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The view from behind the wheel 7

I am in the unfortunate, if entirely of my own making, position of spending quite a lot of time behind the wheel of a car, simply because I live in Riga and work in Jurmala. This combination does have one advantage that the drivers of cars going (or rather not going, as is more commonly the case) in the opposite direction do not have - I travel twice a day against the flow of the worst of the traffic. Needless to say, I generally feel quite smug about this, so it came as something of a shock the other day when I had to go to school and then drive straight back into town, placing myself firmly in the worst of the rush hour traffic. I was horrified at the prospect, but tried to calm my shaking hands by reminding myself that some people do this every day, and thinking about the reduced chances of fatal accidents at speeds that rarely get above twenty. In the event, the drive back into town was just - well, boring really. You sit in traffic with nowhere to go and nothing to do and watch your fellow drivers watching you. And looking around, I realised that the same is also true for the majority of other drivers: in a situation that seemed the height of frustration - to be stuck on the way to work, when people have tasks to get to and important things to do - everyone seemed to accept their fate with a calmness that was frankly astounding. In a city that is not famed for the good manners, or patience, of its drivers, it appeared that the regular morning drive had reduced all of them to the same level of dumb acceptance that one expects from sheep.

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I, on the other hand, entertained myself by noting how many cars were carrying passengers and how many had lone drivers. It was not a very scientific survey, and although I did my best to remember which part of the line to my left I had already counted, I cannot guarantee that I did not count any of them more than once. However, even accepting all that, the result was fairly conclusive - 82 percent of cars transported a driver and no one else. The maths is simple - if all of them shared the drive with one other person there would be 40 percent fewer cars on the road. I ranted about this for a couple of days to any poor soul who was close enough to be talked at before I started to consider the facts. The first of those being that I was in a car on my own. Admittedly, my situation was unusual and I had not been alone in the other direction, but then how many others were also not on a regular daily routine? Even with logic working overtime, though, there must have been a sizeable proportion of those drivers who drive at the same time and in the same direction on most workdays, and surely the simplest thing that any of us can do is to try and share a drive with someone else, whenever possible. Quite apart from helping the environment, reducing journey times, allowing freer access for the emergency services, saving petrol money and other practical reasons, I couldn't help noticing that the cars with several people in seemed to be full of living, animated, human beings as opposed to the sheep-people who travelled alone.

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Ruby Helen

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Ruby Helen

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Mark - to Dace 31.10.2007 21:13
The current blindness to global warming and the environment in some parts of the world (and Latvia is not alone - read Dainaš comment on Vancouver) is worrying. Also short-sighted, moronic and as simply stupid as the comments of that minister (which he shares with the Russian president). Towards the end of my survey, I thought that I was starting to see some correlation between the size of the car and the number of passengers - it seemed that a humble Ford Fiesta was likely to have several people squeezed into it, whilst the SUVs were more likely to be piloted by a lone sheep; doubtless hoping to disguise his/her lack of imagination behind a large and (I suspect this is important) expensive metal shield. More research to follow on both this and AAs question!

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Daina 31.10.2007 20:14
82% doesn't sound all that bad - over here in Vancouver you rarely see people sharing rides, all the houses have more than one garage (ie. more that one car), and the cars people own are HUGE. Additionally, the tax on petrol is minute (my friends complain when the price increases beyond 0.9 CAD or so ) and rush hours rarely turn into traffic jams because there are so many highways. The environment? What's that? No one seems to care. It's quite sad, isn't it?

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DaceA 30.10.2007 22:41
This story reminded me of 1997 in Sweden where green people already then coordinated trips to the same meetings so that they would not use unnecessary resources and not polute the environment. Counting the cars with people sharing the drive or driving alone was also quite a regular activity among these cirles and still is. I would want to see the reaction to this green line of thinking in Latvia where we have a transport minister who once said that global warming was a great thing for northern Europe because more people would come to the Baltic beach... Surely, this kind of breed also cares little for trying to share the ride for the sake of environment, and sees little incentives to buy a more environmentally-friendly cars (smaller: consuming less petrol).

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AA 30.10.2007 20:42
Hey Mark, how about an argument that a passenger can safely enjoy a drink? If you take it up with your friends and/or fellow sheep drivers, do please report back about the results ;)

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In loco parentis 4 Autors:Mark Case