My generation will be the one to ditch car ownership - and I'm delighted
Car ownership is already on the wane in some western cities. But my generation - I’m 18 – is predicted to be the one that will hammer the final nail in the coffin of private vehicle ownership far more widely. I reckon the predictions are spot on for many reasons including cost, huge shifts in social values and probably most important of all - new technologies.
First, a few statistics. A study commissioned by the Department for Transport found that between the early Nineties and 2014 there has been a 19% drop in the number of 17-20 year-olds with a full driving licence.
For 21-29 year-olds, the drop is 12%. Although that doesn’t bring us up to date, expert opinion is that the trend has continued in the past five years. That suggests that (in the UK at least) we’re approaching “peak car” – the point at which individual ownership of cars starts to go into reverse.
Other stats paint the same picture. My generation makes fewer trips by car per person than our predecessors in the Nineties. But for me, this is not at all surprising – and I’m about to explain why…
Cost: if you’re young, Uber’s probably cheaper
To get a licence, you’ve first got to learn – and that’s expensive. The AA charges £25 per hour for lessons. On top of the lessons there is the £23 theory test cost and a fee of up to £75 for the practical one.
But insurance is the real blow. Insurers say their statistics prove that younger drivers are the most accident-prone, and so they hike up premiums for the lower age-groups.
To insure my 2006 Honda Jazz it costs £1,548 for comprehensive cover for the year (and that’s using the black box tracker technology which is supposed to bring premiums down!). I bought my car in 2017 for £1700.
For some young drivers the insurance premium can even be higher than the value of the car itself. The reason for this is that if I’m at fault in a collision, the insurer will have to pay the costs of the other people involved in the incident – not merely cough up for the damage to my own battered Jazz!
If the cost of learning and licensing yourself and buying the vehicle and insuring it still hasn’t put you off from a cost point of view, let me now point out car-parking charges, petrol, MOT and road tax.
How many Uber journeys could I take for all the money I spend on car ownership?
Ok, so I’m not a perfect example. But I’ll do the sums anyway. I failed my test twice and needed about 25 hours of lessons to get through on the third attempt. With the exam fees wrapped in, it probably cost about £1,000 to get licensed. My car cost £1,700. Then add on top insurance coming in at £1,548, road tax at £120 and MOT at £40. Grand total: £4408
Looking at my Uber history, the average journey price is £9.45.
If I’d spent every penny with Uber, instead of on a car I never use, I would have been able to take 466 journeys in that first year.
Inconvenience: driving’s a bore – I can’t get anywhere fast and I can’t use my phone while driving
Working in central London means that during the week I never drive. I commute via train – and that’s not cheap either.
The bottom line is that my car goes nowhere: it is simply a very expensive means of keeping a patch of Croydon road space free of rain.
For many others my age the situation is the same. Students and young workers tend to commute more on public transport (or by bike) as high costs of car travel coupled with congestion make these options more convenient.
The only time I have to drive is on the weekends. But with the increasing traffic and the dread of not finding parking, I’d often rather not.
And what about my phone time? In case anyone hasn’t noticed, my generation wants to watch movies and post on Instagram. That’s one for the train – not behind the wheel.
Shift in values: my generation doesn’t find cars cool – why would we want one?
Cars used to be a status symbol, a symbol of coming of age and a giant step forward in independence.
Cars are boring. If you gave my friends £1,500 and asked them to choose between a top-spec £1,499 IPhone Xs or a £1,295 2005 3 door Renault Clio, I know exactly what they’d go for.
Another factor is that it’s taking longer for my generation to reach many of the significant milestones of becoming an adult. Education costs more and so does housing. We’re staying put for longer, and if that means begging lifts with mum and dad – or driving their cars – so be it. We’re not living in the culture of sixties US movies where all the teens are driving around in sports cars.
I’m not the only person of my generation to be more concerned about the impact of their transport on the environment than our parents’ generation. Again, research commissioned by the Department for Transport found that 18-34 year olds were the most likely age group to say they were walking and sharing lifts more often years because of concern for the environment.
It was reported that in the eighties Margaret Thatcher allegedly said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus, can count himself as a failure.”
If indeed she did say this, she could not have been more wrong. Buses in various forms are proving increasingly popular. There are even privately-operated bus services now operating along busy tube routes in inner London, servicing the type of clientele Thatcher would probably approve of – affluent young professionals who need to get into the City and want to use their phones as they do so.
Numerous app-based services give access to a vehicle at the touch of a screen. The most famous, Uber, allows you to summon a car to your location in minuets, caps the price of your journey and enables you to share with other passengers to lower the price. If you want to drive yourself there are car sharing clubs which you can join such as DriveNow (created by BNW and Mini) which operates in 13 cities across Europe. The best known of these services is probably Zipcar, which operates in over 50 cities across Europe and North America. It makes the claim that “each Zipcar takes over 10 personally-owned vehicles off the road”.
Autonomous driving will also help kill off ownership
We haven’t got there quite yet but what will happen when the streets are full of cars capable of driving themselves?
The one thing that most experts agree on is that if and when that happens, you won’t have vehicles sitting around – like mine does – slowly and expensively falling apart. Autonomous driving will push shared usage to ever higher levels, because the self-driving cars will be able to serve passengers 24 hours a day.
Cab firm Addison Lee said it hopes to release self-driving taxis by 2021, so it seems that commercial passenger firms are already heading down this route.
Private vehicle use will not die out entirely – but it will be different. I reckon my generation, if we own vehicles at all, might do so via syndicates – where we own part of a vehicle shared in our street or neighbourhood community, or possibly through a workplace scheme. Perhaps we’ll profit from other passengers using the vehicle through the night, for example, or at other times when we’re not wanting it ourselves
One thing I’m sure of is that in my lifetime I’m not going to have what my parents and their generation have: an expensive metal box that for most of the time goes nowhere and serves no purpose other than to store an umbrella and sweet wrappers.