02 Leadership Viewpoints

Post-COVID Action 2/5: Morph the Automobile Industry into Public Transport Industry

The coronavirus problem is an opportunity — to arrest human havoc.

Why do we need private powered vehicles at all?

During the global coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the use of private vehicles has dropped dramatically, besides that of flights, trains, buses and cabs. And the predictable outcomes have been the reduction of pollution, smog, noise, traffic chaos and carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

The evidence of our eyes, news reports and post-lockdown studies make these changes amply clear. Maintaining this relief to at least half the current levels would be a great outcome. It will deliver many positives for people and our blue marble of a cosmic home.

On the flip side, a pronounced effect has been the cessation of orders for cars, motorcycles and scooters. Many automobile manufacturers were already struggling before the pandemic.

With this impact, hundreds of millions who work in this sector globally could lose their jobs if automobile companies and the associated ancillary industries were to collapse.

Public transport will resume with the end or relaxation of the lockdown in every country. We should subtract the return of cabs as far as possible.

The efficiencies and far smaller ecological footprint of using mass public transport and bicycles have been known for many years now. Increasing their reach within and between cities and extending bus, light rail and bicycle use to the suburbs will make public transport ubiquitous and practical.

So, this is the perfect time to achieve two excellent outcomes in one swoop. Let’s convert the car and two-wheeler factories of the world to produce buses, metros, trains and ferries. It will save auto companies, the jobs of their workers and take us closer to universal use of public transport for moving people around, near and far. And boost ecological recovery.

Now hold on, you may say, how does a car factory start making trains. My reply — we are not changing them to make diapers. The raw materials, tools, production lines, processes, automation and skills are not far apart. It is far better to go this way than letting the car and two-wheeler industries fold.

And if we try forcibly to revive them as they are today, through government assistance and an evangelised return to buying cars and two-wheelers, it will be a lost opportunity to go in the other direction, towards a greener future. It will be criminal, in more sense than one.

Most of those reading this will have cars, and you’re probably proud and fond of yours. It must be the same for those with motorbikes. I have my car too, and it is my pet.

But by Jove, we need to be proud of something else. Proud of having had the good sense to campaign for and invest in metros and buses and trains. Proud of not being too much in love with this possession. Proud we were there when the world decidedly moved towards making a private powered vehicle an oddity.

Do you think this is a good idea? Do you agree that with a bit of redesign, planning and broad public and government support it is achievable?

If you do, pass it on. Outwards and upwards, for the sake of auto-workers, easy breathing for everyone, relaxed commuting and saving our planet and its surviving innocent denizens.


Shashi on LinkedIn

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