The UK has the longest commuting time in Europe (and then add the longer working
hours, you didn't want to actually see your children did you?) and everyone
recognises that the transport system needs a real overhaul because of pollution,
inconvenience and the sheer bloody unpleasantness of the current situation - but are New
Labour's plans the right approach?
Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the London assembly said "This whole debate
on road pricing (Satellite toll plan to make drivers pay by the mile, 5th June),
gives the pretence of activity, whilst allowing this generation of Ministers to
avoid any of the hard choices." For her, not only is the government saying they
are going to do nothing about the problem for at least a decade but it is also a
return to the Conservative Party of the eighties when they "embarked upon a
futile, multi billion pound attempt to build their way out of congestion. That
period ended with road protestors, swampy and the fuel tax escalator,"
She asks "but does it make any sense to reduce fuel taxes in order that gas
guzzling 4*4 vehicles can pay almost the same to drive as a mini?" How Green is
this policy really?
The Department of Transport's own figures on the general
transport situation in the UK, show that in 2003 bus and coach fares in the
UK were 34% higher and rail fares 36% higher in real terms than in 1980.
Over the same period, the cost of motoring decreased by 9% despite a 7%
increase in fuel costs. For a government that is all stick and no carrot the
solution is to increase cost of car travel and do nothing about the inflation of public
transport fares (and its reliability).
Interestingly a Mori poll found that only 16% of motorists would object to carrying a
'black box' in their car. But is a system to track exactly where you (and your
car) are at all times part of a congestion fighting scheme or New Labour's Big Brother
policing? What are the wider implications of the scheme and will the technology
work anyway? We could find that we've waited around ten, fifteen years for
something that never looked that promising in the first place.
Bert Morris, director of the AA Motoring Trust, told BBC News: "The
real issue is going to be public acceptance, trust in the government to keep its
word over revenue neutrality and actually scrapping fuel tax and road taxes."
Obviously there are also details which could be
extremely damaging - like residents of particular areas finding themselves being unduly charged - but
more important is that the scheme sets out to become a poll tax on road use and
will hit those least able to pay far harder than the richest. Far better to use
the carrot of a well organised public transport system that actually gets you
from one place to another without loads of hassle or vastly inflated prices to
pay for private sector board room wages.