Sleeping in The Car.

The RAC with Fair Fuel Tax have released a report this morning about the effect of high fuel taxes in the UK. Basically, taxes hurt, because they take money which could be used for other things. People have to make choices over how to spend their time and money. This is presented as a shattering observation. Bizarrely, this was most fully reported in the Canberra times.

Motorists in the UK are so desperate to avoid paying for fuel, they have resorted to sleeping in their cars, a report has found.

The study, conducted by automotive services company RAC in conjunction with fuel price lobby group FairFuelUK, found that one in 16 (or 6 per cent) regular commuters in the UK had resorted to spending a night in their car to save money on fuel costs.

6 per cent you say? Well, if that’s slept in their car ever, you can include me… As it is, I’ve no sympathy for people with 60-mile commutes. If you have to drive that far to work every day, move, or get another job, you stupid, masochistic dick-head. There is nothing short of bereavement or divorce quite as stress-inducing and misery-making as a long-commute. This has long been known.

Further to that, one in 32 motorists (3 per cent) had admitted to camping close to work to avoid the drive home.

That’s the same number of people who cycle to work, and we get absolutely no help from the Government, so… fuck ’em.

The report also found that 75 per cent of the 9000 motorists surveyed had used their car less in the past year because of rising fuel costs. 

Yes, that’s the point of high fuel taxes, demand slopes downward. This isn’t an earth-shattering observation. So people drive less on our congested roads. Without high fuel taxes, no-one would get anywhere. This is a good thing.

The survey also found that in the UK there are 2.9 million “ghost cars” that are used less than once a week.

They say that like it’s a bad thing. If you want to have a multi-thousand pound piece of depreciating metal you use once a week, that’s up to you. How many of these are hobbyists cars, classics or sports cars for use at the weekend? How many of those are owned by people who walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work, yet want to see their old mum at the weekend? This stat tells us nothing.

Quentin Willson, national spokesman for FairFuelUK, said the findings showed that the UK government needed to tackle the cost of fuel by lowering fuel duty.

“As a society we’ve never seen this sort of financial pressure put on personal mobility,” Willson said. 

It shows no such thing. Why should “society” subsidise a habit as sub-optimal as daily car use? The school run clogs roads, yet because of cars, it’s too dangerous to get kids to school any other way. Kids remain molly-coddled for longer being driven to work by anxious parents. Parents remain taxi-services until the 17th birthday, and kids don’t have the independence that Dutch children do of getting to the school or friends themselves.

Cars make us fat, miserable. Cars lead to soulless communities without local amenities. Cars kill the local pub. There is almost no social problem to which widespread sole-use car infrastructure has not contributed.  Motorists should pay their way.

The fuel duty raised by the government amounted to £26.8 billion ($41b) in the past financial year, down on the £27.2 raised in 2010/11. The drop, said RAC technical director David Bizley, showed just how much less people were willing to spend on fuel. 

Good. Motorists ARE paying their way. And in doing so, people are finding other ways to get about or are taking fewer journeys. This is a good thing. People deciding to walk to the local shop rather than drive to Tesco’s makes the local environment better.

“People are also telling us that they are facing tough choices about their careers with some now weighing up whether it is actually affordable to commute to work,” Bizley said. 

That’s economics: the study of the use of scarce resources, like road-space at 8-30 am. I’ve always moved to be close to work, because commuting long distances is for fucking idiots.

“And we had a significant number of pensioners telling us that with a fixed income there was nothing they can do but simply cut out social and non-essential trips altogether and even stop doing voluntary work.”

Of course, without the universal, sole-use car-infrastructure, we’d know our neighbors  local amenities would be within walking distance, and the loss of the ability to drive (which happens to all pensioners as they age) wouldn’t be the isolating disaster it is now. All this last paragraph shows is how dependent we are as a society on the car. This is something high fuel taxes are meant to address.

If Quentin Wilson gets his way, journey times will increase, daily gridlock will be inevitable, and he’ll be banging on about the need to build more roads. More roads, more demand and greater congestion at the choke-points (mainly near destinations) lead to greater congestion.

No. We’ve passed ‘peak car’. Society is moving on from the 70-year experiment of organising itself around a single means of transport. Young people are driving less. Company cars are being issued less. Motoring enthusiasts will wail and scream. A few chavs will continue to define themselves by the car they can afford. The rest of us will see the private motor car for what it is: a useful, but increasingly anachronistic tool for getting about, one of many, each one appropriate for different journeys.

