|The author steering a 7-seater, 7-chain ring cycle |
in Tallinn, Estonia.
Forty years later we are still coming up with new, efficient, technological innovations in many areas, including transport. But few of them are appropriate. Take the self-contained personal mobility unit (aka the car) as an example. Since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T in the early part of the 20th century cars have become more and more efficient. All these efficiency gains have led to vast numbers of cars, more cars per household, greater number of trips in cars, huge expanses of land set aside for roads, highways and parking lots, urban sprawl, and a rapid rise in carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
The next step in the efficiency drive is the hybrid or EV vehicle. Much more efficient that the present gas-guzzling car. Isn’t that wonderful? Well, not really. Greater efficiency, as has been demonstrated over and over, leads to greater consumption. It just is not appropriate.
Are we overlooking something? We already have an appropriate transport device, and we’ve had it since the mid 1800s, although its forerunner – the Dandy Horse – first appeared in 1817. Its called a bicycle. Lets consider some of the many benefits this appropriate transport technology has:
- Low carbon emissions. The bicycle is not carbon-free. Estimates are that production and maintenance of a bicycle accounts for some 5 grams of CO2e per kilometre. If the “fuel” costs of the cyclist are taken into account then a cyclist burns approximately an extra 16 grams CO2e per kilometre. Hence, for every kilometre ridden the cycle emits roughly 21g/km. Similar mathematics indicate that an average car (taking into account occupancy levels) emits 271g/km – thirteen times that of a cycle. A bus, by comparison emits 101g/km.2
- Monetary savings. A report by the Australasian Railway Association in 2015 indicated that by not owning a car in Australia or New Zealand the average commuter could save between $9,000 – $10,000 per year.3 When arriving at this conclusion the authors did not take account of other costs such as toll road fees, non-compulsory insurance, or environmental and congestion costs.
- Safety. Research in Europe shows that when cycling increases, the safety of cyclists also increases. Between 2000 and 2008 London saw a 91% increase in cycling and a 33% decrease in cycling casualties. Cycling in the Netherlands increased 45% between 1980 and 2005. In that same period the number of cycling fatalities decreased by 58%. There are many reasons for this correlation. Two major factors are that the more cyclists there are the more visible cyclists become and the more the pressure for authorities to make cycling safer (e.g. by building dedicated cycle ways).
- Effective Speed. Is the car really getting us from A to B quicker than the bicycle? The answer is yes and no. On the surface it would appear that we get from A to B quicker. But, when we dig deeper we find that the gains are not there. In 2004 Paul Tranter (from the School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW, Canberra) prepared a report for the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage entitled Effective Speeds. The sub-title provocatively claimed that Car Costs are Slowing Us Down.4 Tranter took into account a more complete analysis of speed. If we remember our school mathematics we recall that speed is calculated by dividing the distance travelled by the time it took to travel that distance (s = d/t). What Tranter noted was that the time element was not simply the amount of time sitting behind the wheel of a car going from A to B. The true time factor also includes the amount of time it takes to earn the money required in order to get into the car in the first place. Tranter factored in the time required to pay for the production and maintenance of the car. Using statistics from the city of Canberra, Tranter calculated that the final effective speed of a car was between 14 km/h and 23 km/h, depending upon the size of car. Undertaking the same calculations with buses and cycles found that the effective speed of buses is 21 km/h and 18 km/h for cycling. Indeed, the cycle outperformed 3 of the 4 cars considered – the 4th being an Hyundai Getz. It should be noted too that Tranter did not take into account the costs (and therefore time) associated with having to pay speeding fines, parking tickets, tolls, carpark fees, and perhaps hospital emergency ward costs.
- Health Benefits. The health benefits of any exercise (cycling included) are well known and I shall not elucidate them here, except to note that they need to be considered when thinking about appropriate transport technology.
There is no need to devise transport technology with greater efficiency – we already have it. Lets use it.
1. E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered, Blond and Briggs, 1973. Published by Harper Collins since 2010.
2. Benoit Blondel, Chloé Mispelon, Julian Ferguson, Cycle More Often 2 Cool Down The Planet, European Cyclists’ Federation, 2011.
3. Australasian Railway Association, The Costs of Commuting: An analysis of potential commuter savings, January 2015.
4. Paul J Tranter, Effective Speeds: Car Costs are Slowing Us Down, a report for (Australian) Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004.