Monday 23 October 2017 06.00 BST
If ours is an age in which no end of institutions and conventions are being disrupted, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the most basic features of everyday life seems under serious threat. If you are fortunate enough to live in a house with a drive, look outside and you will probably see it: that four-wheeled metal box, which may well be equipped with every technological innovation imaginable, but now shows distinct signs of obsolescence.
To put it another way: after a century in which the car has sat at the heart of industrial civilisation, the age of the automobile – of mass vehicle ownership, and the idea (in the western world at least) that life is not complete without your own set of wheels – looks to be drawing to a close. Top Gear is a dead duck. No one writes pop songs about Ferraris any more. The stereotypical boy racer appears a hopeless throwback. And in our cities, the use of cars is being overtaken by altogether greener, more liberating possibilities.
The sale of diesel and petrol cars is to be outlawed in the UK from 2040. But only 10 days ago Oxford announced that it is set to be the first British city to ban all petrol and diesel cars and vans – from a handful of central streets by 2020, extending to the entire urban centre 1o years later. Paris will ban all non-electric cars by 2030, and is now in the habit of announcing car-free days on which drivers have to stay out of its historic heart. In the French city of Lyon, car numbers have fallen by 20% since 2005, and the authorities have their sights set on another drop of the same magnitude. London, meanwhile, has shredded the idea that rising prosperity always triggers rising car use, and seen a 25% fall in the share of journeys made by car since 1990.