April 15 2024

We need to see more informed discussion when it comes to the Government's road policies, says CPT President Paul Lynch:  

Is there a “war on the motorist” as none other than the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said? In the foreword to his government’s Plan for Drivers, the Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper also suggests some motorists feel “under attack”.

Well, leaving aside the unhelpful use of militaristic language at a time of real conflict in the world, do they have a point?

Are local authorities needlessly and deliberately hounding a section of society while pretending to try to make their streets safer and more pleasant; raising revenue via penalties while hiding behind the need to reach net-zero?

Or is a desperate government seizing on an issue it thinks might win it some votes, presumably based on the Uxbridge by-election result last year (where a Tory victory was attributed to the Ultra Low Emission Zone issue), while conveniently ignoring much of what it’s been encouraging and legislating on for many years?

You’ll have your own view on this and can probably guess mine from the way I’ve written the above, but I do find it depressing that serious, complicated and nuanced issues are being reduced to simplicities and, worse, to unnecessary and unhelpful points of conflict by the very people responsible for them long-term — presumably for the sake of perceived short-term political gain.

Maybe it’s inevitable with the way politics seems to be conducted now, especially in an election year.

But doesn’t this just make tackling the real problems associated with emissions, journey times, safety, public transport use and reliability, parking, road space allocation, residents’ rights, enforcement, etc, so much harder for all concerned — now and into the future — without actually shedding any real insight on the issues?

Given the latest survey data from More In Common (for the Institute for Public Policy Research) on public attitudes to transport, do the government ministers really believe, for example, that “15-minute cities” are intended to be a way “to control and police people’s lives”, as opposed to a policy designed to enable people to access work, leisure and shops easily and without the need for a car?

If you think about it, the answer to that is troubling, whether it’s a “yes” or a “no”, since it either means — despite their responsibilities — ministers are aligning themselves with a conspiracy theorist’s interpretation of the policy, or they are espousing something they don’t believe on the basis it might be electorally advantageous to do so.

Since the publication of that Plan for Drivers, which among other things proposed new guidance for Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTNs), the notorious example of an LTN in Streatham in London has been suspended.

This could be viewed as a victory for the motorist and, in this case, London bus operators (given the horrendous delays it provoked), but it would be an unhelpful outcome, including for motorists, if this reversal were to be regarded as proof that all LTNs are a bad idea.

As so often, the truth is more complicated — some LTNs work well and some require more thought. Local authorities have a difficult task to balance so many competing demands for road space with all the other priorities that LTNs and their like involve. They should be helped rather than demonised.

This is not a party-political piece (I’ll write in a future column about Labour’s need to outline more than franchising and municipalisation as a panacea to the issues the bus industry and its customers face).

It’s a plea for a more sensible debate about these issues. After all, there’s a lot of expertise around to illuminate these vital debates and to help drive progress on the economy, society and the environment — not least within the Confederation of Passenger Transport and its manifestos for coach and bus.


First published 15 April 2024 Route One magazine.