We have pointed out – and it appears we will have to keep on repeating ourselves – how much cheaper motoring in Britain has become over the last decade or so. This decline has not only occurred with a more recent increase in the cost of public transport, but with increases in the price of housing and a variety of other living costs – and this before austerity cuts begin to bite. Yet, with enormous scope for increasing the cost of fuel for reasons of equity with non-motoring modes, reducing emissions from motor traffic, raising revenue etc. Labour’s Ed Balls has been calling for cuts in the cost of petrol : in effect (given the massive external costs of motoring) a further subsidy for motoring.This War for the Careless and Subsidised Motorist comes replete with all the hyperbole reserved for motorists, who are “hammered”, “punished” etc. despite paying less for motoring, and when so many options for so many motorists exist for reducing their costs. On Wednesday we will be presented with an austerity budget that will cause serious financial hardship to millions – yet Balls insists on further subsidy to motoring. Shame on him – but not him alone.
We need to get over dependence on oil – and reducing fuel use by motor traffic reduction and using vehicles that are more fuel efficient is a key part of this. (For a good description of the problem see here) There are transport planning measures that can help in this, but the record (with massive increases in motor traffic since New Labour came to power in 1997) of these measures alone is not inspiring. Too many indicators point to the benefits of increasing fuel and other motoring costs. Particularly sad is seeing Ed Miliband line up alongside Balls on this. This is the other Ed who told the Eveneing Standard on 25th February, in response to the question : “What are you most afraid of?” “I worry that too many people still aren’t alert to the threat of climate change.” So do we Ed, so do we.
And what of the various professional bodies representing transport practitioners? Most of us have been fearing job cuts as we either work in or for – directly or indirectly – the public sector (apart from those in road building and the bright and shiny projects like HS2. Might it not be an idea to suggest that a Government anxious to save costs should reduce subsidy to motoring as part of austerity measures? Well, it’s true that money saved would probably not go towards sustainable transport modes with the present regime. But maybe the reason for a lack of vocal opposition is that most practitioners are too content with a car dependent status quo – or too scared to challenge it.