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Electric vehicles won’t solve the suburbs' transport woes

Electric vehicles have been touted as the dream technology to solve our suburban transport challenges and rescue us from oil dependence and environmental threats. Yet technology use occurs in a social…

People in the outer suburbs - who need a cheaper alternative for their long commutes - are unlikely to buy electric vehicles. Steve Kay

Electric vehicles have been touted as the dream technology to solve our suburban transport challenges and rescue us from oil dependence and environmental threats. Yet technology use occurs in a social context. Almost no discussion of electric vehicles has addressed the uneven suburban social patterns among which electric vehicles might be adopted.

The evidence that my colleagues Neil Sipe, Terry Li and I have assembled suggests the socio-economic structure of Australian suburbia, in combination with the distribution of public transport infrastructure, constitutes a major barrier to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, especially among the most car-dependent households.

Relying on electric vehicles as a solution to energy and environmental problems may perpetuate suburban social disadvantage in a period of economic and resource insecurity.

Australia’s five largest cities are the most car-dependent national set outside the United States. Our previous studies (Dodson and Sipe 2007; 2008 have shown that outer suburban residents, especially those with lower socio-economic capacity, are among those most exposed to the pressures of higher transport fuel prices.

Future transport fuel costs are likely to be even higher (currently oil is approximately US$100 per barrel). Unconventional oil sources such as shale or tar sands may be abundant, but they have much higher production costs than conventional light crude. Their current production boom is underpinned by expectations that global oil prices will remain high or increase further over the long term.

Higher oil prices and the need to constrain carbon emissions will likely lead to much higher transport fuel costs than have prevailed in the past decade.

Electric vehicles are often presented as the most likely way to resolve this transport conundrum. Australia’s 2012 Energy White Paper alludes to a transition to electric vehicles as the economy of conventional fuels wanes.

Much of the Energy White Paper and the rhetoric around electric vehicles assumes an unproblematic transition - consumers will change their behaviour in response to price pressures. There is little discussion of potential barriers and impediments to this comforting, convenient narrative.

It makes sense that households who are most car dependent and least able to afford higher fuel prices would be the most eager to switch to an electric car. But, it turns out, the social structure of Australian suburbia means these groups are poorly placed to lead such a transition.

In our study of Brisbane we created datasets linking vehicle fuel efficiency with household socio-economic status. In our analysis, high vehicle fuel efficiency, including hybrids, serves as a proxy for future electric vehicles. We linked motor vehicle registration data with the Green Vehicle dataset on fuel efficiency, plus travel and socio-economic data from the ABS Census.

Our analysis builds a rich picture of how the spatial distribution of vehicle efficiency intersects with suburban socio-spatial patterns, using Brisbane and Sydney as case studies.

We found that the average commuting distance increases with distance from the CBD while average fuel efficiency of vehicles declines. So outer suburban residents travel further, in less efficient vehicles, than more centrally situated households. Outer suburban residents are also likely to be on relatively lower incomes than those closer in.

The result is those living in the outer suburbs have relatively weaker socio-economic status but are paying more for transport. For example, one-third of the most disadvantaged suburbs in greater Brisbane also have the most energy-intensive motor vehicle use.

A socially equitable transition to highly fuel efficient or electric vehicles ought to favour those with the highest current exposure to high fuel prices. Yet our research finds it’s not likely to happen.

Outer suburban groups also own the oldest vehicles in the fleet - they can’t afford newer ones - and this also contributes to poor fuel efficiency and big transport bills. The newest most fuel efficient vehicles are more commonly purchased by wealthier inner-urban households. They can afford the car, but have less need of the efficiency because they don’t travel as far. If such patterns are applied to electric vehicles, their high cost and novelty status means they’re likely to also be taken up by this more advantaged group. Any subsidies offered to spur their uptake will be largely captured by the wealthy.

The implication of our analysis is that the intersection of new fuel and vehicle technology costs with the social and travel patterns in Australian cities mean that suburban households face continued socio-economic stress even as these new vehicles become more widely adopted in Australian cities.

So if new technologies such as electric cars aren’t the solution, how can we secure suburban households against higher fuel prices?

We need a sustained strategy to redress the grossly inequitable supply of public transport to our suburbs. We also need to decentralise our cities, getting jobs and services out into the suburbs and reducing the distances people need to travel by car.

