« Hello Mr. V.(1), I am currently a student doing a final year project on associations that defend the rights of motorists. Would it be possible for you to give me an interview? « This is how it all started and how I am went to meet Mr. V., founder of an association defending the right to drive and park in Brussels. We have an appointment at 10:30 am at a facility. 10:25, my phone rings: » I had a meeting scheduled from 9:00 to 10:00, I thought I would be on time, but now…, everything is jammed, there are lines everywhere… ». He apologizes and tells me that he might not be able to join me at the agreed time and place which is… 20 minutes by bike from where he is. » Stay on the line, » he said! Hold on! Right, left, ahhh! I’m heading for Montgomery, I can usually be there by 11 « . Ten minutes pass, he calls me back: » That’s it, it’s clear, I’ll be there « . Phew, saved: « My license, my freedom »… Full of bonhomie, revived by my interest for the thing which occupies the center of his fight, the car, he does not fail to point out to me that these motoring vicissitudes, which almost cost us our meeting, « would make an interesting subject for my final work of study ». Of course! For the moment I am studying him, but he doesn’t know that!
Alexandre Penasse(2) Your association defends the right to drive and park. According to you, the right to drive and park, for example in Brussels, is not yet acquired. If so, what are you doing to make these rights real?
Mr. V.: In fact, these rights were acquired and have been progressively challenged over the last 10 years. They existed naturally I would say: it is part of the life of a modern population in a developed country, even in underdeveloped countries, everyone drives! And so it was natural. But maybe a decade ago, there is an ideology that has taken hold, especially in Western Europe, that even challenges the right to ride. And this is why we created our association.
Do you ride for leisure or for travel?
No, mostly for travel, for shopping, for work, for meetings… What can be done by bike, I do by bike because it gives me a good physical condition too. I’m not doing this out of mania (sic).
Yet often motorists and cyclists are, let’s say, at odds with each other… How do you explain this?
Look, I think we need to objectify. Most motorists are not anti-bike, a number of them ride their bikes from time to time. But they find that the bikes are unruly; they sometimes think they can do anything. And I believe that many cyclists are not anti-car, in fact they also ride, let’s face it: they take advantage of other people’s cars or even sometimes they ride in their cars. So, we must not say » Cyclists and motorists are at war « , that is not true, it is a caricature.
There is a core of ideological cyclists who consider that riding a bike is virtuous and riding a car is morally wrong. This is a problem insofar as citizens are free: they can take the car, the public transport, the bicycle. The people of Brussels, who are free until further notice, make 60% of their trips by car, about 15–20% by metro, 10% by bus, 10% by streetcar and, arguably, 3 or 4% by bicycle. So it has doubled since before we were at 1.5 and now we are at 3, it has doubled in 10 years, I want to, but finally! We have to see at what level we are. That’s what objectivity is all about, so don’t come and say that 3% or 4% should make the law!
It is considered that the number of cars will double by 2050, is that a fact? The fact that cycling is considered to be very marginal and that it will not increase, is this not a way of submitting to a concrete reality, i.e.: »
The car is increasing anyway, there is nothing to do, while the bicycle remains marginal and we could not do much more for this mode of transport » ?
This is the factual-operational approach (sic). The other approach is ideological, it is to say » We drive a car, it is not good « . At first it was well-founded, as far as cars pollute, and as far as cars still pollute, I gladly accept the criticism, I join it. But there are two approaches to this: the negative approach, which is to say: » Cars will never be clean « , ideological, and then there is the proactive, technical approach, which says: » We must make cars clean « . That’s the positive solution. And cars are getting cleaner and cleaner, you can look at the numbers.
Exactly then, I jump on a question: according to what we can read on your site:
« The electric car would be cleaner, quieter, would emit less CO
emissions, would imply less dependence on oil
But of course!
So, is it true that today’s mostly gasoline and diesel cars pollute, are noisy, emit a lot of CO2 and imply a great dependence on oil. I returned the…
Yes, yes, but that is… « a big one »? Everything is relative. Engineers are constantly improving the cleanliness of cars. The highlight is the electric car, for the moment, we may still find something afterwards…
And the actual car then… because there are 0.1% of electric cars, not even?
I am for the principle, you say of objectivity, for the principle of realism. The current car, the combustion engine car, that’s clear, it will remain for decades! So find out: there is no indication that this car might disappear in the foreseeable future. None! What is true is that the fuel, the fuel coming from fossil oil, is going to reduce a little, a lot? A little? We’ll talk, but it’s going to get smaller. But it is obvious that you have a range of alternative fuels. Nazi Germany fought the war for 5 years, 1940–45, without crude oil. He had no access to it practically(3).
