The RAC have released their annual report on the cost of motoring
The covering article states
New figures reveal the least well off families in the UK have slipped further into transport poverty.
Around 800,000 car-owning households spent at least 31% of their disposable incomes on buying and running a vehicle in 2012, the latest year for which official data is available.
In the previous year they spent 27%.
These very poorest families (with the lowest tenth of household incomes in the country) had a maximum weekly expenditure of £167.
But there is something we need to be careful about here and it’s the statement ‘car-owning households’, because in this lowest tenth of households that is being considered only 30% of them even own a car. In all likelihood much of the other 70% can’t afford to run a car at all.
These figures correlate well to a survey in Merseyside which found 60% of household in the poorest areas do not have access to a car.
If, as the figures suggest, the cost of ownership is increasing for the poorest at the same time as car ownership is increasing then there must be another factor influencing the situation. The most obvious factor would be that the unattractiveness of the alternatives has a greater influence on behaviour than the cost of ownership increasing. So what is unattractive about the alternatives?
Well, common reasons given for people not walking or cycling is that it does not feel safe, subjective safety is a big issue and one that simply isn’t being addressed in the UK. In 2011 Transport for Greater Manchester conducted a survey and the top three barriers to entry for cycling all concern bicycles having to interact with cars
The other alternative to the car is public transport, this following graph makes it quite apparent why people are not incentivised towards public transport
It leaves us with a strange situation where the very poorest face increasing public transport costs which many can’t escape because of the high capital cost of car ownership and the subjective danger posed by walking or cycling.
In Liverpool in particular it doesn’t help that our 20th century mayor has removed all the bus lanes on a whim, increasing journey times for public transport users, directly making life more difficult for the very poorest. The increased commuting times limiting their employment horizons.
Nevertheless, some of the lowest tenth do scrape together enough to buy a car as we can see car ownership in that group is actually increasing over the last ten years
No doubt the RAC / Fair Fuel will use these figures to call upon the government to relieve the burden on the ‘hard-pressed motorist’, their favourite method is usually a reduction in fuel duty. But such a reduction is not directly helping the poorest in society, it doesn’t help anyone who can’t afford to buy a car in the first place. Indeed if the reduction saw a drop in duty collected then it could almost be considered as a subsidy by the very poorest to car owners. A fall in revenue would require either taxation elsewhere or cuts to spending, both of which often affect the poorest disproportionately.
The best solution is of course to provide a system that is free at the point of use, to undistort the market in surface transport that has seen a century of neglect for walking and cycling while the car gets all the benefits. Provide an environment in which people feel it is possible to walk and cycle safely from place to place. A solution that liberates them from the burden of car ownership, liberates them from working 4 months of the year just to pay for the car to take them to work. The real independence of being able to go anywhere at any time and not worry about the cost of it, not the pseudo-independence offered by the motorcar which is often just another burden helping to trap people in poverty.