Unfair, unsafe and unwise – a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain

Dear British Friends and Colleagues,

Forgive me if I am being naïve, but based on what I am reading and hearing it strikes me that there is a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain in the months immediately ahead — as a result of the coalition government withdrawing funding from a lot of mainly small and local (since they really have to be small and usually local and focused if they are to succeed) sustainable transport initiatives This strikes me as a caring observer as unfair, unsafe and unwise.

Yes, these are hard times for Britain and yes, the available public moneys need to be spent wisely and well. But in this context I am at a loss to understand why great gobs of hard earned taxpayer earnings are being set aside for massive investments in motorways and high speed rail projects, none of which pass even the most elementary performance test of these hard times.

Beyond this, the cost of abandoning something that is working pretty well and making an important contribution, such as is the case with literally hundreds of these modest high impact programs, is very high. You can shut down the operation in a single day, send the people who are its soul home to try to figure out what they can do next with all their preciously won experience, and the nation is a loser. After decades of observation and work experience at the leading edge in this sector, I and my colleagues have learned at least one thing – and that is that consistency and continuity are vital for sustainable transport and sustainable cities, and sustainable lives.

So I ask you this: what if anything can I or, better yet, World Streets do to gently bring these choices before the widest possible public in Britain and abroad, so that your government can be brought to reason on this before it is too late? My hope is that as an independent international collaborative of high repute and with literally thousands of professional contacts working in the field in countries all over the world, some attention may be paid to our views on this important topic. (You can see just below the map showing the origins of World Streets last eighty readers just below. To which I might add that a steady 20% of our readers are British.)

When my forbears sailed with empty pockets from England and Scotland in the early 18th century to make their life in America, they would I am sure have not approved of their distant grandson just sitting on his hands when he could at least try to be of help at a hard time for what is after all our historic native land. So please if you do have an idea contact me and let me know how I or World Streets might be able to help in getting greater attention in the media and the public before it is too late.

Kind regards,

Eric Britton

3 thoughts on “Unfair, unsafe and unwise – a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain

  1. Posted by George Monbiot Tuesday 4 January 2011 15.53 GMT guardian.co.uk
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/jan/04/war-on-motorists

    In search of the famous ‘war on motorists’

    The only transport war being waged in this country is by motorists – against pedestrians and cyclists

    Where is this famous war on the motorist? Can anyone point me to the battlefields, the graves of the war dead, the statues commemorating the unknown driver? Who has been waging it and when was it fought?

    What I see is that driving has become cheaper over the past three decades, while other forms of transport have become more expensive. That the space dedicated to cars – both on the roads and for parking – has expanded, often at the expense of other kinds of public space. There is precious little enforcement of either the speed limit or of other rules – such as parking on the pavement in residential areas. When someone is killed or injured as a result of careless driving, the penalties are tiny, if there is any punishment at all. As a result, motorists are able to take space – and even life – away from people pursuing other activities.

    The only places in which you can see what looks like the outcome of a war are hospital wards which treat people with terrible injuries inflicted by poorly regulated drivers. But in this case the “war” is being waged by motorists against pedestrians and cyclists.

    The two men who have just announced that they will “end the war on the motorist” – Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, and Eric Pickles, the communities secretary – are living in a dream world. Or, perhaps more accurately, a media world, in which the fantasies of the rightwing tabloids are treated as if they were reality.

    Yesterday they said that they are “removing national planning restrictions put in place in 2001 that required councils to limit the number of parking spaces allowed in new residential developments and set high parking charges to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport.”

    There are two obvious and immediate outcomes. The first is that there will be less space for housing. Land is finite, and development land is in short supply. This means that there’s a pay-off between the amount on which you can build and the amount on which you can park. Pickles and Hammond seem to be putting the demand for second and third cars over the need for new housing. Either housing sprawls over an ever wider area of countryside (which, incidentally, makes people even more dependent on their cars) or less of it can be accommodated on existing sites.

    The second is that there will be less money for local authorities, which means that services must be cut even further. Parking fees are an important part of many councils’ revenues – something has to go.

    But the wider impacts are just as important. This is about private interests trumping the wider public interest, about allowing people to pursue individual self-interest, regardless of the cost to society. It’s about championing the freedom to act, while ignoring the other kind of freedom: freedom from other people’s actions. If “the war on the motorist” means the puny and half-hearted measures designed to ensure that drivers couldn’t push everyone else out of the way, the government announcement that it has come to an end means that we will lose any hope of ensuring that transport is built around the needs of society. Instead, all other human life will have to make way for the car.

    http://www.monbiot.com

    Reply
  2. “‘the greenest government ever’ promising to create a low carbon economy ”

    On Behalf Of Dirk van Dijl

    Eric. I got this email a few minutes before getting yours. I looked at it and thought largely along the lines of your email and in fact binned this one. However, in light of your email I thought this might entertain you.

