Monday, August 04, 2008

All aboard?

It seems that every time I turn on my radio lately there is some discussion or other where car drivers are bemoaning either the rising cost of fuel, parking charges or speed cameras. Not being a car driver myself, I have little sympathy with most of these arguments as the callers they have on nearly always trot out the same tired old 'woe is me' arguments as if they are some poor hard done by souls.

From my point of view, having never owned a car (nor for that matter particularly wanting to - I have gone into my reasons before) I see those that do have one as being privileged. That perhaps isn't entirely fair because some people have to have a car for necessity and practical reasons but most people don't need a car. Yes, I am sure they would argue that it has many advantages and makes their lives easier for many reasons and some may even argue that it is cheaper than relying on public transport. These are all valid arguments and I wouldn't wish to suggest that everyone should give up their cars. The point I am making is that most people have a car because they want one not because they actually need one. That is an important difference I feel. Therefore, cars are not a right they are a choice. However, it seems when it comes to things like the rising cost of fuel, car drivers seem to feel it is their right to have cheaper fuel. They become very precious about their cars and the fact that they feel their freedoms are being infringed.

As a non-car owner I don't feel my freedom is inhibited not in a broad sense. In a very narrow sense it is because I can't simply go where I want when I want because I'll either have to walk, get a bus or catch a train but that has always been the case. I don't feel that I am missing out and I in some ways feel freer from not owning a car and being absent of its attendant responsibilities and costs.

What does particularly annoy me is when car drivers spout absolute nonsense about public transport and of course they are always right on this point! For example a few weeks ago when the price of fuel was going up virtually every day one chap, a car driver, was on the radio, saying it was impossible for him to do his commute from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury because it would either mean getting a train into London and back out again or an 90-minute bus trip, which wouldn't arrive into Aylesbury until well after 9am. The first part is true as currently there is no direct rail link to Aylesbury but that could be restored in the next 5-10 years. However, his comments about the bus service were completely inaccurate as there is a bus which gets to Aylesbury from MK before 9am and only takes an hour. Admittedly, not very competitive with the car, a journey which I would imagine takes half the time. My point here though is the blinkered view of public transport and the immediate feeling that it just isn't worth bothering with. Well, of course the inaccuracy was never corrected and so another nail in the coffin for public transport...

And this really annoys me. Yes, public transport is far from perfect but then how many car drivers can say that they have a perfect journey to or from work everyday and that they have never had an accident or a breakdown? Often listening to the travel reports on the radio, the problems are on the roads, the trains normally run on or about to time. But of course that doesn't fulfill the negative perception that we have of our public transport system.

The trouble is it only takes one particularly bad experience on a train or a bus to put people off using public transport altogether yet they will put up with day after day of sitting in traffic jams in their cars. These views are reinforced by the constantly inaccurate and biased views that I keep hearing that are never corrected and thus feed into this overall negativity towards public transport. Neither does it help when you have a government that says it is 'modally agnostic' and does not have a clear strategy for public transport.

1 comment:

Carla said...

My problem with the cost of fuel is that the majority of it is in taxes,and these taxes are not just for the 'privileged' car owners, but also for the vehicles that transport our goods. This drives up the cost of everything. Even people who use public transport suffer because of rising fuel prices. They may not pay at the pump, but they do at the ticket office for their transport fare and the till for their groceries and other goods.

I think it's too late to subvert the car culture here, and I don't think you can price people off the roads with fuel tax and road tolls. But if public transport were improved to the standards you see in Japan or the Netherlands, I think lots of people would gladly leave their cars behind and opt for buses, trams and trains. I don't believe the UK will ever take steps to improve public transport in any meaningful way, though.

To be quite honest, I'm glad we finally bought a car and am still working toward getting my UK licence. So many job opportunities are passing me by because I do not have a licence, and that's just the reality of it. I have a lesson in about five minutes, in fact, so I'd better go!