The Curbing Cars Newsletter, 7/12/20

All the ways we get around and how they intersect with the earth.

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The Way We Travel Will Never Be The Same

Last week, I was reading through some emails when I spotted a familiar headline: “Your Rapid Rewards Report: July 2020,” read the message from Southwest Airlines.

I clicked on it, and just sat for a moment, gazing at the screen. Now, I realize my accumulated miles are a fraction of the tens and hundreds of thousands that other avgeeks have piled up.

But by this point in 2020, I would have easily added a bunch more to them — trips to New Orleans, and Chicago, and New York City, and possibly Washington or Boston. By now, I would have been back and forth to Toronto several times.

I was even hoping that I could attend Royal Ascot this year, assuming I sold my Zingerman’s book to a publisher. Well, I did, and Royal Ascot was held, but there were no racing fans in attendance, not even The Queen.

And, as I sit here writing, I can’t predict when I’ll head back out on the road again. Many of us are in the same boat.

We can’t travel to the places we love, couldn’t attend our friends’ now-canceled weddings, and those business events that were baked into our calendars years in advance aren’t taking place. Some things have already been scrapped for 2021.

Travel, as we knew it before 2020, will never be the same again. While I’m tempted to say “may,” the psychological toll of COVID-19 has been steep.

Even if people feel confident enough to board airplanes routinely again, ride Amtrak or book hotel rooms, they still will face nagging health fears that may not go away for years, if ever.

The impact is brutal

As an airline child, I feel great sorrow for all the people who are losing their jobs, the cities that have lost service (Detroit included) and the revenue that flows from air travel.

But I especially feel badly for people whose livelihood depends on the travel industry. I can name a dozen friends who specialize in travel writing, run travel-focused websites and act as advocates for people who run into problems while traveling.

At least, I can write about other topics, particularly food. (You’re welcome to sign up for Curbing Cars’ sister newsletter, CulinaryWoman.)

But these friends’ brands and identities are intricately connected to the expectation that people will be able to get out and about.

One of those experts is consumer advocate Christopher Elliott. You should definitely sign up for his newsletter, follow him on social media and read his work regularly for places like the Washington Post, USA TODAY and his own website.

I asked Chris to share some of his thoughts on what COVID-19 has done to the travel work and what things might look like if and when the pandemic abates.

The worst part is uncertainty. “Travel is changing -- and it continues to change. I think the worst part is the uncertainty. You can't plan a vacation or even a business
trip when the world is upside-down. I think everyone is now thinking long-term when it comes to travel. They're planning vacations for 2021 and even 2022. Many people have given up on a vacation this year.”

Who is hit the hardest. “Some of the hardest-hit sectors are vacation rentals and
airlines. Also, cruises. I think vacation rentals could bounce back quickly as travelers look for safer hotel substitutes.

But airlines relied on business travelers, and they are gone for now, and some of
them will never come back. Cruise lines don't have much of a future in
the new travel ecosystem.

The worst part about this: the denial. So many travel companies -- and travelers -- think this will all go back to normal soon. It won't.”

Where cars fit in. “I’m not sure if any of this will lessen our reliance on cars. I can
only speak from personal experience. I sold my car in January. I have
no plans to buy another one. I've used Uber and borrowed a relative's car for longer drives.

The pandemic hasn't made me want to own a car -- if anything, the exact opposite. I think having a car is unnecessary now, with so many alternatives available.”

Chris has had a tumultuous year, including getting trapped with his children in France when COVID-19 hit. They’re back in the U.S. now, and you can read about what happened to them in this Washington Post story.

It’s distressing to think that such an important piece of our lives may never be the same. Every time I watch Wheel of Fortune, and see Pat Sajak giving away trips to Belize and Costa Rica, I wonder if the contestants will ever get to take them.

I know that if I travel anywhere over the next year or so, it will be by car, and I’m going to be very careful where I stay, and who I see when I reach my destination.

In the meantime, it will be armchair travels for me. Once there is a vaccine that’s proven to work, and once we know more about the long-term effects of COVID-19, I hope to venture out again.

Some stories worth your time

Rivian keeps raising big money. You have to tip your hat to Rivian, the Plymouth, Mich., startup that plans to build electric trucks, SUVs and delivery vans. Last week, it raised $2.5 billion from a group of investors that include a group of new investors plus Amazon and BlackRock, which already had skin in its game. Rivian is taking over the old Mitsubishi plant in Normal, Illinois, where it will produce its R1T electric pickup truck and the R1S SUV, as well as begin to fulfill its order with Amazon to deliver electric vans.

The last chance to cut carbon emissions? Time Magazine, in a cover story, says 2020 could be a pivotal year in the global fight against climate change. The Trump administration has lined up solidly behind the fossil fuel industry, while the rest of the world is pursuing green solutions. “We’ve run out of time to build new things in old ways,” says Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and the chair of the Global Carbon Project. What we do now will define the fate of the planet–and human life on it–for decades.”

Japan battles record rains. Summer is always the rainy season in Japan, when the nation is swept by the typhoons that bludgeon much of Asia. Last week, record breaking rain caused floods that killed 62 people, including 14 at one nursing home in Kyushu that was overtaken by the rising water. Japan is dealing with two issues at once: climate change, and an aging population that is simply unable to move out of the way of flooding, erosion and other damage.

A mellow Chicago bike lane map. We’ve written a lot this year about cities’ push to expand bike lanes. But, lots of bike riding novices are intimated by veteran cyclists who zoom by, and they aren’t really brave enough to handle lanes on busy surface streets. Chicago Reader came up with a “mellow Chicago bike lane map” showing some less-challenging places to ride. It stretches east to west, north to south. You may not get there in a hurry, but you’ll be less frazzled when you do.

From passenger jet to cargo plane. A few years ago, I attended the Farnborough International Air Show outside London. One of the highlights of press days is seeing aircraft manufacturers showing off their machinery during lunch time. We all were impressed by seeing the chief pilot at Airbus put the massive A380 through dips and turns. Well, the A380 never caught on as a passenger plane, in part because many airports couldn’t handle it, and there was never enough demand for a plane with 500-plus seats. Now, Hi Fly has converted one to carry cargo. Lufthansa Technik apparently has a customer for one, too. So, maybe the big plane will see a second life.

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