Every year we moan about the council not doing anything about In Town Without My Car Day and then leave it too late to organise a big event. But leaving your car at home shouldn’t be such a big deal, should it?

Tens of thousands of people travel to work every day without using a car and over 30% of households in Birmingham don’t actually own a car so are reliant on other means of transport to get around.

So, what happened when Birmingham Friends of the Earth challenged the 50 most powerful and influential people in the region (according to the Birmingham Post) to give up their cars for the day?

What did we expect? Polite refusals? To be completely ignored? For everyone to say yes?

I was not sure what would happen, but I thought that, in the current climate of individuals being seen to take a lead on being greener, it might just work. Over the past few weeks I have been collecting responses, prompting those who didn’t reply, contacting the press and other media about the story and the interest has grown and grown to the extent that Birmingham City Council actually put up a message of support for it on their website.

If you want to know what the results of this challenge were person by person, then read on.

1)Paul Thandi: NEC Group – No reply, other than acknowledgements from his PA that she had passed on my emails to him.
2)Paul Kehoe: BIA – I was informed by his PA that as he was away on leave until just before it he could not do it.
3)Lord Digby Jones – I was informed by his PA that he is out of town and not able to participate.
4)David Bintley: Birmingham Royal Ballet – No response received at all.
5)Gary Taylor: Argent Group – Informed us that he cycles at least once a week to work now and will be away on Tuesday, but will cycle the day before.
6)Neil Rami: Marketing Birmingham – Will also be away on the day, but the rest of his company will be doing it, apparently.
7)Clive Dutton: Birmingham City Council Planning and Regeneration – Said he would certainly do it.
8)Professor David Bailey: Coventry University – Said he would be taking bus and/or train as usual.
9)Andris Nelsons: CBSO conductor – Is in Vienna on the day, so unable to take part.
10)Mike Whiby; Leader of Birmingham City Council – Has “long-standing commitments on the day in question which make it difficult to honour if he could not use a car”, although he will try to walk between meetings.
11)Christine Braddock: Birmingham Metropolitan College – No response
12)Julie Moore: CEO of local NHS – No response.
13)Andrew Mitchell: MP for Sutton Coldfield – Will be in London cycling to work as every day.
14)Glynn Purnell: Celebrity Chef – Unable to do it for “personal reasons”.
15)Paul Tylsley: Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council – Not in Birmingham on the day.
16)Liam Byrne: MP for Hodge Hill and cabinet member – No response.
17)Stephen Hughes: Chief Executive, Birmingham City Council – Will catch a train to the airport, which, unfortunately, is unavoidable to keep commitments. Always walks to work when in the city.
18)Suzie Norton: Screen West Midlands – Is on maternity leave.
19)Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya: Warwick Manufacturing Group – No response.
20)Ravi Kant: Head of Tata – Didn’t attempt to contact him.
21)Randy Lerner: CEO, Aston Villa – Not in town on the day. I requested someone else high profile from the club, but got no response.
22)Anthony McCourt: Birmingham Development Company – Walks to work every day.
23)Jason Wouhra: East End Foods – No response.
24)Salma Yaqoob: Councillor – Will walk or use public transport instead of car for the day.
25)Stuart Griffiths: CEO, Birmingham Hippodrome – No response.
26)Phillip Singleton: City Design, Birmingham City Council – Will take the bus.
27)Professor Nick James: University of Birmingham – Cycles at least once a week and takes the train from Longbridge other days.
28)David Smith: Jaguar-Land Rover – Didn’t attempt to contact him.
29)Dr Waldemar Bujalski: University of Birmingham – No response.
30)Justice Williams: Inner City Creative Media Group – Unable to contact.
31)Clare Edwards: Gigbeth – Works from home most days and says she’ll take public transport if needed on the day.
32)Trevor Foster: Bigwood/Lockton – No response.
33)Paul Bassi: Bonde Wolfe – Unable to contact.
34)Tom Lawes: The Electric Cinema – No response.
35)Andeep Mangel: ICAEW – Unable to contact.
36)Paul Bradshaw: BCU – May well be working from home, but doesn’t own a car for environmental reasons, anyway.
37)Helga Henry: Fierce Earth – No response.
38)Simon Wales: THSH – Was supportive and often takes the bus to work, but has to take equipment to the NEC for a stall on the day in his car.
39)James Yarker: Stan’s Cafe Director – Always cycles around the city and takes the train when travelling to other towns.
40)Professor Julia King: Vice Chancellor, Aston University – Out of town on the day, but encouraged all staff at Aston to take part and leave their cars at home.
41)Kerry Thomas: Fused Magazine – Very supportive and would have done it if in town, but away on the day.
42)Steve Dyson: Editor, Birmingham Mail – Unable to do it due to meetings and commitments in several parts of the city.
43)Bennie Gray: Custard Factory – No response.
44)Mick Laverty: AWM – Unable to contact.
45)Stuart Rogers: Birmingham Rep – Happy to do it and will take the bus.
46)Paul Hadley – Rhubarb Radio – Works from home and says he always takes the train when travelling in and out of Birmingham.
47)Adrian Goldberg: The Stirrer – Will be in London on the day, where he will use public transport for all his journeys. Wishes the same was possible in this area.
48)Jerry Blackett: Birmingham Chamber of Commerce – Will take train and folding bike, as he often does.
49)Ian Austin: MP, Dudley North and regional minister – No response.
50)Martin Mullaney: Cabinet member, Birmingham City Council – Will be taking his scooter.

So, what can we see from this?

Well, apart from the lack of responses from 14 people – about a third, I was encouraged by the number of people who are very much aware of the issue and already use other forms of transport on a regular basis. Almost half of the “power 50” gave us such positive responses about their travelling habits and I would suggest that this means a minority of these people take their cars into town every day.

What about being without a car every day?

This is, of course, the most important point to be made. It’s all very well doing a one-off attempt to be more sustainable, but if we’re going to cut transport emissions and congestion and deal with the related health issues in this city we need to get more people out of cars and onto public transport, bikes or walking as a matter of course. This would enable us all to use the space we have in this city more usefully.
We are working hard on campaigns such as “20’s plenty for Birmingham”, “Re-open Our Stations” and “Better Buses for Birmingham” to tackle the issues that prevent people feeling that they can get around the city without using a car. If you want to help us with any of the campaigns, please contact us on campaigns@birminghamfoe.org.uk to find out how.

Future events

By next year I sincerely hope that steps will have been made to improve the experience for people using public transport, walking or cycling in the city and that when the council launches its own In Town Without Your Car Day events, we’ll see streets filled not with cars, but with people out there talking to one another and enjoying sharing the space together.
Does anyone else agree that it would be a good idea?