Sunday, August 10, 2008

The French (& American) Love Affair with Cars.

No one can deny that Europe has generally a better system of public transportation than the United-States where most cities were built around the car.

As a result, 91% of the adult Americans commute to work using personal vehicles and only 5% of adults nationwide commute to work regularly using public transit. (Bureau of transportation statistics). In European nations, 15 to 18% of daily travel is on mass transit. (Source Pdf) But of course, there are great variations – more people use public transport in the Paris area than, say in the Alps.

Still, if you look at large cities, an average of almost 40% of work trips are made on transit in Europe compared to only 9.0% in the United States. And an addition 18.4 % of workers walk or bicycle in Europe compared to only 4.6 % in the United States. (source Pdf)

France in this respect is typically European.
Yet against all odds the French and the Americans share one thing in common: their love of cars. My take is that the French are deeply as individualistic as the Americans - only they cannot afford to be as much. If you add this love of cars to a (very French) relentless pursuit of leisure and summer vacation, you have the recipe for the perfect traffic jam.

The LA Times has a very good insight of France's August nightmarish roads:
France has a first-class highway grid and, as an alternative, perhaps the world's best railroad network. But traffic is rooted in prosperity. There's the sheer number of people -- tycoons and janitors, bureaucrats and immigrants -- who take vacations at the same time (July or August) and in the same places (southern France, Spain, Italy and North Africa). Geography also subjects France to a simultaneous invasion of sun-hungry Belgians, Britons and Dutch.
Like Californians, the French are attached to their cars despite obscene prices at the pump. (LA Times)

PS: And by the way, the icon used for road information in France in the last 30 years or so is a cartoon character called Bison Fute (Clever Buffalo), "a plucky Native American warrior who fills the radio, Internet and other media with updates on road conditions and safety tips.". (LATimes)


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