Thursday 20 September 2012

Cars: status symbols or tools?

Today cars are an expression of status, to say "I am more successful", "I care enough about my family to drive an SUV", "I can afford a new car every 3 years"

If cars go from status symbols to tools, the need to spend over the odds for metallic paintwork and more lights goes out the window -indeed, the need to replace it every 3-5 years goes out the window too. Status symbols you need to upgrade regularly. Tools you use until they break -and you value a tool by how long it does its job, not what it looks like.

More subtly, you don't use a tool for every task, not unless you are an incompetent tool user. You choose. Some days, walking. Some days, cycling. Other days, public transport. Some journeys, yes driving is it. You make those decisions on a case by case basis, rather than reaching for the car keys.

Once you stop viewing your car is a status symbol, you stop caring whether or not you are seen using it.

This is a great vulnerability for the Empire of the Car -the lie that a car is a visible display of status, wealth and success. It still is for a lot of people, hence fucking useless tools like the Porsche Cayenne are built -the ultimate in fucking useless- and why so many politicians, footballers and celebrities like their tinted-window range rovers.

The rest of society doesn't have to copy them. The (somewhat exaggerated) rise of the City of London MAMIL shows this -you can show wealth and fitness about a high-end bike without being stuck in traffic. The fact that these people are cycling not only helps devalue the car as status toy, it recruits more people to care about cycling conditions. Powerful people who can influence their companies and who can then influence their local councils.

In S Gloucs., it's the employees of the large local employers that have this power. If they can get their companies to start pushing the council for better cycling conditions over more bypasses, we can get a suburb you can cycle through. How to get the companies to care? Get the site managers to recognise there is no more parking space -most sites have this problem- and that adding more cycling facilities -secure parking, showers, changing rooms- and encouraging cycling is far cheaper than building multi-storey car parks. The MoD have realised this, what with their three mile "exclusion zone" -if you live less than three miles from work, you aren't going to get a parking bay on a busy day. UWE hasn't, and still lives a world where 3/4 of the site is parking space -more for staff than students. The vice-chancellor even has his own private car park for his shiny black jaguar and a couple of staff. He still mistakes a car for a status symbol, not a tool.

There's an easy way for the rest of us to destroy the value of the car as status symbol: look down on them.

1 comment:

  1. All power to North Bristol Sus Com, a group of the major employers in Bristol's North Fringe, working together to reduce congestion and promote sustainable travel (could this be the respectible political wing of the People's Cycling Front of South Glos?)