Thursday, 6 December 2012

On Peak Car, Prime Time TV And Turning Down One Minute of Fame

Earlier this week, an interesting report was published. On the Move: Making Sense of Car and Train Travel Trends in Britain” featured joint research commissioned by the RAC Foundation, The Office of Rail Regulation, the Independent Transport Commission and Transport Scotland. The report, of which more anon, considers the phenomenon of Peak Car, but this post isn’t about the report, it’s about the BBC.
bbc logo In October I’d been contacted by a producer, who invited me to appear on BBC1’s prime time programme Inside Out in a film to coincide with the publication of the report. With a book looking for a publisher, and a story to tell, it was a flattering invitation, but I ended up declining. How come? Three main reasons: first, filming was scheduled to take place at Marylebone Station quite early one morning, which would have meant a complicated journey, with several potential failure points. For something mission-critical (like filming), I'd travel the evening before and stop over near the location – something that the BBC budget did not cover. I was also a bit alarmed by the producer’s plan to do all the filming using public transport. Being a pragmatist, though this is laudable it also sounded dangerous - my take is that you don’t have to own a car, but it can sometimes be necessary to use one (for "car" read “any appropriate vehicle”). If I was making a film at various locations, I might hire a car or van for the day. But perhaps the final reason I declined was that the film would be eight minutes long, and I would get one minute. Although the words "Give Up Your Car" are pretty straightforward, the story and the reasoning can be complex, and I thought it would be hard to do it justice in 60 seconds. Sound-bite culture strikes again! With no control over the content, I didn’t want to risk the carfree choice being portrayed as some kind of weird anomaly, when going carfree can actually be a mainstream choice. In fact, when the programme aired, it was largely ok, apart from some bizarre Star Trek business to illustrate that transport economists can predict anything except the future. As for whether we have or have not reached Peak Car, watch this space……

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