Is the technology already there?
It was there 50 years ago, 60 years ago, we transform coal into fuel for car engines.
We obviously talk a lot about oil, because we are in an oil society, we need it for everything: clothes, transport, food… We may talk less about coal or other energies, but it seems that all of them are starting to run out; we may have drawn too much from the earth’s resources, and even coal…
I see you’ve been interviewing ideologues, huh! Yes, yes. But I’m glad to be able to rectify all that. You have to read books, as the professor said, to objectify. And so oil, let’s say mineral oil, is still there for decades. It’s completely wrong to say that we’re exhausting it. Take all the new wells being built in Latin America, in Brazil, in the Gulf of Mexico, in Venezuela, to name but a few, it’s enormous! So to say that oil is running out is a lie. On the other hand, it could be more expensive than before, if we go to regions where it is more difficult to extract it, the price will increase, that is true. But to say that there is no more, or that there will be no more, or that it is exhausted, that is completely false.
We don’t realize it when we drive, of course, but gasoline doesn’t come from Belgium, it comes from far away, so if people in Ecuador decide to stop exploiting their oil resources, it will have an impact on the price of oil.
I think there are some extremely smart, clever people out there who are pushing all these issues you’re talking about.
Do you think it’s manipulation?
Of course! Read the books… different, and you will see the overabundance of oil in the world, especially since we have not even touched the oil of the North Pole or South Pole, where it melts. I am not criticizing or assessing global warming, but there are huge deposits there.
So, let’s say it’s true that the melting of the ice is sad, but it will give access to…
…to new resources! That’s a lead. But we don’t need the ice to melt. We have plenty of them in the pipeline. Brazil is the champion; there will be the melting of the ice and there are also other resources such as oil sands...
In Canada! And so we can go around the world and around the technologies and the conclusion is: » There will alwaysbe fuels for internal combustion engines like the ones we know. There is gas, don’t forget, we can run engines on gas, and it is much cleaner by the way. So the slogan says: » Everything is running out, » and that’s a slogan I’ve had to counter like others for that matter, well that’s misinformation. » Global warming, the planet is running out of energy, there will be no more cars to drive, so let’s not drive anymore « … I hope you won’t fall for that. So I will give you books that you can read, with objective, scientific data.
Some people talk about « peak oil », that we have reached the second phase…
What did they make you read? They are strong! They’re way ahead of me here. Intellectual terrorism, we must call it by its name, which consists in throwing out untruths, inventing beautiful concepts, with skill: « peak oil », or whatever you want… to make people conclude that we should no longer drive. It takes in Western Europe with slightly philosophical minds, as we have always been. All this does not work in Asia, where they are much more pragmatic, nor in America, where they are much more economically oriented, nor certainly in Brazil, or in countries that want to develop and do not care about such considerations.
Another question, to remain objective, a little hard but I ask it: could the freedom to drive a car justify oil spills or wars, according to you, for example?
This is a question that was asked…are you interpreting some people, who said to you, » If yousee X, you have to ask him these questions? »
No, not »
If you see X
« but »
If you’re doing a study with a little bit of everything, ask this question
« , that’s it.
Yes, well, there are some people, come on…, anti-car people who have spoken to you, you can feel it! But it’s good, it’s not…
I don’t know if they are anti-car people…
Yes, but these kinds of questions, come on, admit it: » Is it that do you think that driving a car can justify the fact of oil spills « …Come on, look…you’re laughing at yourself. So it’s a way of presenting things, of making people feel guilty…
No, no, no…
I don’t agree with the guilt-tripping method and the doom-and-gloom method… So right now you’ve engaged in a conversation on two themes: the doom-and-gloom theme, « there are no more resources »…
Yes, we slipped on that, you’re right.
And then the guilt trip: » Driving means that oil must be exploited, it means that there are oil spills « . I mean, look, this is…
Because we think a lot about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico(4)…
Of course, but that has nothing to do with driving, do we use oil or not, do we want the oil industry or not? The industry serves a lot, you said it yourself, as raw material for all plastics, it has nothing to do with rolling!
No, but the question of freedom…
The freedom to ride, but of course we support the freedom to ride; there are 6 billion human beings who support the freedom to ride!
« There is an overabundance of oil in the world, especially since we haven’t even touched the oil at the North or South Pole, where it melts.
Where does this freedom end?
Where does the freedom to ride end? But where does the freedom to eat end? But as if by chance it is the freedom to ride that we are talking about! But I tell you, where does your freedom to eat end? Do you have the right to eat whatever you want while there are people starving?
So let’s go, eh?
Maybe some people eat too much and waste too much food.
