Department for Transport is modally agnostic

Listening to the speaker from the Department for Transport, Jacqui Wilkinson, at the Greater London Assembly’s Driving Change conference on what to do about congestion, I heard a new expression: she said that the Department was ‘modally agnostic’, meaning that it was not bothered about how we get there, just that we do.
This is quite extraordinary and explains how government policy has surrepticiously changed over the years. Gone is the view, expressed by dear old John Prescott, that getting people out of their cars is an aim of transport policy. Clearly now sustainability is not within the Department’s purview.
I suppose this has been the case for quite a while. In the early days of Alistair Darling’s tenure at transport, I asked him whether he should be encouraging rail use as opposed to travel by air for domestic journeys. He said that it was not up to him to make such decisions and the government had no role in trying to influence modal split. Moreover, he suggested it could not be done, which was clearly inaccurate since the government has all sorts of tools at its disposal, from planning to pricing.
Now though, it seems that modal agnosticism determines transport policy, or rather the lack of it. Modal agnosticism is, indeed, the abnegation of transport policy, a simple way of saying that there is nothing we can do about these motorists wanting to drive their cars. Indeed, a fellow blogger pressed Wilkinson, who remarkably is head of sustainable travel initiatives at the Department for Transport, on the matter after the conference and she told him that it takes time to change attitudes. That’s hardly surprising given the absence of any sort of lead from the Department.

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