Electric vehicles may be fantastic technology but they risk heading up a cul-de-sac of real suburban vulnerability.

The full paper on which this article is based can be downloaded for free until 6 March 2013.

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68 Comments sorted by

  1. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    I wonder, to what extent would better public transport be increasingly accepted as fuel prices rise? You need a lot of capital to buy a new electric car, but a train/tram/bus ticket is very affordable...

    I realise that public transport won't allow the kind of flexibility of movement of a private vehicle, but that very flexibility may, increasingly, become a real luxury in future.

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    1. Citizen SG

      Citizen

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Hi Felix,
      i daresay that you're right. The paucity of public transport in many areas will hurt thos ein outer suburbs in the short term but I would have thought the immediate solution to transport woes would be more (electric) buses and less attempts to reproduce an existing flawed model of expensive personal transport.
      Major modification to urban infrastructure should have been considered prior to urban spread, wasn't, and will likely take a generation to fix, I'm speculating.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Quiet Rush

      Yeah - here in beautiful downtown Canberra, where we mostly built on the flat and it dosn't rain that often, any two-wheeled form of transport is reasonably attractive.

      The bike path system isn't perfect, but it's being worked on.

      Being allowed to stick your bike on the front of the bus (or maybe tram in a few years' time, if we hold our nerve!) also helps: bike from home to interchange, bus/tram from intyerchange to interchange, then bike to work...

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    3. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Quiet Rush

      I have been riding my (never to be registered) 450w e-bike for 2 yrs now, leaving the car & the stress, cost, time lost, & less than optimal health behind with it.

      Its is very viable & has so many positives the only reason it is not running out the cycle shop doors is the lack of consumer awareness, negative stereotyping form ignorant cyclists, & very poor regulations that limit e-bike power to senior citizen levels.

      The lack of thinking outside the square isnt helping either.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Ben Buchanan

      I'd suggest that the electric car, like any technology is 'morally/socially neutral' - it won't of itself help lower SES people (sorry - ugly phrase, but you know what I mean) but that, of course, is no reason to discourage it.

      What we need are better means of distributing resources. Given that we all have to breathe the same air and survive the same climate, the notion of providing substantial assistance to poorer folk to change to better technology is far from being merely an act of charity! (Didn't someone once use the phrase 'enlightened self-interest' - might be useful here...)

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    2. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Ben Buchanan

      Exactly! Well said.

      The illogical result of Jago's argument is that we should do nothing until the poor r no longer poor.

      Good luck with that one....

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  2. David Jones

    Engineer

    Similar comments about the social inequity of solar power subsidy schemes were also made. Supposedly lower socioeconomic groups would not be able to afford the capital outlay and the subsidy schemes would become another middle class welfare fraud.
    That has not happened. What has actually happened is that take-up of solar power has been particularly strong in many rural and regional areas (where incomes are low) and within cities the take-up has been relatively lower in more affluent areas.
    "As average postcode Median Family Incomes, Median Household Incomes and Average Salary and Wages increase, the number of solar PV installations per 1,000 households falls" From the Seed report for AEMC. http://www.aemc.gov.au/Media/docs/Seed%20Report-7bd0cf9b-1f0f-4ac1-a238-0c078ca74316-0.pdf

    The outcomes for electric vehicle take-up will, no doubt, be different but they may still be surprising.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to David Jones

      Good point David - it wasn't particularly the upper middle classes at all - but, equally, it wasn't exactly the poorer renters either - more lower middle class and working class house owners with sufficient wits to spot a deal that was good for them personally, particularly in the mid-term, but ALSO good for the whole society in the longer term.

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  3. Dr Graham Lovell

    logged in via Twitter

    Despite the title, I wonder whether this article is really about electric cars, or about public transport.

    It seems a very limited analysis that uses "high vehicle fuel efficiency, including hybrids" as a proxy for future electric vehicles. Here we are talking about relatively high cost vehicles.

    If we had a VW style revolution in car making, it is likely that a low cost electric car could be produced. Just as in pre-war Germany, such a vehicle could be taken up by those on lower incomes (and…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Dr Graham Lovell

      So long as we get an electric beetle rather than an electric Trabant, that would be wonderful!

