A commentary by Mark McArthur-Christie
If public transport is so great, why don't newly-fledged lottery winners blow their cash on lifetime bus passes?

Instead, the papers picture them smilingly holding the keys to new Aston Martins, Ferraris and Porsches. Why? Because a car, like a lottery win, means freedom. Freedom to travel where and when you want to, not when a public transport operator says you can.

I joined the Association of British Drivers in 1995 because I am a libertarian, and I believe the choice of how best to travel belongs with the individual, not the bureaucrat. Unfortunately, the Government believes that bureaucrats know best and that travellers must be told what to do.

I believe there are two key choices in transport policy — to restrict or to empower. Empowering travellers means allowing them to choose freely from a range of alternatives that are all viable. The Government's approach is to restrict and to control, which, I believe, has resulted in a transport policy where there are no winners — only losers.

Drivers lose as they are taxed more heavily year by year. I don't drive a big, powerful, polluting limousine ' I have a small, efficient diesel-engined car ' but I will pay in excess of £4,500 in driving taxes this year. For me, public transport is not an option. To travel the 36 miles from my home to the office would mean getting the 5.20am bus and arriving at my desk 3 hours and 30 minutes later. That's why the ABD is campaigning for realistic fuel tax and for investment in road infrastructure.

People without cars are losers too. Public transport is little short of a sick joke. The Government's own Audit Commission has damned it as 'expensive, unreliable and inefficient', yet people are increasingly forced out of their cars and onto buses and trains that can't cope. Unfortunately, the Government's response is to make cars as unpleasant to use as public transport, not to make public transport as pleasant to use as the car. I want to see that changed.

In fact, the whole country has lost as government after government has taxed drivers and failed to invest in transport. That means we all sit in traffic queues, need second mortgages for train tickets and travel cattle-class on the bus.

The Government's attacks on the car appear not so much founded in hard scientific fact as based on politically correct dogma. Recent studies have shown that the greatest threat to urban air quality is not the car, but rather buses and trucks, yet I see my local authority continuing to ban cars and treat those that remain as council cashpoints on wheels.

The transport debate is a key issue for all of us in the UK. We all need to travel to work, for business, for leisure, to shop, to see friends, family and relations. That's why I believe that Government needs to concentrate on a truly integrated transport policy — which includes, at its heart, properly funded public transport and the car.

 

This article was featured on Channel 4's Election 2001 pages.