Car-Unfriendly Cities

By James Wong

There seems to a slew of global onslaughts upon car ownership. Undeniably, we are faced almost universally with higher gasoline prices. But in some cities, gasoline is the least of a motorist’s problems: high crime rates and fraudulent claims have driven insurance premiums to unthinkable levels. In others, you are even charged for entering certain zones in town. We at Autosavant thought it would be meaningful, tongue-in-cheek, to let our readers know just how draconian some cities can be towards car ownership. So here’s a peek into some of the nastiest places to own a car. The list isn’t exhaustive, of course.

London

Ever since London introduced Congestion Charging in 2003, it was a controversy that would remain up till today. It sparked a series of research studies which explored the possibility that it did not help relief traffic congestion at all, instead dispersing the traffic to the outskirts of the charging zone and thus causing more peripheral congestion. Whatever the statistics it might say, it is a dismal situation for drivers: despite the £10 per day charge (about $15.40 USD) to enter the city, driving in London is as frustrating as ever due to the crumbling infrastructure of roads that are narrow, uneven, chaotic and broken – inherited from its rich and illustrious historical development. This means that frequent road works have to be undertaken, a bugbear of London’s drivers especially on weekends.

Coincidentally, London also has one of the highest insurance premiums in the whole of the UK due to incessant theft of cars, break-ins and fraudulent claims. Parking is also highly limited and where available, will be made a cash plot for its owners. It is even commonplace for people to pay around GBP30,000 (USD46,000) to own a private parking lot as they don’t come as standard with housing developments.

Surely, if this is not one of the most unfriendly cities to own a car in the world, it definitely is the most unfriendly in the whole of Europe.

Singapore

This small island city state (687 square kilometres) of 5 million people cannot afford to have everybody owning a car – the road network simply cannot cope. Therefore, ownership is penalised with maximum force, with import taxes set at almost 200% of a car’s actual list price. On top of that, drivers are also made to pay for a Certificate of Entitlement (COE) to drive the car legally for ten years, before they have to buy yet another certificate to drive for the next ten. The COE’s price is dictated by market forces of supply and demand. The last time we checked, it costs at least $39,500 to buy this certificate – just a piece of paper to legalise your driving. The road taxes are also pegged not to CO2 emissions as they should be; instead, they are taxed against the displacement of the engine, with an exponential increase according to engine size. Diesel-powered cars are also taxed 2.5 times more than the equivalent petrol car for no good reason, a thorny issue that has yet seen the light of day by the Singapore government.

That’s not all. Singapore also has its own version of Congestion Charging – dubbed Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). Certain zones of the city are charged at different rates according to the time of day and location. Unfortunately, because Singapore is such a small country, these zones sometimes extend even to the suburbs. They are charged at each gantry, unlike the flat daily fee of London.

Astoundingly, despite of all these costs, Singapore is also one of the biggest markets in the world for exotic supercars.

New York City

It is little wonder that New York City has one of the lowest car ownership per capita in the whole of the United States; the sprawling metropolis is lined by grid-like streets that are almost constantly punctuated with traffic lights and choked full with the iconic yellow cabs. The jams are so bad, I once rented a vehicle to drive into NYC – but abandoned it soon after spending an hour crossing the Lincoln Tunnel. It also has a 24-hour public transport system, which negates one of the benefits of owning a vehicle, which is to get around late at night. With one of the highest population densities in the whole country, most New Yorkers are happy living without a car.

Car ownership and driving is under assault is far more corners of the globe than in these three cities.  Beijing comes to mind, for example.  Do you have any horror stories that you’re aware of?  Please share them in the comments below!

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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6 Comments

  1. Jakarta imposes a 3-in-1 (minimum three people in a car) scheme between 7 am and 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm on working days for many of the main roads in the city. This can be a real pain to find a back way in to reach buildings that you don’t usually frequent, if you don’t have two passengers. There is a way out by hiring people standing at the roadside to make up the numbers – something I would not recommend.

    Apart from this problem be aware, when stopping at traffic lights, or to enter the toll roads, that some kids don’t put a hollow spike in one of your tyres. Of course you will be offered assistance to change your wheel from a big guy a little way down the road.

    When using outside parking in supermarkets, don’t be surprised, despite having plenty of fuel, when you cars stalls. Again you will be offered assistance by someone who knows all about engines and mysteriously that your gas line is blocked, where it comes out of the tank.

    In bad areas don’t open your window, when stopped in a traffic jam and a beggar or someone unknown approaches. You may find a knife at you throat and a demand for your wallet or purse.

    If you don’t have a passenger as a witness, be extra careful to obey all the traffic rules. The policeman who stops you is really not interested in giving you a ticket and he will take such a long time to explain how difficult going to traffic court will be. I have never heard of anyone going to court, but you know what he wants.

  2. I would probably also include Amsterdam on the list. When I there this summer I was blown away at the punitive cost of parking there alone. A 6-month permit for a resident in the center of the city is almost 20,000 euros (http://www.cition.nl/rates_parking_permit), and there is a wait-list that can take years to get a permit from.

  3. San Francisco. Narrow street. Tough parking. High gas prices. “Transit First” mentality. Constant construction. Living in SF with a car can be more of a pain than its worth — especially if you’re paying to garage your car.

  4. I can’t comment on Singapore or NYC, but having lived in London, I really can’t imagine a worse city for drivers. At midnight on a weekday it still takes 2+ hours to drive from Heathrow to the Docklands, and during rush hour you could crawl faster than drive. A friend who lives in Camden had his car torched while it sat in the lot outside his flat building. He didn’t bother replacing the car since driving is just not worth it. Good to be back in the States.

  5. I lived in NYC for nearly a year, and couldn’t agree with you more. Owning a car there is pointless, unless you live in the burroughs. Also, since it is so expensive to park in the city, it is best to take public transportation. I now live in Florida, and actually miss taking the train with the way gas prices are!

    Great post!

  6. I agree NYC is one of the worst places in the world to drive or own a car. Everything is expensive, insurance, fuel, maintenance, parking, traffic is horrendous. I see these bicycles pass me by flying through traffic. Thats why I ditched the car and now I cycle. I am amazed at how such a simple vehicle like the bike has made my life easier and healthier. NYC will launch bikeshare this July 2012 for all new Yorkers. I’m excited for that new method of transportation.

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