Greenest is difficult to understand

In what conceivable way can the Budget be deemed to be Green? While motorists have seen costs rise recently, they are still doing jolly well compared with other transport users. I bumped into Lord Adonis a couple of days ago and he was moaning about the fact that bus useage had gone done by a third in ten years in Birmingham and yet National Express had pushed up fares by 10 per cent over the past year and yet were making handsome profits. What has Osborne done for them? Or, indeed, for rail users who are now going to suffer rises of inflation plus 3 per cent.

I want to avoid seeming like an anti-car fanatic but watching a whole lot of clearly very unhealthy and overweight people being interviewed in their cars about the fuel tax situation just reinforces my view that the car is the worst invention ever. I find even a short drive gives me backache and a long one makes me far stiffer than the 8km run I have just indulged in. In short, driving a car makes me feel old. Cars are unhealthy in so many ways, and yet we have successive governments – Labour was no better and had been pressing for a fuel tax cut – who are so in hock to the motoring lobby that they dare not point that out. So the proportion of tax in the cost of fuel has, according to Channel 4, fallen from more than 80 per cent to just over 60 per cent in the past couple of decades. Yet, the motoring lobby moans and moans and moans, while cars use up a resource that we all know is dwindling.

Therefore cutting duty on fuel, when so much else could have been done with the money – like helping rural transport, keeping libraries open or ensuring that lollipop ladies in Devon are not sacked – as well as not imposing a rise in air passenger duty – is a clear illustration of the direction the government is going in. It can be called lots of things, but Green is not among them.

  • Paul Holt

    The budget is Green because Green is the current fashionable adjective.

    CW recently toured America researching his new book (http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/2010/11/why-america-missed-the-train/). How did he get there? Did he fly? I expect his answer will be “‘Course I flew. Whadyabloodythink?”.

  • Paul Z. Temperton

    Right on CW. One expects this of the Tory party, traditionally. Sad that LibDems, some of whom understand more about this kind of thing, seem to be happy to go along with it. Clegg was actually nodding away on the front bench next to Osborne as he was announcing this.

  • Anonymous

    Flying is an interesting one Paul – there needs to be fairness in APD – but your point (I assume) is that CW took a flight to America – there is a difference here; there are no low cost airlines crossing the Atlantic (yet); for example no-one nips over to New York or Boston for a stag party on the same frequency that Brits now casually jet off to Dublin, Prague, Riga or Budapest (to name but four examples) in search of cheap beer do they? Long haul still is the domain of traditional full-service airlines, and still too expensive for it to be created as a commodity in the way that Ryanair et al have done for short haul and domestic.

    The point surely is that this is a luxury that the environment nor the local British economy can’t afford = think of all the holiday attractions, pubs, restaurants that have closed in the UK because people now treat jetting off to the Continent for silly prices as a right rather than a priviledge. APD should be getting used to clobber all the unneccesary short haul flying that goes on domestically and within Europe where the railways could be getting used instead – or indeed people not travelling at all and making do with what is on their own doorstep.

  • Well done Christian. We need to remember just how much cheaper motoring has become over the last few decades. See http://rdrf.org.uk/2011/03/saying-no-to-ed-balls-balls-up-on-fuel/ .

  • Peter

    Aaaaw cum on. Not all of us live in London y’now. My fuel has gone up from £1 to £1.40 a litre in a year. The governmint has collected mightily from that. A 1p duty concession is an insult.

  • William

    One thing you overlooked, Christian, is that at the same time the government scrapped the Freight Facilities Grant it allowed road hauliers to increase the length of their vehicles by 2 metres. Successive govenments have given in to most of the road haulage demands for bigger and heavier vehicles. Thank goodness the last goovernment drew the line at 60-tonne ‘road trains.’

  • Paul

    Christian, I’m all for public transport, but you have to bear in mind that in large areas of the country a car is the only practical way to get around.

    The massive percentage increase in fuel prices over the past few years will have hit many working people hard .I personally don’t think it’s unreasonable for the government to cushion that blow, as part of a fair, balanced transport policy.

