No change, no chance

9 May, 2008

Before anyone starts this is not a post about the leadership but about transport policy. I noticed this article in the Times. Frankly I’m not surprised because we know how to fix the transport problems. What we don’t know is how to fix the political problems of those solutions.

It’s quite simple if we want transport to improve take a stack of cash and do the following:

  • Announce an initial five year moratorium on road building and put the savings into alternatives.
  • A wholesale adoption of Dutch and Danish cycle culture in combination with urban renewal prioritising walking and cycling.
  • Pay councils more than the cost of implementation say 10% for high quality, high useage urban cycle paths and watch them spring up all over the place.
  • A revolution on the railways with high speed trains used for decades on the continent becoming the norm here. The fares should also be made to be significantly cheaper than the equivalent car journey.
  • Light rail and tram systems across all urban conurbations and investment and extensions to ones already operational.
  • Serious amounts of state intervention in the bus industry as well as plenty of guided busways.
  • Serious increases in the cost of car useage. I think the more legitimate way of doing this is through national road pricing rather than fuel duty because road pricing can be vary depending on how congested the road are.
  • Wholesale rewriting of the traffic laws which would be much, much harsher on careless and dangerous motorists. Lifetime driving bans should become a routine punishment.
  • 20mph should be the standard urban speed limit and the speed limit zealously enforced.

The reality is that we are never going to get everyone out of their cars but that should not stop us from providing alternatives that a significant section on the population would use. It is realistic to aim for a situation where car transport has gone from being the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transport to one where it may be the largest but accounts for less than half of all journeys.

I think the key is to treat people as rational actors if you build alternatives to the car which are quicker, safer, cheaper, greener and more fun then they will come. You also have to explain the vision so that people can buy into it. What is going to be crucial is enough cash, though increasing the road network is far from cheap itself, and political drive. If you can manage that combination you are half way there already.

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