Yes, well, so, so there you have it, no, but that’s not right, I apologize; the freedom to drive… (laughs) (…) I’m not a freedom fighter, but I fight against freedom fighters (…) I gladly accept to help you. You are interested in me because I am a source of information, but I am interested in you because you are also a source of information. We are going to make a win-win operation between us (…) I had hoped that you would address the problem of driving in Brussels. So now we’re talking about resource depletion… I recognize that the opponents of the car have faith in their mission, the proof is that they’ve already injected you with questions like this. As if resource depletion had anything to do with mobility in Brussels! I answered you There is no depletion of resources as they are. 2. There is an overabundance of alternatives.
You were talking about the opponents. What do you think of the anti-cars, the defenders of the bicycle like the GRACQ or Provélo?
I’m not passing judgment.
Not necessarily only GRACQ and Provélo, but also those who claim to be anti-car?
That’s a whole different thing! And now I hope that we will leave the political, ideological domain and talk about other things. But the big difference between GRACQ or Provélo on the one hand and Touring and our association on the other, is that objectively GRACQ and Provélo in all their writings are anti-car. They think that the car is not good, that it should be replaced by the bicycle, etc. Whereas we, and this you can remember and even display, have nothing against cycling. It’s quite different. The relationship between GRACQ and us is not symmetrical. We are very tolerant, we are tolerant…
And how so! While they are not. Sometimes I take my right of way in front of a bike: » You brute ! They are launched, and there is a hard core. So I make a distinction with the mass of cyclists — but I myself am a cyclist, will you put that in your paper? I ride my bike several times a week for functional travel, not for leisure.
And you find this dangerous in Brussels?
Ah, yes, but that’s another question! We are talking about the bicycle now: we keep deviating from the heart… The bicycle, I ride! And the answer » Is it dangerous? » It depends on the cyclist first and foremost. Don’t come and say, it depends on the others, the streetcars, or the… no, no, no! It depends on the cyclist! I say » Is it dangerous to go climbing in the mountains? « If it’s a climber or someone who has some knowledge, no! If it’s someone who knows nothing about it, yes! Well, it’s the same for the bike. Is it dangerous? In itself, it is not dangerous; but it is dangerous for those who do not know how to control their balance, their muscles, because they have to be able to accelerate at a certain moment, their vision because they can see differently than in a car… So riding a bike in the city is inevitably reserved to those who have certain qualities! It’s not a mainstream tool. And that’s why there are only 3 or 4% of the trips… It’s all very consistent you know! The facts, the reality is coherent, what is not coherent is the ideology, as you have just seen. But it’s not for everyone. If we built a city in the first place, with bike lanes everywhere, so that we could ride safely, oh yes! Then it wouldn’t be dangerous. But now it’s dangerous for those who don’t know… Come on, go on the streetcar tracks, I often go to rue Royale… are you a cyclist too?
Yes, it happens to me…
Take St. Mary’s Church, rue Royale, go to the Congress Column: the trucks, rightly, I do not criticize, are parked there to unload, so you have to get on the tramway… it is an exercise that is not given to everyone.
No, it can be dangerous.
I do it, I have fun, it keeps me in shape, but hey! The cyclists cannot claim to be doing the hold-up on Brussels. I am a cyclist, I respect cyclists, I approve of riding a bike! Because every time someone makes a trip by bike, they are not in their car, you can’t be driving and riding a bike at the same time. So it’s good to ride a bike.
But they remain a minority.
But they will always remain a minority! They will never even be at 20% in a city like Brussels, whose policies, which are based on a huge development of the bicycle to say that the car must be used 20% less, is a policy of ostrich, it is an indication of anthropological unconsciousness. Human beings do not function against their comfort and security. So, but again these are brackets.
But the car is still important in the society, it is clear that when we talk about that, we sometimes go out of the subject…
It would be much better than doing these ideological exercises, to focus on the basic anthropology, on the basic economy, on the basic operationality, on the basic society, on the basic social relations… I hope you will do it… The conclusion: the car is irreplaceable. That’s it! (laughter)
Let’s talk about Touring then. Touring noted in an article dated March 3, 2010 : « No one likes to be stuck in traffic, but it is clear that for many people, the car is the only viable alternative. What is the other side of this alternative in your opinion? Or as you just said « the car is irreplaceable ».
… for a series of trips, eh. You must not play the truncating journalist. It is irreplaceable for a series of trips. And if we don’t know how to use it, let’s imagine a 500% tax on the purchase of the vehicle, well these trips will not be made, that’s all! People are not going to take their bike to pick up their kid at school, to drive him to the mother-in-law’s house… that doesn’t exist! For many trips, it’s car or nothing. You have to put it this way… you have to put these expressions! And so I say I’m for the bike, for the use of the bike, one; two: that use is inevitably limited.
