The RAC's annual report on motoring shows that '...it now costs 18% less in real terms to buy and run a car, including fuel costs (and 28% cheaper excluding fuel costs), than in 1988.' (see reports here and here). This is despite the large and rapid recent rise in fuel prices, though figures I dug up on the history of petrol prices show that even these aren't that unprecedented. I've long been pointing out that motoring has become cheaper not more expensive and made the point again in the recent debate online about residents parking (in fact seeing the RAC figures reported today sent me hunting through my archive of old news clippings - thus the two scanned illustrations in this post). Contrary to the facts most car owners (60% according to the RAC) think motoring costs have risen, though their view has probably been skewed a lot by sudden fuel cost increases.
Cheaper motoring is why we have more people than ever owning a car and more two car and three car households. One report on the RAC pronouncements says '...the number of households with a car has grown 39% over the past two decades from 14 million to 19.5 million. The number of households with two or more cars has almost doubled from 4.3 million to 8.4 million, and the number of drivers has increased to 33.7 million from 26.1 million.'
Not only has motoring become cheaper but at the same time travelling by bus and train has become very much more expensive (by around 50% in real terms has been reported - see here for an example). The fall in the cost of motoring is not news to me. The rise in the cost of public transport isn't either (I remember quoting a 50-70% rise in bus/train travel costs from the Dept of the Environment graph, scanned in here, when campaigning in the 1990's for instance).
It should be no surprise to anyone, given this key incentive to own and run a car (along with key factors such as cheap flights...) and disincentive to take the bus or train, that we are continuing to fail to address: climate change; air pollution; noise pollution; land take for roads; congestion; parking chaos; deaths on the road...and more. Carbon dioxide emissions are 1-2% higher now than when the current Labour Govt came to power, they plan to build hundreds of miles of new roads, plan to widen motorways and are seeking a delay in meeting the latest EU air quality requirements.
People are still highly attached to their cars. The govt see this of course and are wary of upsetting voters (Gordon Brown may abandon or delay the planned 2p rise in fuel duty just before the Glasgow East by-election for instance). Few issues stir people up, as recent debates and demos show, more than the cost of fuel or the cost of parking...Seems to me that far too many people (politicians and the public) are not facing the truth either about the reality and urgency of issues like climate change or about what the cost of their motoring is or what it should be. The incentives are upside down - we need much cheaper public transport and much more expensive motoring.