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Useful analogy? Your car as a jack-of-all-trades and the alternatives as contractors

Can you help me make this analogy more useful?

A household owning a car is like a tiny business hiring a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none ...). Your mobility needs during the course of a whole year can be likened to the skills and labour needs of a new business contemplating its first employee.

Having a car gives you a tool that handles most of your mobility needs. It is like hiring a full-time staffer who is a 'jack-of-all trades'. He or she is versatile but not especially skilled or quick at any particular task. There are significant fixed costs too. You have to pay him or her about the same in both busy times and slow periods.

In both cases there is an alternative. 

A family can refrain from getting a car and rely instead on the various alternatives. That's like the small business putting off that first full-time employee and deciding instead to engage a series of contractors to do tasks that the owner-founder can no longer handle, as and when they are needed.

So mobility services for hire, like public transport, taxis, carsharing, car rentals, shared bicycles, are like contract staff or consultants. We pay for them when we need them and only then. No single one of them can beat a jack-of-all-trades or generalist employee. But each can do their specific task better (when all costs are considered).

And when their work is skillfully coordinated (in a project say), they can amount to a team which can give better value than the generalist. The alternative package of services can potentially give more bang for the buck. Some cities try to create mobility packages like that.

Unfortunately, many cities today don't have a full range of high-quality mobility alternatives. That's like a small business in a tiny town, where it might be impossible to find contractors with all the skills the business might need. In such situations we are stuck with our generalists. Or we make do with inferior service.

Even if there are skilled people around, there may be too much hassle and inconvenience involved in finding contractors, paying them and coordinating their schedules. If so, you may give up and buy (I mean hire) that generalist, Mr or Ms Automobile.

Once a small business hires a jack-of-all-trades it will put them to work on a very wide range of tasks, even if they are not the best person for any of them. After all, the jack-of-all-trades is sitting right there in the driveway (oops I mean office). Now you rarely, if ever, even consider those contractors (unless you have a really special task that is beyond even your generalist).
By Milkmandan on Wikimedia Commons.
Does this analogy help you think about how to improve the alternatives to cars?


  1. Love this analogy!

    Likewise, one can extend the analogy to land use, a jack-of-all-trades mode also encourages jack-of-all-trades development. A TOD should aim for diversification of options, enhancing value through the collocation of diversity. A TOD that merely replicates the options of a strip center is giving us another strip center. So far development has not really explored the potential for reconfiguration for mode enhancement. No one really seems to be exploring the latent potential for generating diversity within a TOD, maybe because of the jack-of-all-trades straight-jacket. What would grocery stores that really catered to cyclists look like, for example? What services and products might these grocery stores provide instead of the usual? What would you collocate with them?

  2. The grocery stores in the Netherlands already cater for cyclists. Inside the store is like any store in Europe or the US. However, outside the store is very different:
    Supermarket entrance:

    Same supermarket:

    Another across the water:

    A "pedestrianised" shopping centre:

    and finally, McDonalds in Utrecht:

  3. With the introduction of new ethanol based bio fuels, comes a lessened carbon footprint. Specifically, the more recent distribution of E-Flex, an ethanol based concentration of transportation fuel has made a major impact.

    I'd like to take a moment to discuss this with you and the readers of Take a moment to consider allowing a guest post as it would be a privilege to contribute. In the meantime, don't hesitate to pass along any questions and I look forward to hearing back!




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