Nano and the eliteIn the Sunday TOI today, Swaminathan Aiyar analyses the opposition of many environmentalists to the Tata Nano, saying that "Elite greens own cars, but cannot stand the poorer masses becoming mobile, since the consequent congestion will eat into the time of the elite! More logical would be a protest against big cars that use more space and fuel, or highly polluting old cars. Instead, green hypocrites aim at a new car with the lowest cost, best mileage and least emissions."
Though I broadly agree with him, I don't understand how the "elitism" argument can be avoided with some of the "solutions" that he mentions as having been implemented in other places. These solutions revolve around making the use of cars unaffordable, such as making parking costly, allowing purchase of cars only to those who own private parking spaces, making fuel costs reflect their real value and so on. These will definitely deter people from using cars, but in these conditions, who are the people who will still be willing to shoulder that extra burden - again the rich and elite, right?
There are so many dimensions to this problem: pollution, public transport, traffic congestion, public spaces, to name a few. It would have been really revolutionary had the Tatas come up with a feasible electric car (Top Gear didn't think much of the REVA). That would still not have solved the congestion issue. Deterring people is fine, but what is the alternative? I don't like using a car in a place like Pune, whose narrow baby-roads are not meant for heavy traffic, and would love public transport successes of the likes of Indore (friends from Indore also confirm this) being replicated here. But it still seems to be a far cry away. Perhaps the situation will get so bad that the governments at all level will be forced to act.
Finally, there's the problem of aspiration: to many, on par with going abroad is the feeling of owning a car, a psychological boost to their ego. How do you decouple that from the economic burdens of a car, however small?