This sort of report is the last great wail of a still-healthy industry which knows it’s nearly finished. The great car economy is coming to an end. My guess is the collapse is nigh, and will be occasioned by driverless cars. Once cars drive themselves, I suspect the incentive to own them will disappear. Fleets of autonomous taxis will circulate, to be summoned by mobile phone in a couple of minutes. You could specify the nearest, or if you needed a large vehicle to cope with objects and pay appropriately. As cars are currently in use less than 10% of the time, this would represent a far more efficient use of resources. Algorithms could ensure maximum occupancy, reducing bills for those willing to share. Vehicles, freed from the needs of human reaction time, could communicate allowing bumper-to-bumper travel on motorways, increasing capacity and reducing fuel use. Junctions will be safer, as the risk of motorists not seeing each other during saccades is eliminated. Cars, communicating with each other would be able to move into smaller gaps in the traffic, increasing capacity. Stop-start would be eliminated.

Country pubs will face a surge in business as driverless cars (with wipe-clean seats, probably) will pour you home, full of beer with no need to organize a dedicated driver.

It’s not just people: Reliable point to point courier services could be set up, facilitating a further refinement of just-in-time production. Deliveries, freed from the needs of people’s working capacity and the tachymetre could be arranged around the clock, at your convenience. And all this cheaper than the depreciation and fuel we waste now. This extra efficiency of use in transport infrastructure is where the next wave of economic growth is going to come from.

Soon we’ll be able to sleep in our cars while they’re moving. And you thought I was going to rant about bicycles, didn’t you?

17 replies
  1. @parlow72
    @parlow72 says:

    First up I'll admit, I love my car, it's a fast sleek BMW convertible. However, as someone who travels all over the country for work it is only one part of the transport mix that I use. I would also include 'remote' working in that.
    Over the last month, I've ben in Edinburgh, London, Bristol and Warrington all from a base in rural Cumbria. With trains London and Edinburgh are easy, it makes no sense to travel by car at all. Call it carbon reduction, Health & Safety, work time, or catching up on sleep trains are great. However for the other two it just doesn't work.
    But my real annoyance with public transport isn't in travel to these cities. It's with local transport outside of any cities.
    I lived in Germany for 5 years and I didn't have a car the whole time. Travel to work by car would have taken 15mins, but by bus it only took 20miins and the buses ran every 10 minuets at peak times. The cost benefit of a car just didn't work.
    When I was working locally in Cumbria the car journey to work was about 15 minuets, but this time by bus it was about 90 minuets. And then there was only one bus in the morning (ironically after 9am they run every 15 minuets).
    i understand that it's chicken and egg thing, but public transport has to run to the benefit of the working public.

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    The change will be rapid, because the economics are so compelling. The legal hurdle of autonomous cars is small – insurance companies have said they'll accept the owner/operator of the vehicle is responsible for accidents. If the vehicles are safer they'll cover.

    Wouldn't you rather read a book/work/masturbate than drive for an hour a day?

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This is all great, but given that stamp duty is at 3% and house prices outside of London are going down (and this won't be changing soon given that over 65% of the housing wealth of the country is owned by over 55s who are looking to downsize); selling your house and relocating your family becomes too expensive and risky (especially as kids moving school have no right to go to a school nearby).

  4. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    House price inflation is as bad as any other form of inflation. The British habit of seeing their house as an investment is ridiculous. The Baby-Boomers bought up all the big houses, and now they can't sell them.

    The way stamp duty is structured is obscene (Thanks, Gordon) and I am on record as to being against any asset transaction tax, because it makes the market less assortive.

    So. The Baby-boomers are going to have to accept their house isn't worth what they think it's worth, because they've got all the money. Less money chasing the same resources, they should have sold 5 years ago.

    They've had it good, and should suck it up.

  5. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    Anon@11.21: Whilst I think that autonomous cars may be further off than Jackart imagines, they're probably a lot closer than you think – see .

