Thursday, January 04, 2007


The Car's The Star

A thought crossed my mind this morning as I drove to work.

Well, a number of thoughts really. First, that driving by myself 11 miles to work was not the most environmentally friendly way of doing things. But then I thought that the public transport options involved in going from Prestwich to Oldham (walk to Metrolink station followed by Metrolink to Bowker Vale followed by walk to bus stop followed by bus to Oldham) aren’t very attractive either.

My journey isn’t typical. Most people are going from Oldham to Manchester in the morning, not the other way round like me. And the quickest way from Oldham to Manchester goes nowhere near Prestwich. Resultantly, there’s no direct route on public transport, despite it only being 11 miles.

But even so, the public transport option is very bleak: The journey by car takes less than half an hour. The journey by public transport takes over twice as long. By car it costs about £3.50 a day (petrol and parking). The Met/bus combo costs nearer a fiver. More still if I want to go home via a drink in Manchester, which I do fairly often.

And that’s before we factor in possible delays, overcrowding, dirty trams and buses, and the fact that I get the impression that the vehicles and some of my fellow passengers aren’t particularly safe to be travelling on/with.

I’m all for public transport, where it’s practical. I think there should be more buses, especially in rural areas or serving communities not otherwise well served by transport. I think we should invest far more than we do in making public transport an appealing choice, rather than a necessary annoyance.

I think public transport should be cheaper to use, cleaner, and more reliable. And if this means paying more for it out of taxation, then so be it. The alternative – raising fares for users as happened this week – isn’t fair and does nothing to boost the reputation of public transport.

But I also think that there needs to be an acceptance that the car will always be the premier mode of transport – always favoured, always supreme, and always ALWAYS with us. I don’t care if the trains get to become diamond-encrusted bullets capable of floating me to London in an hour for £25. There are times when I’d still like to take my car, because I like listening to the radio, and driving between places not served by a train, and coming and going when I please. And not sharing.

Cars can be made so much less damaging than they are. There are hybrid cars on the market at the moment. Why aren’t there more? Where are the subsidies to make them more appealing than petrol driven ones? Subsidies to manufacturers and consumers? The same goes for LPG. Why do we hear so much about alternatives to the car, and so little about alternative ways of using the car?

Reducing the number of cars by forcing people from the roads through congestion charging, bus-lanes and guilt-tripping is illiberal, and I don’t like it. More people are using public transport, yes. But how many do so because they want to, and how many because they now have to?

People need to have choice in how they reduce their carbon emissions. Which is where the Liberal Democrat policy of increasing tax for fuel inefficient cars comes good. Why penalise everyone when some are more guilty than others? Why present public transport as the only alternative when hybrid and LPG and non-oil cars are another?

We need far more publicity on alternatives to petrol-based cars. And if the reason that there’s no publicity is because there are no options, then we need to fund research into these options quickly. People just won’t get out of their cars, so lets make the best of it and at least make them as clean as we can.

That was my thought anyway.

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