The Hamilton Spectator
Buying a new car? It may be your last
What does fewer cars on the road mean to our community?
The lease on my SUV was coming up so I recently made the rounds of local dealerships to “kick the tires” on a number of different makes and models. The biggest challenge wasn’t choosing the right car — it generally was locating a parking spot in a dealer lot crammed with vehicles for sale. Or perhaps finding a salesperson truly interested in helping me or at the very least following up on the promises he made.
But that’s not what I’m writing about. (I’ll save my customer service rant for another day).
Eventually I chose a car with all the features and styling I was looking for supported by a salesperson who knew her product and seemed to genuinely care about her customers. I accepted a killer financial incentive that basically led to me buying the car over five years instead of leasing over a shorter period. I don’t normally keep cars that long and I made sure my new vehicle had all the latest safety and convenience features like blind spot monitoring, forward collision avoidance, more cameras than the front of the White House, etc. I certainly didn’t want my new car to be obsolete before I’d finished paying for it.
As I proudly left the dealer lot in my shiny new SUV I had a very sobering thought — Did I just buy my last car?
I’m early 60s, exercise regularly and eat reasonably healthy so it’s not my own mortality that concerns me. Hell, my mother’s in her 80s and she just bought a new car. There is no reason to think that I shouldn’t be driving for decades to come.
Except for my own obsolescence as a driver.
This summer Ford announced that they will be offering fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. Similar announcements were made by Volkswagen, General Motors, Toyota — the list goes on — with varying timelines. By fully autonomous they mean no steering wheel, no pedals — no need for a driver at all. We all know that Elon Musk of Tesla has seen the future and it isn’t just electric — it’s driverless and it’s around the corner.
Uber is predicting its entire fleet will be driverless one day and “the service will then be so inexpensive and ubiquitous that car ownership will be obsolete.” (Paul Goddin in Mobility Lab — August 18, 2015).
John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft ride sharing service said in his essay The Third Transportation Revolution that “by 2025, private car ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities.”
I’ve been driving for almost 50 years (yikes!) and consider myself a car guy. Am I going to miss driving? Road trips with the family to Florida, the guys to golf in Muskoka or just a nice Sunday drive on a fall day …
Absolutely, but consider the positives — no insurance premiums, maintenance, gas, financing and parking charges mean more cash sticks to me even after paying for the envisioned ride sharing services. How about less stress from not getting stuck in traffic, having to find a parking spot, car breakdowns or worst case — accidents? How about an end to drunk driving?
And what does fewer cars on the road mean to our community? Parking lots can be repurposed to green space or other uses. Consider the Lime Ridge Mall with half the parking spots — an enormous amount of land would be freed up just in that one location. The same for McMaster University.
Smoother traffic flow means less pollution. Pedestrians and cyclists will be safer. The city can be given back to people, not cars.
It wasn’t long ago that this discussion would be considered Orwellian but it is quickly becoming our reality.
I’m pretty sure I bought my last car. We’ll soon see.
Pedestrians and cyclists will be safer. The city can be given back to people, not cars