Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The £1,290 car delights Indians but horrifies the green lobby

with 5 comments

The Observer

“the People’s Car, designed and manufactured by Tata, is being marketed as a safer way of travelling for those who until now have had to transport their families balanced on the back of their motorbikes.”

As you read the article the “horror” appears to apply to emissions and safety standards. There is also analysis of how desirable a car is as a status symbol – and how the growing middle class is likely to snap them up.

Tata’s latest creation, the Nano, touted as the world’s most inexpensive car!

More pictures here

What is missing from the article is what it will do to demand for roads – and the impact on traffic and Indian cities. One of great legacies of the raj was a huge network of railways, which largely survive and flourish and are essential to both commuter and long distance travel. As we have seen in China, the rush to follow western societies into automobility is seen as a sign of modernity – but very quickly Beijing realized it could never build enough roads. India will now have the same hard lesson to learn and while it is investing money in highways there will be less for other critical infrastructure.

No doubt Tata will make a fortune, and a lot of people will be very proud and pleased with their new cars. But an opportunity will have been lost. And while a car may be safer for the user than a motorbike, I would be very surprised indeed if the toll of road collisions is reduced by putting lots of cars onto inadequate roads.

Here is more reaction to the Tata

UPDATE January 17 – Intelligent commentary on this story from Gwynne Dwyer in the Tyee. Duany made a similar point last night. It is the North American middle class that has created global warming, and the world’s poor trying to emulate them that is now rapidly making it worse. That is why we have to do something now to break the cycle of suburban land use and transportation.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 6, 2008 at 9:18 am

Posted in Transportation

5 Responses

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  1. Stephen, I hope it isn’t considered “ranting” if I say that China is building a huge freeway network, planned to equal or exceed that of the US Interstate system. I believe they are mostly toll roads. You can see huge highways, built and under construction, on Google Earth or Google Maps, and they are in both rural and urban areas. Photos can be found in the forum:

    Budd Campbell

    January 7, 2008 at 8:46 am

  2. I am well aware of China’s highway construction. I was pointing out that their major cities have now realised that they cannot cure congestion by building more roads. Shanghai is buidling what will become the world’s largest metro system – at a tremendous rate of progress. The realisation came later to Beijing.

    What I do not understand is why you keep saying the same thing. Do you have your own blog? They are free you know.

    Stephen Rees

    January 7, 2008 at 9:03 am

  3. Stephen:

    Thanks for allowing my comment to stay posted. I don’t have my own blog because I am too lazy and too inept!

    Putting the two things together, work progressing in China on highways, but now major subways being built in Shanghai, I wonder if one could say that the Chinese planners see highways and rail transit as complements rather than substitutes? I realize I have used that phrase before but I think it’s one thing that really does bear repeating. If demand for beef or pork rises, so does demand for potatoes and vegetables to complete the dinner. If population and incomes are growing, one can expect to see rising demands for more public transit and for more roads to satisfy different particular elements in the overall transporation demand package.

    Budd Campbell

    January 7, 2008 at 10:19 am

  4. “Budd”

    I don’t know about lazy – you seem to find the time to get under my skin.

    And as for inept – I think you are well aware of what you are doing, I just do not understand for the life of me why you would want to.

    The car has damaged society. It has made one of man’s most significant and important inventions – the city – almost intolerable. Cities survive despite the car and not because of it. Suburbs predate the car but were due to a similar revolution in transportation technology that allowed cities to grow beyond the distances that could be conveniently walked.

    Urban planners for many years detested the city. It was not until Jane Jacobs produced her seminal works, that we began to understand how cities work, and why urban and regional planning prior to her new insights was a dismal failure.

    This blog is all about how to make our city work better. And mostly that can be boiled down to “less reliant on cars”. Not that we can uninvent cars. Or rebuild suburbs overnight. But that we stop making the same stupid decisions that Robert Moses forced on New York.

    Vancouver gained its reputation for “liveability” because it did not build a freeway through its downtown. But that is not enough in and of itself. We know that we have to increase transportation choices and, on the whole, have progressed very little with that objective. So for us, now, to be talking about building freeways is counter-productive.

    We have been building a lot of roads in this region – and this includes major freeways and bridges – and the traffic has got worse. Translink is not just about transit – it was also to help the cities spend the new gas tax revenues on improving the regional road network, much of which was downloaded to them by the Province after decades of neglect. We know that building roads encourages more traffic – so recommending more of them as a solution to congestion is brain dead.

    Translink has lost sight of its main objective. To increase the mode share of transit from 11% to 17% (which is where it should be by now and isn’t) and at the same time encourage more walking and cycling. The number of people who cycle to work now equals that of those that use SkyTrain for the same purpose, but the sums of money devoted to cycling are trivial by comparison.

    If all you have to recommend is that we “need” more roads, you are wasting your time. What we need is a region that meets the needs of its citizens better, and does not require them to invest ridiculous sums in owning and operating motor vehicles – putting their lives and health at risk needlessly.

    If you cannot see that we need to shift our priorities then I can only assume that you are ignoring the evidence in favour of a pre-conceived prejudice.

    I live in the suburbs and mostly I drive. I use freeways a lot. That does not mean that I think that it is a good way to live – or a sustainable way for this region to continue. And I am going to keep on about how to escape from this future that the current provincial and federal governments seem determined to force on us no matter what we say – or what an objective review of their programs would tell us.

    If you have some constructive to say, that contributes something tangible to the debate, fine. If all you want to do is see how much **** you can stir, you will find yourself banned again. There will be no more warnings or discussion. I do not like trolls, as I have told you before, and that is what you seem determined to be.

    Stephen Rees

    January 7, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  5. Cartoons about the Nano, with an English translation

    Stephen Rees

    January 22, 2008 at 2:06 pm

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