  • Percy

    Outside of London you can forget it, this country is presently a motor car economy and public transport is totally inadequate for the needs of the population. People – especially in rural areas – are locked into car dependency, its a matter of survival that a car is a necessary possesion and another form of unavoidable taxation on top of astronomical calor gas prices, etc, etc. In many ways rural poverty is just as bad as urban poverty, many ordinary people in the countryside dont live, they exist due low wages in seasonal jobs such as tourism and high transportation costs such as car ownership to access those jobs or simply access food, schools and services. Thats the way its been planned out by central Government over the post war period and it isnt going to change over night, you cant kick working people for owning a car and trying to get on with their lives.

    What I find bizarre is that the newspapers on the whole clamoured to say what a great deal motorists were getting by HM Governemnts knocking off of a penny on fuel with all sorts of silly headlines, one saying “Britian You Can Drive Your Car”. I reality it doesnt make any difference to hard pushed housesholds locked in car dependency in a motor car economy such as ours. How objective and unbiased in reporting the news are these so called free press organisations when they trumpet 1p as a great deal for the hard pushed motorist in their headlines. They are totally out of touch with the working man / woman and showed their true colours by proving they really are on the side of the Governmant and not the readers they claim to represent by trumpeting 1p off as something to behold. Its a joke.

    As a footnote I think things will change and it will be the price of fuel driven up by its unavailabilty that will re organise how our society functions over the next twenty years, not any Govenrment policies.

  • Anonymous

    Percy – here here. I live in the country, and although I am only 15-16 miles away from the nearest two big towns (Perth and Dundee), the bus service is pathetic – it is infrequent and overpriced – the cost of one return journey is higher than the fuel cost of driving my car….even at today’s fuel prices!! There are cheap tickets of course if you travel off peak or are part of a group – but what effing use is that?? It is no different from the guff we get from ATOC about off peak travel not being any more expensive than BR days – great if you have that sort of time flexibility….for the majority of us – as much use as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

    It is all very well saying that people make the decision to live in the country, but the premium on city living these days….I could allude of course to the lucky minority who can afford to live in or near the centre of London and therefore are in the reach of plentiful and reasonably cheap public transport, but the same pattern is repeated in nearly other major population centres – Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds – a price premium is put on housing that is anywhere near easy transport links, forcing people onto the roads.

    We are all guilty of taking the path of least resistance – I’m afraid that is true here…like you Percy I agree that the only way that behaviour will change is when oil supply starts to get severely affected by factors beyond our Government’s control…as if it hasn’t started already.

  • Paul Holt

    “…I find even a short drive gives me backache…”

    Christian: driving is like sex; if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Paul

    Percy, your right on the money there. Most of the country’s post WW2 infrastructure has been built around car ownership. People aren’t stupid, they will take the most effective, economic mode of transport available to them. For most people outside of London, that’s the car.

  • Dave H

    The comments already note that the promotion of car use has been locked in by development – largely because retailers and employers have realised the population is largely gullible and willing to pay out for the car and fuel required to shop and get to work at locations where land is cheap and available – saving the businesses substantial costs – including for retailers distribution to smaller high street locations.

    I find a sad irony in claims that it is more expensive to go by rail or bus – sure it is when you already own a car, and then there is assumption that your everyday shopping and work will rack up a greater cost because you don’t have a car. Rubbish!

    On journeys I make regularly, the cost of a walk up rail fare, available on most trains tends to work out at about a third of the price of driving and paying to park, and that does not factor in the great detail that I can work or rest when travelling by train, potentially- as one major accountancy firm noted for their company policy of making long distance trips by first class rail, that the staff would be able to do work on client account whilst travelling, and that their rate for client account work more than paid for the train fare, compared to driving, which is largely a cost to the company.

    The nub of the problem is in some part the silo mentality of the rail and bus operators. Their product is not what the customer really wants to buy – no one makes a journey solely between railway stations or bus stops. True the industry is beginning to recignise that it is selling a product not fit for purpose, but Plusbus – having worked out the it works best as a Nationally standardised flat fare supplement, still fails to deliver connected timetables & services, leaving that task to the passenger.

    It is no great surprise then that when a really serous intervention arises the solution is delivered by unstructured action by the passengers using the resources they can readily apply, and driving the change through impact on the ground that the operator cannot ignore, or confront with a ban, but will be forced to manage and maybe in the course of time even consider ‘selling’ (and probably even making money) as a part of the total travel deal that might eventually deliver the product that properly ‘competes’ with the car for the door-to door journeys that most travellers want to make.

