Brisbane’s car-free iconoclasts

The motivations of a rebellious class of car-free citizens in the sprawling, low-density city of Brisbane have been investigated by researchers at The University of Queensland.

UQ urban planner Dr Dorina Pojani and former student Hayley Paijmans asked 24 Brisbane residents why they decided to shun automobility.

“Brisbane’s car-free community has plenty of reasons to skip the car – whether it’s ‘going green’, pursuing health and well-being, or achieving convenience and minimalism,” Dr Pojani said.

“Many environmentally-conscious Brisbanites want to reduce their ecological footprint and live in accordance with their ideological stance – they want to practice what they preach.

“This also connects them to the broader environmental movement and a community of people with similar attitudes and behaviour.

“Another tranche of car-free residents highly value their own health, fitness, and well-being, and avoid – at all costs – a sedentary, car-oriented lifestyle, which they regard as ‘unhealthy’ and ‘lazy’.

“Finally, the last major group we came across are the minimalists: seeking to avoid the ‘hassle’ and ‘stress’ associated with driving in heavy traffic, car purchase and maintenance costs, and the time wasted cruising for parking at most inner-city destinations.

“These participants find a car-free lifestyle is ‘carefree’ or certainly much less complicated than a ‘car-full’ lifestyle, allowing them time, freedom and major savings for things they value more.”

Dr Pojani decided to discover more about these maverick Brisbane residents after deciding to ditch her own car, primarily for environmental and ethical reasons.

“After making the change, I began to notice a small car-free community in Brisbane that was just so diverse, with people from all walks of life,” she said.

“Currently only six per cent of Brisbane householders don’t own a car, but those who are truly car-free, as opposed to car-less, are an even smaller subset.

“Unlike ‘car-less’ people, ‘car-free’ people are physically and intellectually able to drive, have sufficient income to purchase and maintain a car, yet have chosen not to – they’re intentionally making a decision that can often carry stigma.

“A car-free lifestyle appears to be more of an educated middle-class phenomenon, appealing more of course to childless singles and couples, as well as able-bodied empty nesters, but more research is needed.”

Dr Pojani said she believed reducing motor vehicle ownership and use was critical to preserving the environment and ensuring Brisbane’s urban liveability.

“We need much more public and active transport infrastructure here to support a car-free lifestyle,” she said.

“But the car-free city should be the ultimate transport planning goal – private cars should be only for people with special needs or in special circumstances.

“For now, we can make our beautiful inner city much more friendly to alternative transport modes.”

The research has been published in Case Studies on Transport Policy (DOI: 10.1016/j.cstp.2021.04.001).

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