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    2. Karsten Mohr

      Cat Herder

      In reply to Dr Graham Lovell

      I think the article is a combination of EV, public transport, the concentration of the work force in the CBD and how urban planning has failed leading to the traffic congestion most cities in Australia now have to deal with. Seeing people commute from Geelong to Melbourne CBD was a worry, who wants to spend hours a day getting to and from work? I dont, I moved and changed jobs so I can walk 5 minutes to work, not spend close to 2 hours a day driving.

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    3. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Karsten Mohr

      I drove 8 yrs from Geel to Melb. After 1 week it was obvious the 1.5 - 2 hr one way commute was going to do me in. within a wk i found that leaving at 5:15 in the blessed AM was required to achieve a hassle free high speed (100-130kmh) run to Mt Waverley (in only 75 min). 5min slower going home at 3pm.

      Saved petrol, pollution, & stress.

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  4. Christopher Webber

    IT Guy

    I live in the outer outer suburbs mainly because I like it there but also becaus I can't afford to live closer to the city and this article makes a lot of sense to me. I wanted to buy an hybrid vehicle until I drove one (a Prius) and found it moved like a heavy slug (especially around corners) and cost about twice as much as I wanted to pay for a car for very little benefit - you can get the same fuel economy simply by buying a smaller car, so that's what I did. People rarely mention just how expensive…

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  5. Henry Verberne

    Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

    To me it is clear that the EV is just a side show to the wider problem of high care dependency caused by the inadequate planning that has characterised most of the growth of the outer suburbs.

    This is an issue of social equity as the long-established but expensive inner suburbs are well serviced. A quick fix is neither desirable nor possible. I agree with Seamus that this sort of issue will take decades to fix, unfortunately.

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    1. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Sorry that should read "high car dependency"!

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  6. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    "Electric vehicles won’t solve the suburbs' transport woes"
    It all comes down to how far ahead you try to look. If the rapid changes happening around the world in communications have shown us anything then it is the compounding effect of convergent technologies.
    The electric vehicle is one technology. The accelerating development of driverless cars is another. Put the two together and the whole paradigm of personal transport changes.
    We are still a long way from this occurring (perhaps 10 to 25 years) but it is certainly close enough to start considering the potential for enormous change.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car
    http://www.templetons.com/brad/robocars/rod.html

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  7. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Something overlooked is the number of roads that need to be built and the cost involved as the suburbs extend forever outwards.

    At over $1 million per kilometer, roads are very expensive, and a road may only last 10 to 15 years. The residents of a suburb may never pay off the costs of building and maintaining their roads, leaving that for someone else to pay off.

    Also roads and car parking space can take up 30% of the area of a town.

    Obviously the best system would be to reduce the outward spread of the suburbs, but I don’t think the ponzi demography industry would allow that.

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  8. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Don't know what it is with a blind advocacy of electric vehicles, but all too often common logic seems to fade away. Yes the EV produces less emissions, however, its real efficiency(in a true clean living sense) depends on where it gets its battery re-charge from. If it is a normal three pin wall plug, where domestic power is usually delivered from a distant coal fired plant(say for most Australians), then the EV is in fact a coal powered device. The fact that atmospheric emissions don't come…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Garry Baker

      I think you're right about the battery issue being the key problem, as others have mentioned. In fact, it's the biggest problem still with renewables.

      It's not that current options are hopeless, but they are very much the weak point in the whole system. Nonetheless, I still think they're good enough for now to get started on transforming electricity generation and personal transport. There are quite a few interesting new ideas on the drawing board or being piloted, and the power of new technological development when real effort and money are put into it can be very impressive.

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    2. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Garry Baker

      This is quite a furphy.

      "Electric vehicles can deliver transport at an energy cost of roughly 15 kilowatt hours (kWh) per 100km. That's five times better than our baseline fossil-car, and significantly better than any hybrid cars." -- David MacKay, Sustainable Energy -- Without The Hot Air. http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c20/page_127.shtml

      Taking into account CO2 emissions from coal, a battery-electric vehicle charged from 100% coal-fired electricity car is lower in emissions…

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Thanks Jonathan - great points - and I think you're dead right, if we recycl batteries properly, despit some additional expense, we start to get control of the battery issue while we develop newer forms.

