How can we decrease car dependency?

Let’s start with a warning. It is so DANGEROUS to use a bicycle here that any other excuse pales into insignificance. It is a DEADLY hazard. Cyclists have died. Been run over by cars, trucks, whatever… cyclists have been warned to keep away from roads, they have been threatened, and assaulted… it’s a dangerous past-time.

bike1

So before we start accusing people that they are car dependent, we must ask ourselves…

WHY do people have this love affair with their car, so to speak. It’s a difficult proposition to come up with a single answer.

Taking Malta’s position, it is quite easy to come up with a few answers… One of the first, and to me, the most important, is… we live in a very hilly place where every street reflects every village, town, hill, and eventually, country. We live in a country of highs and lows.

Not too long while in England I borrowed a bicycle and despite being very unfit, managed to bike around 50 miles in a day, so much that I had to ask the help of a policeman who remarked ”you’ve biked off the map of Southend”.  But this was all on very flat land.

It is only TWO kilometres to Marsa from where I live… I can do it easily going there… but coming back, I face an elevation of 200 metres… or nearly 70 storeys… that is like cycling up a skyscraper. Perhaps the image below can show the difference easily.

large-scale-elevation-map-of-malta-and-gozo-with-other-marks

To this I would need to add that during my ride in the uk, I was mostly ensconced on a safe cycling lane. On our little island, we have precious little cycle lanes, and what there are, are simply too dangerous with car owners making a biker’s commute a purely hellish experience.

Let’s not forget the simply awful summer weather which is hot, and very humid. Returning home from work is a three kilometre uphill climb all the way. If you’ve been on your feet from six in the morning, it is not something one looks forward to with a smile on his face.

So there, three simple reasons why, before embarking on a cycling use push, our leaders must make it into a positive experience. And it must be made to be such that it makes more sense or fun to take a bike. Who wants to live with bad experiences?

Granted, this is not a take to remove cars out of our life completely, as obviously, there will be events or happenings which simply require the use of a vehicle. Before we go on, I am going to pass my quick judgment on the recent road-widening processes all over our tiny country.

Yeah, I know, I will be crucified, but here goes.

I actually think they are a good thing. Has it been approached well? NO!

Whether road-widening or not goes on, youths will still buy cars. So while everybody and his uncle comes up with scientific reports and shit, one has to ask our youth… ”Do you plan on buying a car?”.. The answer is invariably yes.

It’s no secret. The bus transport system is a shambles. A university student cannot go to school at 6am in the hope of getting to school by 8.30… It’s barely eight kilometres for fuck’s sake. It would make more sense to walk or cycle there, but the infrastructure simply isn’t there.

So let me re-state it. YOUTHS IN THIS COUNTRY WILL STILL BUY CARS. People love having their independence, their own wheels.. No longer fettered by time constraints or bus nuances.

car-dealers

Or even, for a quick snog and a little nookie, it’s far easier in your car than on a bus. Less chance of being arrested.

SO… What can be done? It goes without saying that while increasing Public Transport quality will help, the buses cannot be everywhere.

In my opinion, more personal transport is required. Better than a car, better than a bus, cheaper than both, while taking less footprint.

Of course, it’s cycling. Or scooting. As anyone who really knows me, knows me, I have a passion for cycling beyond the ordinary.

(Follow this link for my cycling article :  https://chrisgrillo.wordpress.com/bicycling/ )

What the hell? First you fill us up with cycling problems, and then state that bikes are the answer? That’s what probably one might ask…

Why not switch to pedelecs? Electric?

I’ll tell you why. A good ebike is still out of most people’s pocket. And for those who, like me, have a very short ride to work, the effort and fuel saved is simply not worth the cost of adding a couple of thousand of euros pain to my already half-dead wallet. And at current licensing costs, it makes sense that you get your ‘bang for buck’ on an astonishingly expensive outlay… (Yes, I know the government gives a pay-back and vat return on ebikes… but you still have to fork these out beforehand! Why not register with the seller and these are removed immediately at purchase?)

So if the government really wants to reduce car use, and in the process helping the population get fitter and of course, reduce emissions, the end-user needs to be helped to distance himself from the car.

I have an idea how to do that. Incentive the cyclist with cash-back on a bike giveaway.

Let’s say the government reaches a deal to provide a bike to a buyer at the price, of say 1440 euros. The buyer is contracted to pay the government back at 60 euros per month.

No deposits, no inflated paper work, quick and simple applications with a promise and a gadget to keep that promise.

For every day that the car is unused, the government awards you two euros off that 60 euro payback… simple gps devices much like those used on youths insurance limiters. So easy it is beyond belief.

You might ask…but why the heck should the government help you? Well, that’s a good question. Cycling promotes health, with less visits to doctors or hospitals, and of course, less cars and smog in the streets…

Eventually, a better infrastructure still needs to be built… In Seville, in 2006, barely 0.2% of the population cycled in the city… By 2010, a huge undertaking had been completed, and cycling paths introduced everywhere. The percentage of the cycling population rose to 6.6%.

Give people the will, the hope, the facilities and the capability, and they WILL increase use of the bike.

Of course, increasing the public transport is a given. As to why more lasting solutions have not been researched properly, I cannot understand. Why an underground system has not been implemented is beyond reason… We have been talking about this since the 80s… Most of it would have been done by now.

Overhead trains are also a decent answer. I believe there was something around those lines not too long ago. I wonder why those ideas died.

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