For years, environmentalists and urban planners on both sides of the Atlantic have been fantasizing about few- or no-car city living, in order to make their municipalities easier and safer places to live, while also reducing their carbon footprint.
The mayors of a number of cities, such as Paris, Athens, and Mexico City, have committed their governments to banning cars by 2025. Others, such as Oslo and London, have imposed partial moratoriums and fees on city driving. But such bans are difficult to enforce and politically contentious.
In Helsinki, Finland, a city that prides itself on its civic-mindedness, municipal authorities are looking at the challenge of phasing out the car in a different way: as a matter of efficiency and incentivization.
“It is a fact that on average, a privately owned car is used 4 percent of the time,” says Ville Lehmuskoski, chief executive officer of Helsinki City Transport, the municipal body responsible for the Finnish capital’s public transport infrastructure. “The other 96 percent – the 96 percent of the time when it is parked there sitting around – represents an enormous loss of resources, particularly money and space.
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Is this the end of the automobile as we know it?
No wonder auto executives are fretting about what to do.