Paul Greenall: From mistress to master - Our failed love affair with the car
Cllr Paul V. Greenall is 39 years old and married with two children. He has been a Conservative member of West Lancashire District Council since 2001.
So it appears human activity is responsible for climate change and unless we act soon, the situation will deteriorate. This conclusion confirms what many of us have long since suspected and I am pleased that ‘green issues’ are finally on the mainstream political agenda. But in this new era of environmental awareness, will anyone have the courage to tackle the menace of the motorcar?
For years we have been in love with the car, but this affair has long since soured and our mistress has become our master. The nature of this menace is illustrated by official figures that suggest the number of vehicles in Britain has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Indeed, between 1995-2005 the number of vehicles on our roads increased by over 7.5 million. That equates to a rise of over 2,000 vehicles per day, every day for ten years. Unfortunately, this rise looks set to continue, such that without radical preventative measures, we shall be facing gridlock in a few decades.
To address this problem, many people present a simple solution supported by an attractive argument, i.e. ‘our roads are full, therefore we need more roads’. Indeed, in my area as in several others, various road improvement schemes have been called for and the long ago planned ‘Ormskirk by-pass’ is firmly back on our local political agenda. However, although many people choose to ignore the issue of rising car numbers, these findings are fundamental, as they suggest the benefits of new roads will be short lived, as they will inevitably become congested, leading to more demands for more roads and so on. In short, if we are to preserve our country for future generations, then our road building madness and associated love affair with the car must end.
The question of course is what is the alternative? For me the answer is simple; we need a massive investment in public transport, primarily railways. It seems incredible to me that in the 1960s, thousands of miles of railway lines and thousands of railway stations were closed following Dr Beeching’s railway review. Since then the population of Britain and in turn the numbers of people travelling around our country has increased. Unfortunately, the railway network has not increased accordingly. And as for the buses, well lets not even go there! Suffice it to say, from my experience, outside London they are badly managed, unreliable and ridiculously expensive.
It is obvious to me and what I am suggesting to you, is that what Britain needs is a fundamental review of how we transport goods, services and people around our increasingly overcrowded little island. And given that most cars on our roads carry less than two occupants and that our roads carry over 60% of public transport passengers and over 80% of freight, the potential benefits of such a review appear obvious.
Put simply, 21st century Britain needs a public transport system that is as good as anywhere else in the world. And if Government can set targets on things like recycling household rubbish, then surely it can set binding but reasonable year on year targets for the achievement of this and an associated reduction in road traffic. And if you are wondering where the money to pay for this would come from, then I suggest we start with the revenue raised from tax discs and petrol/diesel duty. After all, if tax revenue from transport had actually been spent on public transport over the years rather than being siphoned off for other things, we may not be in this mess in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a car driver and I use my car every day. However, on many occasions, my usage is forced upon me because of the absence of a public transport alternative. For example, after years of my criticizing those who contribute to the ‘school run’ my wife and I are now part of that problem, because our children’s school is not on a bus route. Compare this to America, where every day huge fleets of yellow busses take children to and from school.
Unfortunately, when it comes to transport we just don’t get it in this country, as there are still too many people who believe that if we just buy more cars and build more roads, everything will be fine. Consequently, when I make these arguments in my local area I am treated by friend and foe alike, as if I occupy the transport lunatic fringe. But in my opinion, when it comes to transport policies in Britain, the lunatics took over the asylum decades ago. And so far, only a few of us have noticed.