Driving to save time or saving time to drive? The enduring appeal of the private car

Jennifer L. Kent*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

37 Citations (Scopus)


Use of the private car is often viewed as highly problematic. It is regularly associated with global physical, social and ecological harms such as climate change and the high incidence of lifestyle diseases, including heart disease. Attempts to address these problems generally include provision for day-to-day physical mobility based on alternatives to the private car. Labelled alternative transport, these modes include public transport, walking and cycling. Yet the private car continues as the preferred way to travel in many cities. A deeper understanding of this preference can reveal under explored sites of resistance to alternative transport modes.This paper contributes to these understandings by examining the role the car as a time saving device plays in sustaining automobility. Its central proposition is that individual decisions to drive are not necessarily motivated by the desire to save time. The paper draws on empirical evidence on the journey to work in Australia's largest city, Sydney. Using a systematic process of trip substitution analysis, a group of people were identified who could use alternative transport to get to work in the same amount of time it currently takes them to drive. These people then participated in a series of in-depth interviews where deeper attachments and motivations for private car use were explored.This approach has enabled development of the multi-layered understanding that informs the central proposition that individual decisions to drive are not necessarily motivated by the desire to save time. Instead, automobility is sustained by appeals to flexibility and autonomy, as well as the interminable pull of the sensory experience provided by the cocoon of the car. This way of thinking about resistance to alternative transport exposes a series of inconsistencies between the expectations of those planning for, and those anticipated to one day use, alternative transport.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-115
Number of pages13
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • Automobility
  • Car use
  • Cycling
  • Public transport
  • Sydney
  • Time

Cite this