More Western Leaders Call for the End of Private Vehicle Ownership

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

If there’s anything that’ll get my stomach into a twist, it’s the government talking about the merits of reducing people’s ability to own things. Fortunately, the 36-hour flu I just experienced made me nigh-invulnerable and someone had forwarded me the latest on what U.K. Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Transport Trudy Harrison had to say about personal vehicle ownership. She’s very keen on public transpiration but not so interested in the plebian masses having access to their own, individual modes of transport.

Earlier this month, she told a virtual audience at shared transport charity CoMoUK that the United Kingdom needed to move away from “20th-century thinking centered around private vehicle ownership and towards greater flexibility, with personal choice and low carbon shared transport.”

Though the matter is hardly isolated to the U.K. In the United States, the San Diego Association of Government’s board of directors has recently passed its annual Regional Transportation Plan that originally included a provision to charge drivers a fee for literally every single mile driven. It’s sort of like the fuel tax, but worse since it applies an additional 4 cents per mile regardless of whether you’re burning liquid fuel or sourcing it from the grid using an electric vehicle.

Fortunately, that particular item received sufficient opposition to have it taken out of the plan. However, the board hinted that it wanted to revisit the item at a later date because it believes the entire premise of its existence is to create a 30-year blueprint that encourages the region (encompassing 18 Californian cities) to transition away from personal vehicle ownership as a way to enhance public transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While she never weighed in on it, we’re under the assumption that the UK’s transport minister is of a similar mind.

“Changing the way people consider car ownership and dependency will take time,” Harrison said during the CoMoUK conference. “Many things seem far fetched until they aren’t and I believe the same is true for shared mobility.”

I’m only aware of Minister Trudy Harrison’s position thanks to Motorious’ Steven Symes, who has been tracking the issue and likewise tied the U.K. plotting to what’s been happening on the Western Coast of the United States:

If you think this plan is limited to just the UK, you haven’t been paying attention. There have been other efforts to make private vehicle ownership a thing of the past, including a new measure in Southern California. The 2021 Regional Transportation Plan passed recently by the San Diego Association of Government’s board of directors is a $160 billion initiative just for the metropolitan area to boost public transportation.

That’s a hefty price tag for such a small area, so one of the ways officials have been planning to fund it is by levying a per-mile driving tax against citizens. That was such an unpopular move it was shelved, for now. But I have a funny feeling that driving tax is going to be revisited. Critics say that and other fines, fees, etc. are designed to nuke personal vehicle ownership for all but the wealthy. Expect to see similar measures in other cities and maybe entire states/territories in North America and beyond in the near future.

As unpleasant as politics are, if car enthusiasts and really everyone who enjoys going where they please when they please in their privately-owned vehicle don’t start taking a stand, our freedoms could be severely restricted in ways many have thought weren’t possible. Failing to do something to stop this push will end poorly for just about everyone.

Still, I am exceptionally pleased to say that some have been heeding the above advice, especially after it seems like I spent a few years complaining about this stuff in relative isolation. Despite routine pushback from government and corporate interests, the right-to-repair movement has grown exponentially with a clear interest in defending personal ownership rights. Also, one of the primary reasons San Diego failed to pass the mile usage tax unchanged was partially due to intervention from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association — a nonpartisan association of individuals, businesses, and organizations who promote effective and efficient government benefiting taxpayers.

The group claimed San Diego’s Regional Planning Agency (SANDAG) lacked accountability and was attempting to push through sweeping initiatives that weren’t in the best interest of the citizenry, citing a particular absence of transparency in how the Regional Transportation Plan had been handled.

“While the association recognizes the importance of SANDAG and understands that addressing challenges as one region is largely more efficient than each agency working alone, we express concern over potential inequities and under-representation at member agencies,” said President/CEO of San Diego County Taxpayers Association Haney Hong. “The purpose of SANDAG is to serve as one regional hub to address our collective challenges, but there is no current requirement or consistent practice for board members to consult with their municipal colleagues in a structured, public way at their agencies. There needs to be a formal, transparent process before coming to the SANDAG board room by which each of you, as representatives of your agencies, collect input from your fellow municipal elected leaders and the constituents you collectively represent. Without debates at your member agency, there is no assurance that you are not simply voting for your priorities.”

Bipartisan support for these kinds of issues (which the San Diego County Taxpayers Association has) will be essential because all parties are now trumpeting the green horn without really taking much time to consider the ramifications of the relevant policies or what the public actually wants. Swinging back to the United Kingdom, Ms. Harrison is actually a Conservative Member of Parliament. So is Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and he’s been championing new road taxes and reducing private vehicle ownership since he was elected as London’s mayor way back in 2008.

Their party (or at least Johnson faction) currently believes it can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has already committed billions toward funding ways of encouraging citizens to walk or bicycle. It has also decided against ruling out a U.K. provision to effectively ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2030 and hopes to make it legal for people to ride e-scooters on public roadways ASAP. Having driven in Los Angeles, where the streets are awash with suicidal e-scooters and the city has dumped billions onto go-nowhere transpiration or mobility projects, I cannot personally think of anything less appetizing.

[Update 12/29/2021: A number of readers have claimed this article doesn’t cite enough Western leaders and/or cities to be valid. Therefore, I’ve decided to remedy the matter. Incoming mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, is implementing congestion-charging in Manhattan to decrease driving. Cleveland’s new mayor, Justin Bibb, has suggested converting existing car lines into protected bike lanes and having new zones where cars cannot go as part of of his sweeping “people over cars” initiative. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has similar promised free bussing as a way to discourage personal vehicle ownership. Granted, these things can be seen as positives and I’m all for people getting some exercise. But I have also seen all of the above, minus Adams, explicitly mention that it would a good thing to have fewer people owning vehicles. Meanwhile, automakers have been proposing new business models revolving around the concept of shared ownership (spoiler: they own the car if you don’t) for years.

One Sunday per month, Paris bans cars from the entire city. London currently bans private cars from certain downtown areas. Oslo has been gradually eliminating public parking to discourage people from owning cars. Madrid has even gone so far as to ban all older cars in a hilarious attempt to reduce pollution but has has actually forced citizens to buy new vehicles that would not have otherwise needed to be manufactured.

The United States is currently where Europe was a couple of decades ago, when the continent started introducing vehicle restrictions, widespread congestion charging, and new taxes designed to discourage driving. On the one hand, major cities did see a decline in vehicle ownership. But it ultimately just made the point of entry higher, making cars exclusive to well-heeled urbanites. Plebian consumers could skimp and save up for that 1.3-liter shitbox. But those wanting something with a bigger engine and comfortable legroom needed to be well-heeled. That strikes me as decidedly unfair, unproductive, and ultimately un-American.]

[Image: Karl_Sonnenberg/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Downunder Downunder on Dec 31, 2021

    Welcome to Amsterdam. Park your car, if you can afford it, and on yer bike! Welcome to New York City, can't afford a car, on yer bike and get mown down by a yellow cab! Welcome to Oregon, just chill out dude! Welcome to San Francisco, your apartment is at the bottom of the hill, and work is at the top. Good luck.

  • Kurkosdr Kurkosdr on Jan 03, 2022

    Of course, all those mayors, governors and MPs who want to make car ownership a thing of the past defend the right to ride on private cars themselves because using public transport jeopardizes their safety, tee hee.... And then all those career politicians will be wondering why "populism" is on the rise again.

  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).