More Western Leaders Call for the End of Private Vehicle Ownership

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If there’s anything that’ll get my stomach into a twist, it’s the government talking about the merits of reducing people’s ability to own things. Fortunately, the 36-hour flu I just experienced made me nigh-invulnerable and someone had forwarded me the latest on what U.K. Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport Trudy Harrison had to say about personal vehicle ownership. She’s very keen on public transpiration but not so interested in the plebian masses having access to their own, individual modes of transport.

Earlier this month, she told a virtual audience at shared transport charity CoMoUK that the United Kingdom needed to move away from “20th-century thinking centered around private vehicle ownership and towards greater flexibility, with personal choice and low carbon shared transport.” 

Though the matter is hardly isolated to the U.K. In the United States, the San Diego Association of Government’s board of directors has recently passed its annual Regional Transportation Plan that originally included a provision to charge drivers a fee for literally every single mile driven. It’s sort of like the fuel tax, but worse since it applies an additional 4 cents per mile regardless of whether you’re burning liquid fuel or sourcing it from the grid using an electric vehicle.

Fortunately, that particular item received sufficient opposition to have it taken out of the plan. However, the board hinted that it wanted to revisit the item at a later date because it believes the entire premise of its existence is to create a 30-year blueprint that encourages the region (encompassing 18 Californian cities) to transition away from personal vehicle ownership as a way to enhance public transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While she never weighed in on it, we’re under the assumption that the UK’s transport minister is of a similar mind.

“Changing the way people consider car ownership and dependency will take time,” Harrison said during the CoMoUK conference. “Many things seem far fetched until they aren’t and I believe the same is true for shared mobility.”

I’m only aware of Minister Trudy Harrison’s position thanks to Motorious’ Steven Symes, who has been tracking the issue and likewise tied the U.K. plotting to what’s been happening on the Western Coast of the United States:

If you think this plan is limited to just the UK, you haven’t been paying attention. There have been other efforts to make private vehicle ownership a thing of the past, including a new measure in Southern California. The 2021 Regional Transportation Plan passed recently by the San Diego Association of Government’s board of directors is a $160 billion initiative just for the metropolitan area to boost public transportation.

That’s a hefty price tag for such a small area, so one of the ways officials have been planning to fund it is by levying a per-mile driving tax against citizens. That was such an unpopular move it was shelved, for now. But I have a funny feeling that driving tax is going to be revisited. Critics say that and other fines, fees, etc. are designed to nuke personal vehicle ownership for all but the wealthy. Expect to see similar measures in other cities and maybe entire states/territories in North America and beyond in the near future.

As unpleasant as politics are, if car enthusiasts and really everyone who enjoys going where they please when they please in their privately-owned vehicle don’t start taking a stand, our freedoms could be severely restricted in ways many have thought weren’t possible. Failing to do something to stop this push will end poorly for just about everyone.

Still, I am exceptionally pleased to say that some have been heeding the above advice, especially after it seems like I spent a few years complaining about this stuff in relative isolation. Despite routine pushback from government and corporate interests, the right-to-repair movement has grown exponentially with a clear interest in defending personal ownership rights. Also, one of the primary reasons San Diego failed to pass the mile usage tax unchanged was partially due to intervention from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association — a nonpartisan association of individuals, businesses, and organizations who promote effective and efficient government benefiting taxpayers.

The group claimed San Diego’s Regional Planning Agency (SANDAG) lacked accountability and was attempting to push through sweeping initiatives that weren’t in the best interest of the citizenry, citing a particular absence of transparency in how the Regional Transportation Plan had been handled.

“While the association recognizes the importance of SANDAG and understands that addressing challenges as one region is largely more efficient than each agency working alone, we express concern over potential inequities and under-representation at member agencies,” said President/CEO of San Diego County Taxpayers Association Haney Hong. “The purpose of SANDAG is to serve as one regional hub to address our collective challenges, but there is no current requirement or consistent practice for board members to consult with their municipal colleagues in a structured, public way at their agencies. There needs to be a formal, transparent process before coming to the SANDAG board room by which each of you, as representatives of your agencies, collect input from your fellow municipal elected leaders and the constituents you collectively represent. Without debates at your member agency, there is no assurance that you are not simply voting for your priorities.”

Bipartisan support for these kinds of issues (which the San Diego County Taxpayers Association has) will be essential because all parties are now trumpeting the green horn without really taking much time to consider the ramifications of the relevant policies or what the public actually wants. Swinging back to the United Kingdom, Ms. Harrison is actually a Conservative Member of Parliament. So is Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and he’s been championing new road taxes and reducing private vehicle ownership since he was elected as London’s mayor way back in 2008.

Their party (or at least Johnson faction) currently believes it can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has already committed billions toward funding ways of encouraging citizens to walk or bicycle. It has also decided against ruling out a U.K. provision to effectively ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2030 and hopes to make it legal for people to ride e-scooters on public roadways ASAP. Having driven in Los Angeles, where the streets are awash with suicidal e-scooters and the city has dumped billions onto go-nowhere transpiration or mobility projects, I cannot personally think of anything less appetizing.

[Update 12/29/2021: A number of readers have claimed this article doesn’t cite enough Western leaders and/or cities to be valid. Therefore, I’ve decided to remedy the matter. Incoming mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, is implementing congestion-charging in Manhattan to decrease driving. Cleveland’s new mayor, Justin Bibb, has suggested converting existing car lines into protected bike lanes and having new zones where cars cannot go as part of of his sweeping “people over cars” initiative. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has similar promised free bussing as a way to discourage personal vehicle ownership. Granted, these things can be seen as positives and I’m all for people getting some exercise. But I have also seen all of the above, minus Adams, explicitly mention that it would a good thing to have fewer people owning vehicles. Meanwhile, automakers have been proposing new business models revolving around the concept of shared ownership (spoiler: they own the car if you don’t) for years. 

One Sunday per month, Paris bans cars from the entire city. London currently bans private cars from certain downtown areas. Oslo has been gradually eliminating public parking to discourage people from owning cars. Madrid has even gone so far as to ban all older cars in a hilarious attempt to reduce pollution but has has actually forced citizens to buy new vehicles that would not have otherwise needed to be manufactured. 

The United States is currently where Europe was a couple of decades ago, when the continent started introducing vehicle restrictions, widespread congestion charging, and new taxes designed to discourage driving. On the one hand, major cities did see a decline in vehicle ownership. But it ultimately just made the point of entry higher, making cars exclusive to well-heeled urbanites. Plebian consumers could skimp and save up for that 1.3-liter shitbox. But those wanting something with a bigger engine and comfortable legroom needed to be well-heeled. That strikes me as decidedly unfair, unproductive, and ultimately un-American.]

[Image: Karl_Sonnenberg/Shutterstock]

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