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    4. Matt Smith

      logged in via email @lorikeet.com

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Your furphy is a furphy because it depends where you are. Here in Perth, ~70% of our electricity is generated from gas, so an wall-charged EV is definitely cleaner than petrol. From PV on your roof, and you're even cleaner...

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    5. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Matt Smith

      I'm not sure who you're furphying here! ;-)

      If the worst-case Latrobe Valley scenario is not so bad, of course the relatively clean electricity of gas-fired provinces such as WA and SA is better!

      State-by-state emissions intensities for the eastern states are here (scroll down a bit for a graph) :

      http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Settlements/Carbon-Dioxide-Equivalent-Intensity-Index

      Very very low in Tasmania thanks to hydro, moderate in SA because it's all gas and wind (pardon me) and…

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    6. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      My understanding is that SLA batteries r currently mass recycled. The lead is reused, not sure about the plastic though or how the liquid is dealt with.

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  9. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Secondary Bio Diesel, sourced from suburban waste, including garden waste as well as gargage, combined with the very efficient diesel engined vehicles defeating electric vehicles on costs, might be the future.
    Lock in the NBN internet superhighway and the implied reduction in the need to drive and some sort of sustainablity might be achievable.
    A bit of International Greens style grass-roots democracy would also be needed to make this come to pass in the face of wild-eyed conservative paranoia in local councils but the benfits to economic and social justice would be immense.
    Too much technophobia about to be optimistic but hope never dies.
    Shining some light on the constant warring of opposed vested interests might show a path to the sort of peaceful progress that could be made.
    ( for those in the know; the four principles working together...)

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  10. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    Electric cars WILL NOT free us from fossil fuels.

    Electric cars require base load electrical power to re-charge them.

    Base load electrical power, for the forseeable future, is dependant on coal firered power stations.

    Coal fired power stations are dependant on diesel powered trucks and ships to get the coal from the quarries to the hoppers in the power station.

    If there is no oil then there is no diesel fuel.

    If there is no diesel fuel then coal fired power stations will cease to generate electricity.

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    1. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Energy is fungible and (at a cost) storeable. Most economies are indeed dependent on oil today, but we need not remain so.

      Electric vehicles inherently incorporate energy storage, of the mobility requirement.

      Most cars are being actively driven less than 10% of the time. The rest of the time they are parked. Most cars are parked within a few metres of the existing electrical supply. Electric vehicles could conceivably be charged wherever they are parked, whenever there is excess grid supply…

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Indeed, and using vehicle batteries to store energy from your solar PV during the day when you're probably at work and not using much power makes sense - all you really need is batteries that are rasonably easy to remove and install and a spare or two and you can have your spare battery charged off your PV during the afternoon and just swap it over with the tired battery in your car when you get home from work...

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    3. Dr Graham Lovell

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      This argument might sound attractive, but it could not be more wrong.

      Electric cars will free us from oil-based fossil fuels, as far as this mode of transportation is adopted.

      Wind power is produced irrespective of the demand, so creating demand during the off-peak (i.e. overnight) will mean that the wind-power will not be sold into the NEM for next to nothing. This will make wind more viable, and likely to replace even more coal-fired generation.

      A similar argument can also be put for…

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    4. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      There is already a geothermal test plant planned for Geelong. There enough convertible geo-power under Geelong to power Australia for hundreds of yrs. Of course it will only power Victoria.

      Concept phase & testing has proven successful.

      "Greenearth Energy expects that the demonstration phase of its hot rock geothermal project will result in a power plant with the capacity to produce 12 MW of electricity. The subsequent commercialisation is expected to increase the capacity of the plant to 140…

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    5. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Robert Attila

      I wish Greenearth every success. I haven't been really convinced by deep-hot-rock drilling (so many ways for it to fail or fall foul of reasonable community objections -- it's just like fracking, but in much tougher strata and for a relatively meagre return) but if they can make it profitable, more power to them.

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    6. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      The major hurdle for GE & the 50 other similar companies in Aus is funding.

      This technology has been producing baseload power for over 50 yrs in Europe etc.

      It new here with only a couple of very small operations producing pwer atm. And with the world economy teetering they r having a hard time coaxing existing & potential investors to commit more funds.

      1-2 companies r very large in comparison & have the funds so they may pave the way with their projects, thus opening the flood gates.