    I've had similar experiences to parlow72 (although I've never had a fast sleek BMW convertible); since I have been both living and working in London, I have rarely needed a car at all, but when I was working outside of a big city, I had no practical alternative. (For a while, I lived in a village where there was only one bus a day in each direction – so if you wanted to go in the "wrong" direction by public transport, you would have had to stay overnight…)

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Fuel taxes don’t just hurt car commuters, they contribute to the cost of everything including ‘VAT-free’ things like food and clothes, and even stuff bought off the internet and delivered by TNT to save the selfish motorist driving into the town centre to go to the shops. They even add to the costs of the determined cyclist who never had a car and doesn’t want one.
    As for a 60 mile commute by car, I can assure you that a 30 mile commute by car beats a 30 mile commute by train, where you stand for an hour and the idea of reading or working is a pipe dream. In parts of the country a 60 mile commute might even take a lot less time than a 30 mile commute in the South East. The train commute doesn’t obviate the ownership of a car, as getting to a station is a major factor, and that could easily add up to 10 miles each way in the car – 10 miles in which the mpg is at its lowest. Moreover, the minute the ‘rush hour’ is over in the evening, train services start to get infrequent, and if you add 45 minutes wait on a cold platform to the journey time and the walk to the station from work, the attractions of the car to people who work late or unconventional hours (or who carry anything) are even more obvious.
    I once knew a bloke who was prepared to sleep in his car on a regular basis, but he had an erratic home life, and as his hobbies included 24 hour endurance runs and sleeping in hedges, this choice had nothing to do with any commuting.
    One gets to a point in life where changing jobs is easier than changing dwellings, and even if you keep the same job and the same house, the journey sometimes gets longer and further. A new bus lane and a no right turn can put 20 minutes and a mile onto a regular journey. As for the cost of a car, a good secondhand one can be less than a tenth of the price of a new one, and a year’s fuel, together with other running costs, including VAT and other taxes is less than a year’s depreciation on a new car.
    As for the cost of fuel, it is still cheaper than bottled water, which is no better than the stuff that flows (almost!) freely out of a tap. Not that I like shelling out £70 for a fill of petrol, but that also pales into insignificance compared to the cost of parking. (Your cyclist doesn’t have this either, just the cost of a new bike now and then because someone stole the other. I can, however, promise you that the thief was another cyclist, and not a motorist!).
    PS I could do with some advice on getting my 96 year old mother and her wheelchair onto the back of a bike.

  7. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Anon. The car-culture is the fact that many people see no alternative to car ownership, because there is no alternative.

    Once more, for the hard of thinking. I am not suggesting banning, or replacing the car. I just think it's just not appropriate for most shorter journeys.

    Every time I mention transport policy, I get the same idiotic comment. "I need to carry [x]… where's your bike now, eh?"

    Just because you need your car for some journeys, as do I, doesn't mean encouraging bicycle use isn't a good policy.

  8. pete lewis
    pete lewis says:

    I know where you're coming from, Jackart. Broker aren't you? Sleek arse on an ergonomic chair all day. Used todo your job, many yeas ago. Different job then. We dealt face to face, 6 hours a day on the Floor. I used to wear out a pair of shoes every fortnight. Busy session never sat down for a moment. Then back to the office, do the Book. End of the day was an hour commute, standing up packed like sheep. One reason I jacked it in. Get a proper job
    Trouble is, mate, not all jobs are like yours. Shower in the office, somewhere to hang your wet riding togs. get changed. Keep that shiny expensive bike. Just looking at office work. Lot of offices, the personal space is the chair & room to slide into it. It's not employers aren't understanding. It's the cost of office space means they can't cater for someone wants to park their personal transport in the office, use the place as a locker room. And then, lot of people don't sit at desks in offices. Because, believe it or not, there are other activities than shuffling paper. last work I did in London was renovating a block of flats. yep. Drove into Bayswater every day. Spent the day running up & down 6 flights of stairs, middle of winter, no windows in the building. Either dripping with sweat or freezing cold. Covered in cement dust either way. You really think I want to be packed into a tube after a day of that? You think other people want to stand next to me, grinding filth into their clothes?
    Grow up mate & join the real world.

  9. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    And again. Just because you think you need a car for some journeys, doesn't mean everyone needs it for all.

    By all means let those who value the road-space the most use it for their car, but let them pay for it. This is why I am in favour of Pigou taxation: There are social benefits as well as the cost fuel duty comes with less-congested roads.

    Why is it that so many people think that I'm in favour of banning cars? I'm not. I want people to have the choice to feel safe on a bike, if they wish to. Why is it that so many people want to have their commute subsidised?

    Your commmute is making you fat and miserable.

    Besides this post isn't about a bike, it's about the fact that ownership of a car, and the act of driving is about to become a thing of the past because a car will soon be safer driving itself than you are.

    So. Pete Lewis. Thanks for your comment, but please read the post in its entirety before commenting.

