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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 1 September, 2014

Aaron McKenna: Changing the car reg plates is a good idea if it saves jobs

If it persuades people not to put off buying a car in 2013 – either through superstition or vanity – it will be a worthwhile exercise, writes Aaron McKenna.

Aaron McKenna

YOU’D PITY THE poor old government sometimes. The introduction of our new car registration plates system for 2013 and beyond has been met with more scorn than some of the hard cuts made in December’s Budget.

The new system will see the year split in half for the purpose of car reg plates, with new cars registered up to June as 131 and beyond that 132, before hitting 141 in next January. There’s two reasons given for this change to a system that has been in place since 1987.

Firstly, the popular notion that people won’t buy unlucky 13 reg cars, so an additional digit has been added to avoid tempting fate. Secondly, the idea that buying a new car becomes less attractive as the year wears on, with people delaying purchases for the sake of having a fresher reg on their car for longer.

Number 13 – unlucky for some

People who wouldn’t buy a new car in 2013 because they think it’ll be unlucky are superstitious idiots and those who wouldn’t buy a new car past June because they want to hold a fresh reg are vain posers. So what? Folks giving out about this change ought to think past their initial reaction to the vanity of it all and consider that vain and stupid people help make the world go round. Just ask the thousand people working in Westport for Allergan, maker of Botox, what they think of vanity.

A lot of the scorn heaped on the change seems to come from a deep begrudgery of The Joneses next door. You shouldn’t care when your car is registered, just how well it runs. I agree with the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s enough of a reason to avoid implementing a simple gimmick that could shift a few more cars than would otherwise be the case in 2013 and beyond.

Successive governments have been putting in a hard shift to protect jobs in the motor industry in Ireland. Despite huge losses since the height of things in 2007, the industry employs over 35,000 people in Ireland. That’s a chunk of the workforce that’s worth investing in to keep going, and the best thing about this measure is that it has cost the state practically nothing. It’s not a massive tax incentive or scrappage scheme, where the government effectively starts cutting in on car salesmanship; but a simple one digit change to a registration plate.

Industry down

If the change convinces enough superstitious and vain people to save one job in the motor industry it will be a worthwhile exercise. The industry is down 12 per cent year over year in 2012, and a further decline is set for 2013. As the road safety authority points out, this can also contribute to problems with accidents and breakdowns as the average age of cars on increasingly potholed Irish roads goes up.

There are a few other identifiable industries that employ a lot of people but take a lot of flak. The pub trade employs an estimated 54,000 people in full and part time work and we hear endless grumbling about the price of a pint in our locals and the arrogance of the Vintners Association in some of their communications. They submitted a pre-budget proposal to levy additional taxes on alcohol sold in off licenses that was an attempt at pure robbery.

One of their previous efforts at drumming up some additional trade probably struck the wrong tone, but was a fair message in telling people to get off social networks and go network with people in real life. In a pub, of course – but if you stop and think about it really, really hard you won’t find too many more convenient and plentiful places to socialise.

Encouraging business

If the pub is dying as a part of our culture, so be it. I wouldn’t expect government to go giving us all a monthly tax allowance to spend on a feed of pints. But I wouldn’t go actively knocking publicans for trying to keep their businesses afloat, 54,000 employees and all.

The taxi industry is another example. In the good old days you couldn’t get a taxi for love nor money, while nowadays taxi drivers can hardly make ends meet for all the plates that go up on top of cars in the evenings and at weekends. I’m all for de-regulation and against economic gerrymandering disguised as benign intervention, but a clever little measure has been introduced to help taxi drivers without costing punters a penny: Big, bright stickers that are now mandatory on taxis.

Much harder to stow away than a plate and meter, these stickers will make the vain among part-time taxi drivers think twice about their trade. Or maybe they’ll buy a second car, but either way, a cost-free gimmick will have a positive impact and might safeguard a few livelihoods. I doubt very much if the travelling public will have much difficulty finding a taxi even if a fair number of part timers were taken off the roads.

We like to scoff at strange new changes and towards major industries we have some beefs with. For all the hot air the 131 change to registration plates has generated, it has cost us nothing and may save the job of someone we don’t know because someone else we think has a warped view of themselves decides to buy a new car in the middle of the year rather than wait. Seems fair to me. More of these little changes, please.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

Read: Drop ’13′ from next year’s numberplates to save car industry, urges Healy-Rae>

Poll: Should the number 13 be taken off car licence plates next year?>

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