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  11. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    Electric or hybrid technologies make good sense in high-mileage vehicles, such as taxis.

    Then again, cars in general make more sense as taxis. Far less cold-start wear and air pollution per km, far better use of the embodied energy and other resources used in making the car, and far higher safety because the driver spends the day tuned in to the task and also acquires far more experience.

    And if you don't want to drive, why would you pay for a driverless car when you could take taxis when you…

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    1. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      How do you react to a driverless car on the road, as a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian?

      The road is not like a railway line or an air route. Road traffic is a constant social interaction (heavily constrained, but social nonetheless),, negotiating space and indicating intention. Most of this is done in ways other than use of actual indicator lights or anything of the sort.

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    2. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to John Harland

      While interacting with other drivers may indeed be "social", I fear the limited ways that facial and hand gestures contribute to safe traffic movements are entirely dispensable. Indicator lights and actual vehicle movements are the only clues you can rely on at night or with high sun glare ... cyclists are already well advised to treat all cars as unpredictable inhuman black boxes at speed.

      I fully expect driverless vehicles will be driven more cautiously and consistently than any human driver could do, and that the accident statistics will bear this out wherever they're allowed on the road. Indeed they already do.

      http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2142063/Google-Driverless-Cars-Shockingly-Safe-Efficient-Infographic

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    3. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Rubbish, or r u kidding?

      You could say that about all jobs lost when outdated technology was replaced, such as the farrier or saddler.
      So drivers loose their job? Big deal. Lets hold world evolution back so that a few people keep outdated jobs. Brilliant.

      You realise of course that YOU have put typists out of jobs with YOUR s/w. How is that different??

      Amazing.... LOL

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    4. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to John Harland

      Current technology in Europe has already addressed this issue, & their testing has shown on real roads with real traffic that their driverless cars work.

      Just make sure they arent run with Microsoft software...

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    5. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Very true.

      When cycling (or driving) i watch drivers faces when i can & always ready myself to take evasive measures in places that are busy or around shopping centres or whatever seems dangerous.

      This has saved me many times from other driver errors.

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    6. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Robert Attila

      Yes, I was kidding. The primary motivation of the designers of driverless vehicles is accident prevention. So many of us have lost love ones due to human error behind the wheel.

      Let's just say that I think replacing paid drivers is a more compelling economic motivator for early adoption of driverless cars than sending a personal car to park itself (bye bye valet parking) or fetch the kids (whatever is wrong with the good old school bus?).

      The people "put out of a job" (or more accurately, whose job has been made easier) by MY software have been, variously, navy divers, publishers (well, I worked on web browsers for a few years), the people paid to throw away junk mail, security guards and fraud analysts. I'm fairly sure publishing is the only one of those careers which is in serious decline, the others are doing just fine.

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    7. Robert Attila

      Business Analyst

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      Nice to know. ;)

      I'm also in IT, but a jack of all trades (bit of coding (Access/VB), concept work, hardware, whatever it takes in my very varied roles. 25 yrs in IT & Business & i'm still just scratching the surface of the knowledge out there in these fields.

      Yes, only limitation is our imagination as to how driverless cars will help human kind in the future.
      As long as they keep the technology (or more likely the system) simple the less chance of technical error. unfortunately just like aeroplanes there will likely be some glitches (accidents) along the way. But a price worth paying considering the drastically reduced death/injury toll that will ensue.

      I really think the stress relief alone will not only produce massive health benefits for workers, but also therefore for the health system & economy.

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    8. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      In other words, your mind is closed to the idea.

      Your privilege, but don't misquote me. I did not speak of facial and hand gestures, although they do play some role.

      I have the experience of driving heavy vehicles, small and large cars (including taxis), and bicycles. For the most part, the strategies for being seen and noticed are far more similar than different. People don't always notice heavy trucks or buses, either.

      Cars being driven are not inhuman black boxes, they are human-car cyborgs. The cyborg can do more than a human being in some respects, and a lot less in others, but its behaviour is organic and follows comprehensible rules. The behaviour is at least as predictable as that of people walking or riding a bike.

      If you treat car-drivers as inhuman you deny yourself the chance to communicate or to understand their behaviour. Of course they then seem unpredictable.

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    9. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to John Harland

      It is also worth stressing that everyone is at risk on roads. It is not a matter of everyone picking on cyclists, or ignoring them alone.

