Back in the 1890s, if you had sat down with a farrier or stable keeper, and told them that within 30 years their entire industry would mostly disappear, they would have probably reacted with a mixture of disbelief and anger. Yet, that is exactly what happened. Between 1890 and 1930, car ownership in the USA went from 0% of households to 60% of all households. Saturation of car ownership decreased as a result of the Great Depression and WW2, but between 1945 and 1960 it jumped from 47% all the way to 80%, and then slowly peaked to the current 92% of households with cars. Today, just over a century after the mainstream debut of the personal automobile, horses are a luxury hobby item, and no longer a mainstay of personal transportation.
We are currently in the midst of another paradigm shift, one which unique conditions in the Comox Valley may well accelerate faster than in other areas. The first sign is the phenomenon of car sharing companies. Car sharing started off in 1948 in Zurich. Despite some early formal car share programs in Europe in the 1970s, successful car share programs didn’t really take off until the 1980s and 1990s. Since then the whole concept has achieved exponential growth with a most recently estimated 1.7 million car share members in 27 countries. Car share member to car ratios are as high as 75 people per car.
This shift to shared car ownership, combined with the growing popularity of cycling as a primary short distance form of transportation, and an aging demographic where the share of the Comox Valley population over 80 (and mostly non-drivers) is set to grow from 4.6% to 7.4% by 2031, is all going to result in less cars on our roads. Combine this with the rise in sales of electric vehicles, which will comprise at least 35% of all cars on the road by 2040, and we are going to see a radical shift in traffic patterns and how our transportation infrastructure is used.
Now is the time to begin to plan for these inevitable changes in the fabric of our society, and to start making prudent transportation investment choices including bike lanes, charging stations, and more, much more, transit.
Andrew Gower is a partner and Courtenay branch manager of Wedler Engineering. He volunteers with several local non-profits and is passionate about the Comox Valley’s sustainable future. He can be reached at 250.334.3263 or www.wedler.com.