    Keep well and Happy New Year.

    Dirk

    Dirk van Dijl
    The Coachhouse, 60a All Saints Street
    Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3BN
    T: 0207 1006 399
    M: 07860 859 749
    E: dirk@vandijl.com
    Skype: WDvandijl

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
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    ‘Influencing travel behaviour’
    The Barbican, London – 14th April 2011

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    Dear Colleague,

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    The Sustainable Transport Systems Conference 2011 will discuss the leading policies and approaches to ensure the UK can progress both environmentally and economically though investing in sustainable transport systems.

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    Councillor Jane Urquhart (proposed) – Nottingham City Council
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    malmond@specialistdelegate.co.uk
    http://www.publicserviceevents.co.uk

    Reply
  3. From: Simon Norton
    Date: Thu Jan 6, 2011 5:29 am
    Subject: sustainable transport in Britain simonphillip…
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    I agree with Eric and would go further in highlighting aspects of the crisis
    which I regard as even more depressing.

    Chief among these is the Government’s war on bus users. This is taking 3 forms:

    1. The previous government introduced free bus travel in England for the over
    60s, and the present government has (so far) succumbed to pressure to maintain
    this facility (though with a progressive increase in the qualifying age
    introduced by the previous government). However it is cutting back in what it
    gives to local government which is charged with the responsibility of
    administering the scheme. This could have one of several consequences:

    (a) The amount local authorities can reimburse (private) bus operators for
    carrying senior citizens will be reduced. This will make some marginal services
    unprofitable and increase the deficit on services that are already being
    supported by local government.

    (b) Alternatively, local authorities can reduce the number of bus journeys made
    by senior citizens by the simple expedient of cutting services.

    (c) Or local authorities can find the funds to make up the deficit. This is
    unlikely — see below.

    2. As part of its programme of privatising the whole economy the government is
    cutting its overall support for local authorities. As local authorities have
    very little in the way of independent fundraising powers this means that they
    have no choice but to cut the services they provide — and bus services are
    likely to be first in line as they have no statutory duty to provide any
    particular level of service at all.

    It is worth noting that since the 2009 local elections almost all local
    transport authorities have been under the control of the same party that is the
    senior party in the government coalition and will need little in the way of
    excuse to leave off from supporting buses — they have only been doing so
    hitherto because of pressure from the previous government. The political
    situation is very similar to that that prevailed in 1980: to use a metaphor, we
    had 2 fingers removed from one of our hands in the early 1980s, and we now face
    losing another 2 fingers.

    Incidentally the government has referred to a policy of devolving decisions to
    local areas. However there is absolutely no intent to devolve the fundamental
    decision of how much money to spend on local services, or to make it easier for
    them to raise money for this purpose. At present the only mechanism for local
    government to raise money is through a highly regressive tax on property that
    was introduced by the Thatcher government as a fallback when its poll tax proved
    politically untenable.

    3. And then there is the intention to double fuel tax for buses (with no
    comparable cnange for other vehicles). Historically buses have been exempted
    from a significant proportion of fuel tax. The previous government replaced this
    by something called Bus Service Operator Grant, set at about 80% of fuel tax
    rates. The present government has announced that from 2012 this will be reduced
    to 60%.

    As to what people from outside the UK can do about it, I suspect that the answer
    is “not much”. The UK’s tradition of insularity was by no means halted when we
    joined what was then the European Economic Community (now the EU) or when the
    Channel Tunnel opened. Perhaps one thing that could be done is to get the local
    travel agencies to threaten to cease to promote the UK as a tourist destination
    on the grounds that when tourists reach the UK they will find it far harder to
    get around locally if bus services are decimated.

    Alternatively — and this could be done within the UK as well — those local
    authorities that give priority to maintaining their bus services could be
    selectively promoted as tourist destinations.

    In my role as tourist I am fed up with seeing advertisements that either omit
    reference to public transport altogether (as almost all advertisement for
    specific attractions in rural areas do) or just refer to it as a way of reaching
    the area (i.e. the main centres within it) and not of getting around the area
    when one’s there.

    Reply

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