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

Life without transport by oil is closer than we think

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Barbara Yaffe, Sun

That is not a name I associate with this kind of opinion piece. I must admit I ignored this story yesterday. It did not seem to me to add anything we did not know already.

But it seems that is not what she has been reading. Instead it is

Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight without Oil, by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, is one of the most thought-provoking books to cross my desk in a long while.

And that book was launched some time ago. Now I thought that the key message in that book was that technological change could deal with the problem – it certainly seemed to me to dwell on developments in that area. But Professor Perl was giving it a much more political spin yesterday.

The Pacific Gateway Strategy, Heathrow’s fancy new Terminal 5 and other “boondoggles” demonstrate society’s reluctance to smell the coffee, Perl observed in an interview this week.

“There’s going to be some steep learning curve for political leaders who are largely unprepared to deal with the impending transport revolutions. Techno-fantasies and wishful thinking will have to give way to reality-based planning.”

Ms Yaffe also noticed the electric car commitment in Israel, which so far as I recall has not actually been reported in her paper. Which is not about technology at all, but policy. The real shift is that a known commodity has to be got to market quickly, and that needs a different marketing strategy – and governments can help by using the power of taxation. The Israeli government is going to tax internal combustion engine cars heavily and maintain that over time, while raising all car taxes (including electric vehicles) but keeping the advantage for electric, in order that there is no revenue loss. The clever bit is the response by the people who can make and sell the cars, batteries and battery quick change operations. And I suspect that the Israelis would have done that in any event simply because the oil is still controlled, by and large, by their sworn enemies. Rather in the same way that the old South African government had to develop an oil from coal program.

Of course, if you are ideologically against taxes and intervention in the “free market”, taking effective action this way requires some mental gymnastics which is well beyond the capabilities of the administrations in Ottawa and Washington.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2008 at 8:36 am

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