aspirations, and say that social media give them the access to their world that would once have been associated with cars. KCR, a research firm, has found that in America far more 18- to 34-year-olds than any other age group say socialising online is a substitute for some car trips.

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