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Sunday, June 05, 2005
Tackling the problem from the wrong end
According to a recent report,
The government is throwing its weight behind a revolutionary plan that would force motorists to pay £1.30 a mile to drive on Britain's busiest roads in a bid to prevent 'LA-style gridlock'.Read more about it here.
Now, one might be tempted to dismiss this as the crazed and speculative rantings of an overwrought journalist were it not for one thing: the story gets blanket coverage in both the press and the BBC. Given that this news results from a speech by Alistair Darling, the current transport minister, we must therefore take this as the beginning of
...a 'national debate' on the importance of introducing a national road-pricing scheme to solve Britain's chronic congestion.We must, of course, also be aware that, in respect of the problem, Airstrip One is in danger of filling its roads with cars unable to get anywhere.
Surely, when a vessel is getting full one stops pouring instead of trying to stretch the vessel (not quite the aptest analogy but you see what I mean). Why do we go on building and importing cars? We already have the seeds of a solution: only a month or two ago, Rover went down the plughole (remember the Leyland logo with a capital ‘L’ in the middle of a sink waste?) very conveniently.
Now that we have virtually no indigenous motor industry, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we were to stop making cars altogether? We could tell Johnny Foreigner that he could carry on making Minis, Hondas and Nissans here if, and only if, his entire production were to be exported. Otherwise, bugger off. At the same time, we could prohibit the import of any vehicle, buses excepted. Just watch public transport improve and the (car) throwaway society wind down. We’d gradually get more space on our roads, cars would be better cared for and used only for sensible journeys, not for things like the school run.
I remember Airstrip One when it was rare to see a car on the roads, and then only when it was preceded by a man carrying a red flag. One could walk, cycle, or ride a horse with impunity almost anywhere. Now, one takes one’s life in one’s hands every time one ventures out. In some ways, gridlock would be a good thing if it stopped the car wreaking its social damage. Road pricing has its attraction as a cure but if we don’t stop the never-ending production and import of cars, we only delay the inevitable. Airstrip One ain’t gonna get any bigger and there’s a limit to how many more roads we can build.
When there were just a few cars on the road, it might have been better to start phasing them out altogether instead of introducing the red flag act. However, we’re not starting from there, as the Irishman almost said, so we’ve got to go carefully. Look what’s been done in Cuba – for different reasons, of course: no congestion; good public transport and only veteran cars on the road. Perhaps there is another way, Darling...
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