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UK traffic levels fall for first time in decades: Motor firms head for crash

Jane Merrick, Brian Brady and Ian Griggs; UK Independent
The ‘great car economy’, championed by Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties, faces its biggest challenge

Traffic on Britain’s roads is decreasing significantly for the first time since the three-day week of the early 1970s, suggesting the car economy is heading for a crash, official figures revealed yesterday.

In a sign that the country is already in recession, fewer car and lorry journeys on motorways, rural and urban roads were made over the last six months compared to the same period a year ago.

The Department for Transport (DfT) recorded two consecutive quarters where road traffic has decreased year on year – the first time for more than 30 years. If the trend continues to the end of the year, it will hugely undermine the “great car economy” championed by Margaret Thatcher.

At the same time, sales of new cars have fallen by 23 per cent and are at their lowest since 1996.
(9 November 2008)

GM staring into abyss as industry seeks help

Roland Jones, MSNBC
Bankruptcy a possibility, would be devastating to economy, analysts warn

For mighty General Motors, the news could hardly be worse. The nation’s biggest automaker said it lost $2.5 billion in the latest quarter as it was slammed by a slowing economy, global credit crisis and the effect of high energy prices.

The company is now going through cash at a rate of $2 billion a month and says that without help it will run out of money in 2009.

“This is not necessarily the end of the road for General Motors, but they can certainly see the end of the road from where they are right now,” said Aaron Bragman, an automotive analyst at consultancy Global Insight.
(7 November 2008)

End of Suburbia – Australia Style

Sydney Morning Herald
Original headline: Sydney rail coming to the end of the line

Sydney is bursting at the seams but rail line cancellations leave it nowhere to turn, argue Wendy Frew and Linton Besser.
Sydney’s future was at Rouse Hill. Forty kilometres from the central business district, rows of environmentally friendly homes were to be built around a town centre that had all the vibrancy and convenience of the inner city.

In time, the town would become a service hub for hundreds of thousands of people in Sydney’s west, with workers and shoppers leaving their cars in favour of frequent trains running all the way to Sydney.

The vision was duplicated in the south-west. Thousands of affordable homes, new schools and hospitals would be built on disused farmland and linked to the rest of Sydney by 13 kilometres of rail. The then premier Bob Carr pledged departure from the “tawdry efforts” of past housing plans.

“For the first time, we will have infrastructure being pushed into these areas as the houses are getting their last coat of paint,” he said in 2004.

Now this latest version of the great Australian suburban dream has turned to a nightmare. Faced with a gaping budget deficit of $2 billion, the Premier, Nathan Rees, scrapped $13 billion worth of new rail lines linking the central business district with the north-west and south-west growth centres.

… Now the question is what to do with the 400,000 people projected to move to the city fringes. Their future is in jeopardy and the Government’s broader strategy to find housing for Sydney’s booming population is little more than a plan to shove people into high-rise apartments in existing suburbs.

Promised the earth, home owners have been dudded, and successive governments will be left to preside over the city’s decline. “We will end up like Jakarta,” says Genia McCaffery, the president of the Local Government Association.

North-west residents such as Michelle St Heaps are forced to rethink where they work and live. The 41-year-old mother and legal secretary is considering quitting her job in Pitt Street because she no longer can stomach the three-hour daily commute on crowded buses.
(8 November 2008)
UPDATE (Nov 10)
The transcript of David Bell’s (ASPO-Australia) testimony (from p. 41) to the hearing mentioned in the SMH article is now online: INQUIRY INTO THE TRANSPORT NEEDS OF SYDNEY’S NORTH-WEST SECTOR (PDF).

At Specialty Garage, Making Hybrids Even Greener

Felicity Barringer, New York Times
… The only hybrid specialty garage run by a woman has opened in the Bay Area, which has more Priuses — 70,000 as of 2006 — than most states. And while its owner, Carolyn Coquillette, has a preoccupation with cleanliness that may not be unique in a mechanic’s shop, her ubiquitous recycling containers (for paper, plastic, rubber, metal and oil) and the solar panels on her roof set Luscious apart. So does its specialty: giving hybrid owners the option of going fully electric.

Here in the district south of Market Street, a kind of harmonic convergence of early 21st-century trends is achieved as the latest incarnation of the car culture meets the new green culture in a feminist and thoroughly wired setting.

Luscious is a secular temple built to serve hybrids, the cars powered by both an electric motor (most often engaged when starting or stopping, thus most efficient in city traffic) and a gasoline engine (most efficient on the open road). But its owner’s forte is converting them to plug-in hybrids, which are functionally all-electric cars that can go 12 to 15 miles on one charge.
(4 November 2008)