The ‘future’ is here, yet again

New urban transport ‘solutions’ continue to appear thick and fast. Supposedly revolutionary, all of them are strangely familiar to that failed mode of urban transport, the private motor vehicle; or at least some kind of ugly hybrid between it and a personal mobility scooter.

I wrote last year about the Toyota ‘i-Unit’ and GM’s ‘EN-V’, both very silly forms of transport. The latest arrivals – which unlike Toyota and GM’s creations are more explicitly car-like – include the $12,5000 ‘Hiriko’ –

and Renault’s ‘Twizy’ –

What these vehicles have in common is an assertion that they are ‘green’ – because they are electric – and that they will make congestion, and the hassle of driving in city centres, a thing of the past. Renault say

Ideal for around the city, Renault Twizy always finds a way through the traffic!

And the Hiriko is

designed to give city dwellers the freedom of individual transport, without the stress of tailbacks and endless searches for parking spaces.

It’s not clear to me how these vehicles, which essentially amount to cars – albeit small ones – can avoid tailbacks, or find a way through them. I have yet to see a Smart car managing to extricate itself from a queue of motor vehicles – at least, not legally. These vehicles will be stuck in queues, just like every other car, despite being snazzy, small and electric.

The Hiriko does have the minor advantage of folding up slightly so you can just about squeeze three of them into one parking space, but this is hardly a ‘revolution’. The sad truth is that we shouldn’t be endlessly re-hashing and re-branding a mode of transport that has had, and will continue to have, extraordinarily deleterious effects upon the urban realm, and should concentrate instead on proven modes of urban transport that, while not as technologically exciting, are proven to work. Namely, walking, cycling, trams and buses.

As I wrote last year, we already have a ‘vehicle’ that allows face-to-face interaction, can travel at speeds of up to 20 mph, is compact, energy-efficient, allows your children to go to school independently, can negotiate with pedestrians, and is a fraction of the cost of these stupendously over-engineered and technology-crammed devices. The bicycle.

It’s fun too.

Street Critters

Picture by Amsterdamize
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15 Responses to The ‘future’ is here, yet again

  1. SteveL ( a Bristol Traffic team member) says:

    Notice how the e-car photos don’t show anyone on a bicycle or on foot in the pictures, indeed, no white van half on the pavement, a line of traffic or anything else you would encounter in a modern city.

    On a brighter note -compare with the notion of “Urban SUV”

  2. Sim-O says:

    I’ve never understood how they can be marketed as ‘traffic busters’. As you say, unless they’re no wider than a motorbike they’re gonna join the back of the queue.

    Wasn’t the Smart car advertised as being able to find a parking space anywhere, too? Only it was shown parking in a small gap between two cars, nose against the kerb, which is of course, illegal.

      • Myself and CycleGaz spotted a SmartCar parked on South Lambeth Road like that once 🙂 Think I got rid of the footage already….

      • GrumpyCyclist says:

        I often see a smart car parked on Stoke Newington gyratory “nose-in”. I assumed, since it was often there like that for days, that it was legal as long as the width of the parking space exceeded the length of the car.
        You are right that these types of “personal urban transport” aren’t going to beat queues, or indeed change the road layout since we still need wide lanes for those not driving these cars such as buses, vans and lorries. It does all seem slightly pointless aside from the ability to park in a smaller space.

      • Sim-O says:

        It’s illegal because of not having the correct ‘markings’ on the car when faced side on to traffic, just like it’s illegal to park on the right hand side of the road facing the traffic.

  3. monchberter says:

    And yet the average person still seems to aspire to buying the biggest, most powerful car available to them. I am certain that the average size of cars has increased substantially over time (OK, America may be the exception here), just look at a 1980’s Volkswagen Golf or Polo compared to the new models, and the less said about Range Rovers the better!

    Why this is important, is that on the whole the UK’s roads are not getting any wider and cyclists aren’t getting any thinner!

    • Sim-O says:

      You’re not wrong, cars have got bigger, part of this (and it is a small part) is due to all the safety gear they have to fit, side impact bars and such

      • Mike Chalkley - Chair Bournemouth Cycling Forum says:

        Interesting point – these are not classified under the same rules as ‘normal’ cars and so do not have to have side impact bars, crumple zones, air bags etc. Our local council looked at getting some 4 seater electric vehicles but decided they didn’t want their staff out on the roads in something lacking these safety features.

      • Sim-O says:

        I was replying with regard to normal cars, the new Mini is such a mis-named motor.

        But yes, these electric/funny little vehicles are a little lacking in the safety area.

  4. Paul M says:

    For those of us who are getting on in years, or can’t face the longer commutes anymore, you might also have mentioned E-bikes or “pedelecs” – might cost as much as a grand to buy new, but no tax, no insurance, no parking charges. And a lot cheaper than a Twizy.

    Those of us getting on in years might also remember that we have, in large part, been here before. One of our neighbours had a “Trojan” – a three-wheeled “bubble car” with its door at the front and the steering column attached to the door. You could park one of those nose-in and step straight onto the pavement. There were a few Messerschmidts around as well – similar proposition but tandem seating and covered by a perspex canopy cannibalised from the wartime fighter if the same name.

  5. Just get the marketing guys onto electric bicycles: “atom-powered electro-green-commuter”, no expensive insurance, negligible running costs. Or get another slogan for normal bikes “powered by oxidising renewable and sustainable adenosine triphosphate”.

  6. As others have said surely an e-bike/trike would be the easy win here? A much better “traffic beater” in that they can actually avoid traffic rather then just be a slightly smaller component in it and you get the benefits of very low running costs and free parking. One of the other helmet cammers I caught up with a while ago was on an electric assist bike and he was happily going along at 15-20mph with very little effort (made catching up with him after a “discussion” with a phone using WVM fun….). I’ve also see fully electric scooters and motorbikes which have the same kind of benefits without the speed cap (electric assist is max 15mph)

    As for the cars getting physically bigger I think part of that is down to new safety regulations that mean you have to have crumple/deformation zones and minimum distances between bonnet and top of engine to reduce the damage done with hard car collides with soft and squidgy human. That along with the fact that the populous is getting physically larger so need more room to use their cars. Which make them fatter so they need larger cars….

    • Vocus Dwabe says:

      Sad but true. My wife and I – both skinny 60-somethings – have a Citroen C1 for when we can’t cycle, while the family of obese 40-somethings across the road have a massive 4×4 which does gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon. But they have no choice: about one and a half of them would fit into our weedy little car, and that only with the aid of Vaseline and a shoe horn. For them the personal transport options are either an SUV or bariatric mobility scooters with reinforced suspension.

      I recall Steve Bell’s cartoon back in the 1980s of the annual conference of the National Association of Dinosaurs with the audience of diplodocuses standing up to their bellies in a swamp chanting “Bigger bodies an’ smaller brains!” while a little shrew-like creature in a corner held up a placard “Think small and hairy.”

  7. Lorenzo. says:

    Love that photo (‘Picture by Amsterdamize’), especially the two boys in what looks like a Bakfiets. No one is wearing a helmet either.

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