Park­ing the car ques­tion

New Zealand Listener - - LETTERS -

The ar­ti­cles on fu­ture kinds of cars (“Power to the peo­ple”, “Look, Ma – no hands”, Oc­to­ber 14) ran to 12 pages with­out ask­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: is the pri­vate car a com­pletely failed con­cept? And the ques­tion that fol­lows: should we con­tinue fo­cus­ing on the car as a so­lu­tion to our trans­port prob­lems?

No mat­ter how much the car is “greened”, it is an idea that has had its cen­tury. In­stead, ur­ban pop­u­la­tions and in­ter­city trav­ellers need to switch to large, pub­lic ve­hi­cles. These would be mainly train and tram sys­tems, com­ple­mented by buses.

There are things about cars that can­not be changed. First, cars on av­er­age oc­cupy 6sq m, with a low rate of re­turn on that space in terms of pas­sen­gers trans­ported. Sec­ond, they kill and in­jure. They have been de­scribed col­lec­tively as “a weapon of mass de­struc­tion”. The an­nual death rate from car crashes runs at about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple.

Claims that driver­less cars will lessen the killing must be viewed with ex­treme scep­ti­cism. Be­ing driver­less, they do not even have the merit of trans­port­ing a driver. And the 6sq m prob­lem re­mains. This is land bet­ter used for hous­ing, ameni­ties, plants, bikes and pedes­tri­ans.

The en­ergy and green­house gas costs of man­u­fac­tur­ing cars also re­main un­ex­am­ined. This is sig­nif­i­cant. It’s about 10% of the en­ergy burnt by a fos­sil-fuel-pow­ered car over its life­time. This em­bed­ded en­ergy is not nec­es­sar­ily much dif­fer­ent for other car types. The need of all cars for land-de­vour­ing roads and their ef­fects on ur­ban sprawl and town plan­ning in the world’s cities are just two of the fur­ther fac­tors that need anal­y­sis.

The car could con­tinue, prob­a­bly with a driver and in an elec­tric form, in a few use­ful sit­u­a­tions: in re­mote ru­ral ar­eas with­out pub­lic trans­port, yes; for the dis­abled, yes; in well-reg­u­lated taxi fleets, yes. But as a means of mass tran­sit, they should dis­ap­pear as soon as pos­si­ble. Denys Trus­sell

Friends of the Earth NZ (Auck­land) “Power to the peo­ple” said hav­ing an elec­tric car is equiv­a­lent to “petrol at 30c a litre”, but was vague on the cap­i­tal and main­te­nance costs. Lithium-ion bat­ter­ies have been in use since the 1990s and may not con­tinue to fall in price and in­crease in ca­pac­ity. And how long will they last?

I would urge read­ers to think twice be­fore trad­ing in their $5000 “old banger” for an elec­tric car cost­ing at least twice that.

John Wil­son (John­sonville, Welling­ton)

So, the cheap­est sec­ond-hand elec­tric car on Trade Me is $10,500 and the cheap­est bat­tery is $7700. Chances are the car is cheap be­cause it needs a new bat­tery.

My car cost $2500 and it hasn’t missed a beat in five years. Even if we paid off the elec­tric car over time with fuel and main­te­nance-cost sav­ings, it’s a pipe dream. H Moore (Ranui) New Zealand’s elec­tric­ity mix is ir­rel­e­vant as a rea­son to adopt elec­tric cars. The 80% re­new­able part of our gen­er­a­tion net­work works flat out any­way be­cause it has the low­est run­ning cost. Any ad­di­tional de­mand, day or night, is met from fos­sil-fu­elled power sta­tions.

The only ad­van­tage I can see of elec­tric ve­hi­cles is if they are used for car-shar­ing in large cities, where they can be picked up and de­posited at ded­i­cated wire­less charg­ing sta­tions. Peter Kamm­ler (Wark­worth)

AMAZ­ING AMA­ZON

Like Shamubeel Eaqub, I’m an econ­o­mist in­ter­ested in the Ama­zon phe­nom­e­non (“Ama­zon in­va­sion”, Oc­to­ber

7). But my con­cern is from a macroe­co­nomic rather than con­sumer per­spec­tive.

Ama­zon is al­ready “too big to fail”. This means that bad be­hav­iour by a few Ama­zon ex­ec­u­tives can cause a great re­ces­sion like the one of 2008, man­dat­ing pub­lic bailouts and fur­ther in­creases in world in­debt­ed­ness and the skew in the dis­tri­bu­tion of in­come.

It is time to test the no­tion that in this dig­i­tal econ­omy con­sumers would lose noth­ing but other pro­duc­ers and work­ers would gain sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic se­cu­rity if Ama­zon were bro­ken up. Let’s make it into 10 smaller companies with 10 chief ex­ec­u­tives.

We got out of the 2008 re­ces­sion with­out learn­ing how to solve the too-big-to-fail prob­lem. To ac­com­plish this will take group ac­tion and an al­ter­ation of the present ob­ses­sion with con­sumer wel­fare. Our Com­merce Com­mis­sion could start the ball rolling by ask­ing its coun­ter­parts in Aus­tralia, the Euro­pean

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