But here we also deviate, because you are talking about the…
But no, because the conclusion is that the car will remain an essential tool for travel and that if we want, and I accept this, that people travel less by car in Brussels, that they travel less kilometers, the alternative is public transport, or the motorcycle, or the cab, it is not the bicycle, that’s all. So I’m not worried.
I’m going to name three types of cars, which one is the most efficient for you in the city: ua station wagon, a smart car, or a 4 X 4?
Well, look, this again, I don’t know who suggested this question to you… but this question is not… yes, but who suggested it to you? This question does not come from you!
When you make a questionnaire, you also submit it to other people around you or people from…
Yes, but I’m not going to talk about the 4 X 4, it’s an obsession.
Because your association also defends mobility, like Touring, that we can be less in traffic jams…
Yes, not like Touring, like everyone else, all the people of Brussels want this.
So, is it-
is there a strategy for choosing the car, or is it
Is there a car choice strategy, or is the government
should intervene in this, in the choice of a car, or make people take smaller cars.
« A station wagon, a smart or a 4 X 4 », asking the question like that is to reveal first of all the hatred of the 4 X 4, which is absurd on the technological level… All my life, I have resisted the hold of the ideological on the physical and on the objective. There are some in the religious field, in the economic field…so, no, well, listen! Ideology is not good. I don’t want to talk about 4 X 4’s, I don’t have a 4 X 4, but that’s not the point.
Because you think we’ve made a debate of it…
A completely distorted debate, isn’t it. The problem is the pollution created by the cars, I want to talk about it, that is an objective problem: we must reduce pollution. The 4 X 4 does not increase or reduce pollution, it has nothing to do with it. But there is the congestion, one can find that the 4 X 4 in the parking lots pose problems, in the public parking lots, that they are too wide. How many percent of 4 X 4’s are in Brussels? 4% maybe, that’s the way to put it! So, it’s not a problem, I refuse to… so the smart one or the family one, I mean, excuse me, but that’s a silly question. You choose according to your needs. The person who asked you that question…
is an idiot!
Yes, you can tell him from me. Idiot or vicious.
« Where does the freedom to drive end? But where does the freedom to eat stop? But conveniently it’s the freedom to ride that we’re talking about! »
So let’s talk about parking solutions. I have figures for France: « In France, from 1973 to 2004, the number of cars more than doubled, from 14.3 to 29.9 million vehicles, for a 14% increase in the population » (Atlas du Monde diplomatique). The relative numbers must be roughly similar in Belgium. What are your parking solutions if the number of carss grows exponentially? And here I think I am touching on an important issue of your association, of Touring…
Yes, and the lives of people, the economy…
What are the parking solutions knowing that the car simply takes up space?
Here we are, we n’is no longer in the oil spills…
And some will say « occupy space at the expense of others »…
All these questions were inspired by…
I’ll stop my question.
No, but you are right to ask them. Here the question is: there must be arbitration on the public highway according to objective criteria, and especially not according to ideological visions. Let me give you an example: in the small streets of dense neighborhoods where people with modest incomes live, they have a car like everyone else… so there are 400,000 cars in Brussels, you know that. 400,000 is it. About 300 and some thousand, I think I have that here.
Company cars ?
No, no, I mean, why… what did you… ohh! we got you, we bombarded you with slogans. First it’s the 4 X 4, the company cars…
No, I thought you were going to say 400,000 private cars and 300,000 company cars. I am
know the numbers well yet.
That’s why I gave them to you.
So 400.000 cars in Brussels.
But you have to stop, come on! A man like you, doing a dissertation of some standing. Don’t let yourself be stopped by the problem of 4 X 4s, company cars… even company cars are above all a tax problem.
Interview by Alexandre Penasse
- L’important n’est pas d’identifier l’individu, ce qu’il ne voudrait sans doute pas par ailleurs, mais de voir dans ses propos « l’idéologie qui parle ».
- Interview réalisée en 2011, publiée sur www.espritcritique.be, mais qui n’a rien perdu de son actualité, comme vous le constaterez.
- NDLR Cette assertion est fausse. L’Allemagne nazie n’aurait jamais pu soutenir aussi longtemps l’effort de guerre sans approvisionnement en pétrole. La règle était la même à l’époque pour les multinationales du pétrole qu’aujourd’hui : pas d’éthique s’il y a du fric !
- Le 20 avril 2010 eut lieu, sur la plateforme pétrolière Deepwater Horizon, une explosion qui tua 11 personnes et allait répandre dans le golfe du Mexique 780 millions de litres de pétrole.