Why public transport should be as sexy as the latest Tesla

Jul 21, 2021

People tell me that the chapter on electric cars in my new book Mother of Invention is FRUSTRATING.

I guess I can understand why.

It’s all about how electric cars were considered “feminine” when they first emerged 130 years ago and how this contributed to them disappearing. A “real man” should drive a smokey and noisy car was the idea. The quiet and clean electric was largely marketed at women. This held back the size of the electric car market.

Because men were assumed not to want to drive a “boudoir on wheels”…

Readers of Mother of Invention have reported back to me that some of the facts in this chapter made them want to BANG THEIR HEADS on the table. WHY do we let these RANDOM ideas about masculinity hold us back in these STUPID ways?

Electric cars are an example of something that used to be perceived as “feminine” that has now gone the other way. Today more men than women drive electrics and Mr Elon Musk has of course done his bit in making electric vehicles “manly”.

(Watch him show off the “bulletproof” Tesla Cybertruck for case in point)

Of course it’s great that we have gotten over our ideas that electric vehicle’s are unsuitable for men (and all the other things that made us dismiss them).

*slow clap*

But the way electric cars are increasingly presented as something of a silver bullet to fix the climate emergency is actually becoming a problem.

The other week Christian Brand, Associate Professor at Oxford, wrote about how focusing solely on electric vehicles is actually slowing down our race to zero emissions.

We keep comparing electric cars to petrol and diesel and yes, they are a lot better. But why aren’t we comparing electrics to other forms of transport?

Buses, trains, walking and cycling?  

Christian Brand goes on to say that in the UK as many as 50% of car journeys are less than five km and could be replaced by active travel: biking or electric bikes (which allow older or less fit people to cycle). So why isn’t this happening?

Well, the roads are built for and dominated by cars… It’s just not safe in most areas.

Electric cars are obviously a part of the future of transport. But we also need fewer private vehicles as soon as possible and we need to be honest about it.

To achieve this we will need investment in affordable, reliable public transport and also provide safe pedestrian and cycle routes.

That’s not really happening.

Instead, in the UK almost £400 million has been cut from local bus funding in the last decade alone. Yes, the focus on making sure all new cars are electric by 2035 is great. But why not introduce the same international targets that stipulate city centres should be car free by 2035? (Like Hamburg is already doing)

It would require that we’d change our idea about that we all have a “right” to access every building in a city by private motorcar. But why is that wrong?

A figure that has really stuck with me lately is that of the Walt Disney Concert Hall build cost: $274 million to build, BUT the underground parking structure accounted for a whole $100 million of that total figure!

So yes, there’s a lot of money and space to save.

Still, public transport isn’t as sexy as the latest Tesla…

Why?

Does at least some of this have to do with gender?

There are indeed some profoundly unhelpful ideas about that “successful men can’t go on the bus”. Also the whole concept of having a private vehicle that you ride alone is very tied up with a particular notion of western “masculine” freedom. Plus, public transport is in general used more by women than men globally.

So are we blinded by these things? Just like we used to be blinded by ideas that electric cars were “feminine”?

When you say “people won’t accept switching their private cars for public transport”, do you mean “people”, or do you mean “men”?

It’s worth thinking about isn’t it?

Maybe there will be a future Elon Musk-type making buses all manly and desirable…

Just hope it happens soon enough.

Happy Thursday!

Katrine

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"Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored In An Economy Built For Men" is published in the UK in June 2021. 

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