  10. pete lewis
    pete lewis says:

    I did actually read the article, Mr Jackart. Your ongoing promotion of the lycra clad horde distracted me.
    "Why should "society" subsidise a habit as sub-optimal as daily car use?"
    "Good. Motorists ARE paying their way."
    Bloody right they are. They pay taxes way beyond anything that's spent on the roads they use.
    OK, let's look at the problem. And the inherent problem is cities. And a lesson from nature. There's a reason land animals only grow so big. It's to do with heat dispersal. The surface area of the skin rises by the square whereas the volume rises by the cube. Eventually an animal grows so big it hasn't got the surface area of skin to get rid of the heat its body produces. Cities have the same problem. Their volume grows by the square. The circumference by pi. So the bigger a city gets the more services & commuters it's trying to push through that proportionally reducing perimeter*. With cities it's even worse than nature because cities can increase their core density. Equivalent to an animal raising its metabolic rate. Making elephants do 8 hour sprints.
    The solution is not to look at commuting arrangements & transport methods. it's to look at the city as a whole. Subsidies are one of the problems. There's amazingly, an element of subsidy given to public transport to enable commuting. Effectively it's a subsidy given to employers to locate in the centre of cities. It reduces the wage levels they need to attract staff. Simply providing better & cheaper public transport exacerbates the problem, not solves it. Inevitably there'll have be goods, services etc there's no alternative but coming in by road. You can't deliver concrete by Metro. So whatever you do there comes a point where the perimeter interface overloads.
    The answers could be a complete redesign of cities, with much higher density housing, so reducing travel needs. Your "live closer to work". But that'd take an enormous societal shift. And that interface problem is still there. Or reduce the size of cities. Stop subsidising employers in the core. In fact, tax them to discourage them. Disperse enterprise to smaller cities.
    Changing commuting patterns isn't a long term solution.
    *It actually helps to see the perimeter as not one but concentric circles reducing towards the core. There are of course inter-urban movements of people & goods.

  11. pete lewis
    pete lewis says:

    Incidentally, just so you know where I'm coming from, my folder lives in the back of the car. Trip's showing 4000km after two years. i use it to get into the centre of cities, parking in the outskirts. That's cities from Amsterdam to Malaga. Round here I use the mountain bike. 20inch wheels & goat tracks don't mix.
    Safer cycling? Got a mirror on your bike? They all had them when I was a kid. Mine are little convex numbers. So I know what's behind. Don't do stupid moves.
    Ever thought of speed limits? Seriously. To a car driver, it's not hard to estimate how fast a car's going. Predict where it'll be in a few seconds. Because they mostly keep to the speed limit & keep around the same speed. Cyclist can be doing anything from 4 to 40 mph. Could be anywhere next time you look. Overtaking? You see them overtaking whilst being overtaken. And a faster one will try & overtake that lot. How about 8mph? Compromise between the plodders & the racers. Like cars have to. Be safer for everyone.

  12. Weekend Yachtsman
    Weekend Yachtsman says:

    "Fleets of autonomous taxis will circulate…"

    Yes, but in very small fleets, and at very high cost. The taxi-drivers' cartel will see to that. You think there won't be any taxi-drivers? You don't know much about local councils, do you?

    Apart from that tongue-in-cheek aspect, I think you're probably mostly correc, though frankly the idea of driverless cars give me the heebie-jeebies. No doubt they'll be fine when brand new and serviced by their manufacturers, but omg when they're four or five years old and odd things start to happen to the electrics, heaven help us.

    And yes, I thought you were going to rant about bicycles; thank you for resisting the temptation.

  13. Anthony Harrison
    Anthony Harrison says:

    I didn't read all of this because I didn't want to hurl my keyboard through the window. What a morass of lunatic self-indulgent smug wrong-headed economically & culturally illiterate twaddle. If Jackart wants to sleep with his bicycle – it wouldn't surprise me, no telling what these lycra fans get up to – that's fine, but he ought to think before committing fingers to keyboard on the subject of, I dunno, most things really.
    The car is a fundamental part of our life, both private and work. Motor vehicles accounted by a large majority for the greatest mileage travelled last year by Britons. Cycling is fun sometimes, but as a practical substitute for going to work, for the huge majority of people & purposes it's not even on the radar.
    Reading Jackart's rants about leather saddles and spoked wheels is like listening to some longbow fan deriding these here new-fangled firearms. Get a life FFS….


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