Thursday, August 9, 2007

Your car is an anti-social element, part-1

Gaia-worshipping, capitalism-hating types i.e. your normal greenie, love to decide how you should travel or commute. The choice, you see, is too important to be left to you. Let the all-knowing experts decide what's good for you.

In an op-ed in the Hindustan Times, veteran Indian greenie Darryl D’Monte whines long and loud about how bio-fuels are not the right fuel for the cars. Fair enough, since there are serious problems attached to the widespread use of these fuels. But this article is not about a rational concern about these fuels.There is something darker lurking underneath.That dark and sinister agenda is revealed only at the end and one can behold a greenie's soul for what it is, masked as it usually is behind a veneer of concern for the 'mankind'.The problem is not so much the fuel but the cars themselves. The environmentalists don't want you to have cars-

Most of all, if combating climate change is a self-professed priority in the drive to produce bio-fuels, what about the mania for using motorised transport, which the use of this alternative fuel encourages? Close on the heels of the Rs 1 lakh car being manufactured by the Tatas, foreign auto makers are making a beeline for the Indian market with cars worth around that much. This may be a bonanza for the middle-class, but what will it do to emissions, which are already well over every limit?

Environmentalists like Lester Brown and Jonathan Lash of the World Resources Institute in Washington believe that hybrid automobiles, which switch from petrol to electricity, are the answer for the future. But if everyone has even a fully electric car, there is going to be such mayhem on the roads, particularly in congested cities in developing countries, that no one will be able to go anywhere. Cars also deprive the oldest and younger sections of the population — the latter is disproportionately large in this country — from using this means of transport and are thus inherently anti-social.

Remember this when you scrounge, skimp and save to buy that small car to escape from the drudgery of public transport - your car, and thus you, are anti-social.You are also being unfair to the old and the very young. You see, the small children, old people, the handicapped much rather travel like this-

crowded Delhi bus

A public bus in Delhi. (Image source)

crowded Mumbal local

A local train in Mumbai. (Image source)

What adventure, and what good exercise!

In some future when the wise environmentalists are in total control, you shall be forced to travel this way. Private vehicles will not exist. Cars shall be banned -except of course for our masters who must travel in comfort of one to take care of the planet's needs.

Praful Bidwai is another car-hating pundit-
Ford India has just launched a diesel version of its premium Fusion' (ex-Delhi-showroom cost Rs 6,59,000) and announced that like Renault-Nissan, it's also considering making a compact car costing Rs 1,20,000. Such corporate announcements have become routine, especially since the Tatas launched their Rs 1,00,000 car project. What is note-worthy about this one is not just that the low-cost car market is set to boom, but also that a mid-sized (1400 cc) diesel car, priced higher than its petrol original, will be treated as a small car'. It will attract not 24, but 16 per cent, excise duty.
Notice how panicky they get when cars become more affordable.

Dieselisation is only one, minor, part of India's automobile boom, which has seen car sales double over five years - a rate 60 per cent higher than GDP growth. Automobiles are being recklessly promoted as symbols of a lifestyle of glamour, luxury, even "freedom".
Someone aspiring to glamour, luxury or even "freedom"- can't have that, can we in our green utopia?

In reality, automobilisation spells high social costs, resource waste, air pollution, global warming and iniquitous use of road-space. In most Indian cities, cars and two-wheelers hog 60-80 per cent of space, but deliver 15 to 20 per cent of passenger trips. By contrast, buses occupy under 20 per cent of road space, and account for up to 60 per cent of trips.
Buses are also more efficient and fair -the way so many people squeeze into one during rush hours is a fine example of scrupulous environmental conduct.

Cars are an extremely inefficient form of transportation. According to a US researcher, the average American spends so much time looking after, parking or repairing his car and stopping at signals, etc, that its average speed is roughly 10-12 kmph.
Then let's have superfast cars zipping along on super smooth roads with high or no speed limits. Lets have hundreds of hi-tech flyovers and superways. That will boost the average speed but not Mr. Bidwai's state of happiness.

Above all, they pollute. Automobile emissions of particulate matter, and oxides of nitrogen and sulphur account for more than 60 per cent of the air pollution load in our cities, itself fraught with grievous health damage. Fine particulates contain some 40 known carcinogens.
Strange that we have about 90 times less cars per capita than the USA(that source of all evil), about 8.5 against 780 (pdf) per 1000 of population, yet our cities are more polluted. In fact the air quality in the US has been getting better and better.

Although health impact studies are inadequate in India, it is estimated that a representative Delhi household would annually earn a benefit of Rs 19,870 and in Kolkata Rs 84,355 from reduced particulates.

This translates into tens of thousands of crores for India.
This does not take into account millions of man hours wasted waiting to get into a bus or a local train or metro, the more millions wasted because one is simply too tired after such a commute to do anything productive, and the health damage due to such stress, fatigue and infections caught due to extreme proximity, not to mention lost productivity because of this stress and longer time taken. Or the health damage due to dying (can one's health get any worse than being dead?), crushed by the blessed public transport-under the wheels of the Bluelines or in railway crashes, (railways which are so efficiently run by the state), or simply falling off the footboard while hanging precariously. Or, as in the case of the Katrina hurricane, what about those people who could not get away in private vehicles and were stranded, even as 'public' buses stood idle in their depots. These people did not have their own cars and depended on public transport. It cost them dearly.

Runaway automobilisation must be curbed through higher taxation (Indian buses are taxed 2.6 times higher per passenger-kilometre than cars), stiff parking fees, Singapore-style bans on use of odd- and even-numbered cars on alternate days, encouragement of carpools, and extensive creation of pedestrian-only zones.

Above all, we must promote efficient, affordable, non-polluting public transport, as well as bicycles and other non-mechanised modes. If Paris can have 200 km of bicycle paths with 250,000 people using them, so can Delhi, Bangalore or Lucknow. This is not a plea for building expensive metros, which cost two to four times more than dedicated bus lanes or electric buses, but for rational planning which recognises that rampant automobilisation is an ecological, financial and social disaster.

Non-polluting public transport? Which public transport is non-polluting?

Bicycles and other non-mechanised modes? Which others -Bullock carts? Horses? Palanquins for ladies? Human-pulled rickshaws as in Kolkata?
I am sure the very young, the old, the handicapped that Darryl D'Monte is concerned about would love the comfort of bicycling several kilometers to their destination than ride in an anti-social sedan. If they can't pedal themselves then maybe the other family members can with the vulnerable ones sitting behind. Mom would love to cycle her 65 year old father-in-law 12 kilometers to see a dentist and back.

In a Reuters report-
But many Indians who weave their motorbikes in between traffic would jump on the chance of the comfort of a car.

Aman is a 39-year-old Indian chauffeur who earns about $A180 per month driving his employers' cars.

"If I can buy a 30,000 rupee scooter, then I can now hope to buy a car for 100,000 rupees when it comes out. Now, people like me can think about owning a car," he said.

"I drive cars for my employers. Maybe I will drive my own car one day."

Sorry, mate. If Mr.Bidwai and Mr.D'Monte have their way, you shall be waiting forever for your own car. Now go and fight your way into the first overcrowded bus or the local train you see and feel the warmth of the humanity around you. Just don't fall off.

To be continued.

(All emphasis mine)

Note -thanks to Sandeep for pointing out Bidwai's article.


Sandeep said...

Some amazing fisking mate :) Back home, we call Praful Bidwai the Resident Idiot.

Original comment date- 2007-08-09. See here-

Honest Abe said...

Sandeep--- why in 2009 were you writing as Honest Abe, disgusting rants all over The Hill?