      Far more people are killed in car/car and car/pedestrian than in car/bicycle crashes.

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    10. Jonathan Maddox
      Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Engineer

      In reply to John Harland

      How so "my mind is closed"?

      Please do not say I have misquoted anyone where I have used no quotation marks. I mentioned hand and facial gestures by way of example only.

      I believe it's highly probable that automated vehicles will continue the impressive record they have begun of performing more safely than human-driven ones in statistical terms. If they do this by successfully imitating the dominant "cyborg" behaviour in most cases, fine. If the nature of traffic does become a little less…

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  12. James Hodgkinson

    logged in via Facebook

    It's interesting they only note that the cars are "less efficient" - is this partially a cultural thing of the outer suburbs leading to the purchase of larger or more powerful cars which are inherently less efficient?

    I know with longer commutes people would rather be in a slightly bigger car with more comfort - not to mention space for the larger families that inner-city people don't normally have.

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    1. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to James Hodgkinson

      in that short trips by conventonal motorcar are disproportionately high in cold-start air pollution and fuel consumption, the priority is, surely, to change to electric the cars of all the trendies and hipsters who insist on driving short trips around the inner suburbs.

      The advantages of electric cars disappear on longer trips with little stop-start traffiic.

      If we really care about efficiency, it is vehicle occupancy rates,, driver attitude and skills, and trip aggregation that can make the really big differences.

      Reducing leadfoot driving and crash rates would make a huge difference in themselves. Somewhere around half of the lifetime resource input to a car is embodied in the making of it and large parts of modern cars are written off in even minor crashes or overhauls..

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  13. Nicholas Carydis

    Student

    Your reasoning does not logically lead to the conclusion that electric cars should not be adopted. While what you say may be true, once the technology becomes mass produced, researched and cheaper it will inevitably be taken up by more people. If electric car research had not been sabotaged by the fuel industry all those years ago, we'd all be driving them today.

    I agree with Dr Lovell; your discussion is aimed at public transport issues, not the adoption of electric vehicles.

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  14. Connor Pearce

    student

    I would just like to point out that another issue with electric vehicles that hasn't been canvassed is how they wont work to reduce congestion and inefficient use of space through parking. Unless electric cars come in much smaller sizes to accommodate the majority of car trips being done by one person or a shift in car use patterns occurs EV will not solve transport issues in urban and suburban areas.

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    1. Quiet Rush

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Connor Pearce

      Connor's raised a good point which is overlooked in the article, but is equally important as a contributor to urban congestion. The form factor (size) of the vehicle doesn't change much regardless of whether it's ICE or EV powertrain. Similarly, neither of those options require any activity by the driver, creating a health burden arising from sedentary hours in the car. I wrote about this exact issue after the 2012 HunterEV Festival as a brief critique of the 'SmartGrid-SmartCity' initiative here…

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    2. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Connor Pearce

      They are also at least as dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists; usually being heavier, and quieter.

      Remember, though, that it is primarily the fan noises at the front, not the exhaust noises at the back, that make the difference. The last thing most of us would want anything like those bloody reversing beepers on every electric car whenever it moves.

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    3. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Quiet Rush

      Strongly agree, Mr rush - as noted above, the option to carry your bike on the inter-interchange bus/tram/train is really important.

      I attended a great session by Prfessor Peter Newman in Canberra last week, realted to our hoped-for light-rail system. He spke about the Perth system, with which he is most familiar and which he had a fair influence in developing - and noted that very few train passengers were direct walk-ons: most had caught a suburban bus (or walked a fair distance!) - often at…

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  15. Chris O'Neill

    Retired Way Before 70

    "The result is those living in the outer suburbs have relatively weaker socio-economic status but are paying more for transport."

    If you know anything about second hand car prices then you'll know that less fuel efficient cars, e.g. Commodores and Falcons, depreciate much faster than more fuel efficient cars.

    Result: those with less means are more likely to buy less fuel efficient cars because they cost less both up-front (second hand of course) and (with current fuel prices) overall.

    "We…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Bravo - Peter Newman has pointed out that you could largely pay for light or heavy rail simply by collecting higher rates from those whose properties were made more valuable precisely because they were located conveniently to public transport.

