Tesla made a profit for the first time in its chequered twelve-year history. This, by itself, is not surprising. Tech companies will often operate at a loss for years, subsisting off of vulture capital funding until breaking even. What is different about Tesla’s news is that this represents a shift in how the public perceives electric cars.
No longer are they novelties exclusively salivated over by tech-bros and geeks. They are becoming the mainstays of upper-middle-class transport options.
Is that a good thing? Or should we be screaming?
The UK government is onboard at least. Want a new low-emission vehicle (read: electric car)? Enjoy your £3000 grant. It makes sense that policymakers want us to invest in electric over petrol. The world is figuratively on fire, and we are responsible in all senses of the word. Cars will likely always be necessary, especially for people in the middle of nowhere or with specific access requirements.
But subsidising the purchase of all-singing all-dancing electric cars feels like a kick in the teeth to someone who has ever had to take a pacer train before. Or for anyone who has had to fork over £20 for a 50-minute commuter journey. Encouraging people who can afford a new fancy car to buy an electric new fancy car doesn’t help the people who need to get to their second job in the next town over.
Public transport is always going to be inherently more accessible than electric cars. You don’t need to buy twenty-five hours of pricy driving lessons to be certified to ride a bus. If there is anywhere that you can’t reach with a bus, train, or bike, the system has failed to make mobility accessible to all. Parts of the country shouldn’t be reserved for those rich enough to have a car.
You don’t need to be a socialist to also support funding public transport over electric cars. Take a look at the dying planet that you’re on and then realise that we can’t carry on with the idea that a hundred people should get in separate metal boxes to all get to the same place.
The green argument is hotly contested though, and authors have made the point that a full car is better than an empty bus. And yes, it would be wrong to parade diesel-guzzling buses around the streets with nobody on them. But these authors are trying to argue that we shouldn’t try and encourage people to take the bus because not enough people take it now. Like, yeah, that’s precisely why we need to incentivise it.
These chicken-and-egg arguments are popular with motor-heads who are scared of giving up their precious cars. It’s a bad-faith argument by people who certainly slap the roof of their car and call it a “good girl”.
Let’s decarbonise our streets, clear the air, and give people the roads back. Electric cars are better than what’s come before. Still, they’re only a slight improvement on a form of transport which is dangerously individualistic, elitist and polluting. Why polish a turd when you could mobilise mobility and improve our urban spaces immeasurably, while simultaneously doing our bit for our fragile planet. Let’s incentivise the future rather than paying lip-service to the past.
Image: James Duncan Davidson