Car-free days a flop because of cheats

Riley Riley

Car-free days started back in the 1950s because of shortage of fuel.

These days they’re still held around the world, but for the opposite reason — to reduce pollution.

It was a good idea but it flopped because it’s too hard to police and because too many people cheat.

Back in 1956 that the first car-free days started in Belgium and The Netherlands.

Every Sunday between November 25 and January 20, 1957 cars were banned from the roads of these countries in a response to the Suez crisis which blocked shipment of oil.

The Suez Canal which links the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean via the Red Sea was closed from October, 1956 until March, 1957 after Israel invaded Egypt.

From 1973 to 1974, again due to an oil crisis, Denmark had car-free Sundays from November 25, 1973 to February 10, 1974.

Then, in 1981, East Germany held the first German car-free day and so on and so on.

These days World Car Free Day is celebrated on September 22, a time when motorists are encouraged to give up their cars.

But these days the focus is more on climate change.

Currently Bogotá in Colombia holds the world’s largest car-free weekday event which covers the entire city.

The first car-free day was held in February, 2000 and has been institutionalised through a public referendum.

While car-free events have attracted media attention, they are notoriously difficult to organise, requiring broad public support and commitment to bring about change.

Closer to home, Car-less days were introduced in New Zealand on July 30, 1979.

The legislation was one of several unsuccessful attempts to help kick start the Kiwi economy after the oil crises of the late 1970s.

Owners of privately owned, petrol-powered motor vehicles under 2000kg with the exception of motorcycles, were required to refrain from using their vehicles one day of the week — that day elected by the owner.

Thursday was the day chosen most frequently.

Each car displayed a coloured sticker on its windscreen which noted the day on which it could not be used.

Hefty fines awaited those who did not comply.

Other restrictions were also brought in, including reducing the open-road speed limit from 100 to 80km/h as well as restricting the hours that petrol could be sold at service stations.

Legend has it the first person to be fined was Gordon Marks of Christchurch, who forgot after a big night out that the “car-less day” had started at 2am.

However, he was fined $50 rather than the $400 maximum.

In hindsight, journalist Richard Griffin wrote: “It was a bit like drunk driving — if you could get away with it you did. There was no stigma attached . . .”

One of the major drawbacks of the scheme was ready availability of exemptions.

In fact, a black market for exemption stickers quickly developed, rendering the scheme unworkable.

Two car households could simply choose different days for each car and continue to drive on all seven days just like before.

Not surprisingly the car-less days scheme was highly unpopular and largely ineffective, and lasted less than a year.


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