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  16. Jonathan Maddox
    Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Engineer

    The crux of the article is socioeconomics.

    The first tranche of electric vehicles is either very small or very expensive compared to what suburban people drive. Let single people and those with scads of money enjoy their toys as they always have. They will sell them on in time.

    The gradient from efficient vehicles in the inner city to inefficient ones far away is *entirely* socioeconomic: it's down to family income and family size, both of which determine where you can afford to live, rather than vice versa.

    All the inefficient vehicles we outer suburbanites drive are second-hand purchases from the higher-income tiers inwards.

    Give it a decade.

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  17. Jonathan Maddox
    Jonathan Maddox is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Engineer

    This is unconventional, but I'm going to cross-post something someone just said in a different, older article here on The Conversation.

    Quiet Rush commented:

    "One of the things that eBike retailers notice is that each time fuel prices ratchet up a new increment, their phones start to go crazy with enquiries from folks wanting to know more about eBikes as an alternate to a car. For some people, depending on trip length, carrying capacity, load and skill levels, they're a very viable (and much…

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    1. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Jonathan Maddox

      "Paradiigm locked" is a lovely way of describing the difference between attitudes I experienced in The Netherlands from those prevalent here.

      My uncle, an older man who loved his cars, would drive on the weekend, take the train to work during the week, walk around the immediate neighbourhood or ride his bike into the village.

      He had no political agenda. That was simply normality and good sense in his part of the world.

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  18. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Can commenters be enticed from their narrow enthusiasms to consider the 10KW molten salt (solar powered) engine for vehicles developed in WA several decades ago by and Italian engineer who unfortunately died before the project reached fruition, as reported in The Australian?
    Intrigued?
    That would be a true sign of the supposed skills and intelligence purported in the various comments.
    The drive train of the vehicle involved expansive gases and thereby mimicked steam technology which does not need expensive gearing.
    No longer intrigued?
    Yes, it does take something of a wide application of knowledge to comment wisely in this field.
    The debate so far?
    Empty and egotistical posturing from intellectual pretenders crowing on their own tiny dunghills.
    No standing on the shoulders of giants for this lot.
    That is the price of specialised knowledge.
    A real impediment to debate. Ignorance that is.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to James Hill

      James, alternatively, you could just have mentioned this technology, given us a good refernce to where we could find out more and see what happened.

      Instead, you decided to presume you'd get a negative response, simply because you were projecting your negativity onto others.

      Put more simply, if you've got something positive to contribute, great, let's see it; if you just want to vent, why don't you piss off?

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  19. Robert Attila

    Business Analyst

    The ultimate solution will likely provide the best of both worlds, flexibility of private transport + efficiency/lower per unit cost of mass public transport.

    Sci-fi movies show glimpses of what this may look like.

    EG. Small computer driven hydrogen/electric powered vehicles that automatically take you to your destination. On long distance runs your car would drive to the nearest mass transport (railway-like) line. Similar to driving your car onto a train track from Melb to Geelong (80km…

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  20. Matt Smith

    logged in via email @lorikeet.com

    It seems no account has been taken for the technology adoption and innovation cycle. Read Clayton Christensen's "Innovator's Dilemma", and try again! He described clearly how a new technology is often more expensive than the one it replaces, and is not for everybody. Yet it will eventually supersede its ancestor due to its inherent advantages, and find its way out of its initial, exclusive market.

    You can't analyse technology adoption with a static model!

    This may be why those horribly expensive…

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  21. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    With regard to the widespread introducton of new technologies, the example of Henry Ford might be useful.
    Intially approaching the banks for finance for an affordable vehicle, he was repulsed with the advice that "Poor people, Mr Ford, use horses and carts. Rich people drive cars".
    Persevering, Ford was eventually able to double his workers' wages, allowing them to buy the vehicles they built, increasing his market for affordable vehicles.
    The other auto-builders, who produced vehicles only the…

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  22. Bradley Pattieson

    Student

    I agree with this article in the fact that I understand that currently the only market that is realistically capable of purchasing electric vehicles may be those with higer income and not so much the lower socio-economic families that travel further distances. That would be ideal. Public transport is one answer to those who have to travel further distances, even though in the state it is in its not the most enjoyable or reliable experience. But is it such a bad idea that only those within Melbourne…

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