Are we right to not demonise driving?

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Traffic sat at red lights through bus window
Traffic at red lights

One of the points made last week is that driving should not be demonised with the caveat that was as long as drivers paid all their associated costs.

It’s a big challenge to define those costs (or subsidies). The time and space used by a road vehicle plus adverse air quality impacts are difficult to price particularly where this also depends on the journey being undertaken and the type of vehicle.

I believe that we should reallocate road space in urban areas. Some space can be reallocated through nearby development that releases space.  Other space can be released by reallocating inefficient uses of space. Eventually, you reach a point where the only way to get the space required is to reallocate general road space to other uses.

I often get robust responses from some people about my views. They advise me that private car use won’t change and drivers won’t get on the bus instead. I would dispute that people won’t get on a bus, after all Elland Road park and ride shows that hundreds of drivers are prepared to park their car and take the bus.

I might be a lone voice with regards to these views but we need to be frank. Leeds (and many other cities around the world) faces an air quality problem. The pollutants are finer and more complicated than the smogs of the 50’s and 60’s. We face legal requirements for air quality that need to be met (and we are failing to meet). We have a ticking health bomb that we are only just beginning to understand and realise the actual costs of.

Most of the realistic technological solutions are not going to change the space demands. Electric cars take up the same space as diesel cars. Driverless cars take up the same space as diesel cars. They wont change the space and congestion problems we face today.

The most robust method to achieve the air quality improvements we need is to substantially reduce the amount of road vehicles in cities. We need to create space for other forms of transport and the only way to manage road vehicles once you run out of space is to introduce the market to road space. It is already there in terms of fuel tax and car parking charges. Now it is time to introduce it to the most damaging part of road transport, the journey chosen. If you choose to miss the park and ride, public transport and other sustainable forms of transport, you should pay for that privilege. Why should a lifestyle choice that is bad for you and the rest of your community not attract a charge?

Driving shouldn’t be demonised but we should make sure that the subsidy/cost caveat is there. We shouldn’t be afraid to warn car drivers that change in terms of road user charging is coming. There is a reluctance today but faced with a multi-million pound fine (Birmingham is looking at £60m), changes will still be introduced regardless of how prepared the public transport system is for the new patronage. We need to work together to get the transport system to the position that everyone needs.

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