259 | Are we underestimating the value of the private car?

With over 12 million cars on our roads, x-thousand kilometres of road infrastructure, it is convenient to argue that private cars are receiving some type of special treatment. I often ask: where are the sidewalks? Why aren’t they an asset class reported on frequently? If everyone walks, why doesn’t foot traffic matter as much as congested traffic? 

These questions are important, but they highlight how easy it is to allow the moving shadow of justice in the form of accessibility block the broader economic justice issues we face here. Passenger transport vehicles are a critical part of the broader macroeconomic environment, but given their abstraction they are much harder to talk about than their microeconomic equivalents. 

In other words, it’s much easier to talk about intermodal transport, inclusive mobility, accessibility and road safety, for some reason than it is to talk about automotive value chains and industrialisation. 

Whereas, the number of people employed by our current fuel taxes, the impact of the fuel levy on our fiscal health, the livelihoods created in automotive value chains and intellectual capital generated along the way are not part of the anti-car plate. 

Perhaps it is an apple and pears issue, but I would argue that they are both fruits, each perspective crucial to the other— no matter how distant. 

The distance between transport justice and an equitable economy is artificially imposed by training: some see routes, corridors and congestion; others see vehicles, parts and assembly lines. 

It’s hard to tell where we really are from a policy alignment perspective, especially with the import-export dynamics expressing domestic and international consumer preferences. 

But it is clear to see that the economic value of passenger transport vehicles, mostly private cars, is quite industrial. We may be anti-emissions, but we must also face the fact that petroleum industries employ many breadwinners — drivers, technicians, petrol attendants— and in some cases it is part of the regulated fuel price. 

 One natural question could be, why not public and non-motorised transport industries too? (I’ve asked this before.) Although it is probably better to focus on the value and try figuring out how this value manifests itself and embodies a culture which leans into activist professionals shunning unnecessary car use. 

Lately it is becoming more clear that there are certainly local area transport justice issues, but as soon as we zoom out, the industrial opportunities for locomotive, bus, minibus and bicycle manufacturing can not be discounted. However, the current value added by private car industrial supply chains can not be taken lightly. 

Thank you for reading.

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