Friday, July 13, 2012

You've got a fast car, I've got trouble proving my identity.

By now, we know that 100% adult car ownership is not a sensible solution for our growing population. We know that if we're going to work towards sustainable cities, there needs to be a radical shift in personal transport attitudes both at an individual and especially at a government level. I'm not sure what that thinking would look like but I can identify a major contributor to our current failure: Photo ID.

When was the last time you had to provide photo identification? At a night club? A bank? Signing a mobile phone contract? Posting a package overseas? How about collecting a money transfer? Chances are, you did not whip out your passport in response to this request because if you have one, carrying your passport around with you is both impractical and potential trouble. The amount of bureaucracy one wades through to get a passport is not likely to encourage one to use it for something as routine as going to the pub. So you used your driver's licence. Now. What would you do if you didn't have a driver's licence?

I can tell you.

You'd spend your time convincing officials that your government approved identity card, obtained from the same government department that issues the majority a driver's licence, was not something you made in photoshop. Australia has avenues for people to obtain alternative photo identification, each state has a different card design just like each state has a different licence. At 19, I applied for a Western Australian Proof of Age Card so that I could enter nightclubs and pubs. I had to provide many forms of non-photo identification and photos signed by a Justice of the Peace or appropriate official, along with a fee for the licencing centre. Duly, I collected my card which contained my image, my signature, name and date of birth. It had all the usual security holograms you'd find on a driver's licence but nothing else. No address. No card number. No organ donation information. No expiry date. I thought it was short sighted. It seemed to imply that the WA attitude to alternative photo ID is an assumption that you are young and want to get drunk but haven't got around to driving yet. That's why it's even called a 'Proof of Age' card and not 'Identification Card.' As WA is a state with a very high level of car ownership and a strong car culture, it made sense that they would not take life-long non-drivers into account. In fact, WA is a state so enamoured of the car that I would sometimes find myself having to convince civil servants or bouncers that my ID was legitimate and even provided by the licencing centre. They could not conceive of a world where people didn't drive.

Now that I live in Tasmania, I am finding the backwards attitude of WA towards non-drivers is causing me all sorts of irritation. I had assumed that every state had an expiry free 'Proof of Age' card, though I'd started wondering what would happen as I began to act out a reverse Dorian Gray with my teenaged photo. I was asked to provide photo ID three times last week so I presented my trusty old card. This was how I discovered that 'Proof of Age' cards have been replaced by a more sensible card in Tasmania and New South Wales. One that works exactly like a driver's licence apart from authorising you to get behind the wheel of a car. One that has a card number, must be renewed every 5 years and even includes your address. Though my WA card is legal, I will be applying for a Tasmanian one but in the meantime it got me thinking about social attitudes towards these things. If you suggested the national introduction of an official, photo 'Identity Card' with all of your personal information and required every citizen by law to hold one, people would be outraged. Yet I've never heard a single licence holder complain about giving the government the same level of information and control in exchange for driving a car. It seems our love affair with automobiles has provided a neat work-around for the government to monitor the populace. We even pay for it ourselves.

Perhaps the radical shift in thinking would look something like abolishing the distinction between Driver's Licence and Other Photo Identity? One identity card; but also stating whether or not the holder is entitled to drive. You've already given the government that amount of control, why not streamline the process and include everyone so that people can choose to be car free in the future?

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