    Amazingly where this has been ‘sold’ Notably in London, where the Barclays Bikes and SWT hire scheme have been enthusiastically taken up by rail passengers, and on top of this the demand for parking individual bikes has driven massive increases in parking provision in less than 10 years (2000% more at St Pancras 1000+% at Waterloo, 2000+% at Euston etc) although in all these cases the delivery of the security and added value product has yet to be achieved.

    And this is really green – many London commuters can cut 60 minutes from their journey times almost immediately and with minimal cost compared to schemes to save a few minutes by spending on trains and track, and a car-rail-tube commute converts to a bike-rail-bike one – often saving at least £2500 in car park and London Zones season tickets, and up to £8000/year if that car in the car park and gym membership can be dropped.

    The US current figure suggests that on average a US household has to spend 26% of its earning capacity to pay for the car needed to gt to work. The UK figure is in the region of 20%, and the opportunity of a 20% increase in disposable income ins an opportunity staring young George in the face, as a way to get money moving around again but I suspect the silo mentality will completely miss the point.

  • Ian Raymond

    Christian, a good point, but realistically the government cannot be ‘green’ until public transport makes itself attractive; if people are to be beaten out of cars and airlines with a stick, there has to be a carrot. Now, I’m an asthmatic and want to see reduced car use (even though at 41 taking up the ‘addiction’ myself), but public transport in this country is – with a few notable eceptions – becoming worse and worse.

    Consider:
    1.The ridiculous ‘cram em in’ interior designs/seats that we now see.
    2.The prevalence of *really* unpleasant voyager-type services (despite Chris Gibb’s pathetic bleating defence of them in last month’s MR).
    3.Constant downgrading of available catering options – on a 5-6hr journey I expect more than a packet of crisps and instant coffee – XC please note!
    4.Buses that don’t turn up, with no contact source for information.
    5.The constant change in bus timetables that makes planning impossible.
    6.Very (IMHO) poor driving standards by 75% of the buses I use.
    7.The inability of buses to carry bikes (and even the lack of an ability to book a bike online on the trains).
    8.A “like it or lump it” attitude from managers and staff (Merseyrail, Scotrail, CalMac and Trent Barton buses, you’re proudly – and rightly – exempt from this last point).

    Once public transport has got its attitude in order – and most of the above should be revenue-positive problems/solutions – then we can probably muster wider support to deal with the wider transport issues.

    PS – Christian if an 8k is making you stiff try some gentle “off-road work” – not quite as damaging!

  • RapidAssistant

    Well I can sympathise with a lot of this – in my old home town of Glasgow the previously (very good, if I may say so) PTE run bus service was subcontracted out to First, who for some inexplicable reason ditched the entire double decker fleet for single deckers with less half the seating capacity – compounded by all the disability regulations on new buses which limits the amount of seats you can put in.

    Then the council made matters worse by installing bus corridors everywhere in the city centre, which was fine in itself until you consider that there was now more buses on the roads to make up for the lack of seats. Result – chronic peak hour congestion. To add injury to insult, deregulation meant that opportunistic bus firms were putting on every old wreck from last week’s banger auction that they could find to poach First’s business on lucrative routes – spewing out clouds of carcinogenic fumes. I guess the delays gave First’s customers more time to watch the live TV service in their shiny new buses, whilst they pondered over the regular fares rises which were more punctual than their bus service.

    A classic case of how free market capitalism applied to a public service may seem the hip thing to do, but isn’t necessarily in the public interest.

  • Absoutely right. If in any doubt, one has only to compare buses in London, the only place they were not deregulated, with buses everywhere else in the UK. In London it is TfL which decides the routes, the level of service and the fares, and all the farebox revenue goes straight to TfL. Contracts to operate each route are let to tendering companies for an overall fee, with strict performance monitoring. As a result, the bus service in London is as good as it has ever been, and in my experience more reliable than anywhere else. (Of course it is bad news that Boris has put the fares up too much, but that’s a separate issue.)

  • Anonymous

    It is ironic though Dave that people moan and complain about “buses and trains not going where we want them to go”; yet they’ll quite happy suffer Ryanair or EasyJet to fly between an airport “remotely near A” to another airport “remotely near B”, not realising how much they are being shafted when all the ancillary costs are added up. Could never work that one out personally…..

  • Paul Holt

    The fashionable adjective for 2012 will be “sustainable”.

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