Headlines: September 18th, 2007

Politicians are being warned today that Britain’s prosperity depends on realistic transport planning rather than hoping there will be a big move to public transport enforced by punitive pricing. Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, will tell the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference that Britain remains car-dependent.

In a debate, ‘Road Pricing – Delivering the economy?’ Mr. King will claim the car is the vehicle of choice for commuters, business travellers and shoppers, because it combines convenience and flexibility and that 93 per cent of passenger journeys and 67 per cent of freight movements take place on the roads. Research by the RAC Foundation concludes that only those people already using public transport are prepared to use it more and those who have never tried travelling by bus have not been persuaded to do so.

The research covers the period from 1993 to 2005 and shows that the percentage of the population with a valid driving licence rose from 67 per cent to 72 per cent and with further increases being predicted, particularly in the number of women drivers. Half the population has never used a bus and only seven per cent of people cycle regularly.

Mr. King will tell delegates, “The UK is still a car-dependent nation. Cars could be used less and we could be smarter about tele-working, home shopping and teleconferencing but the car will continue to be the workhorse of the economy. Cycling and walking have a part to play in tackling congestion but they are only ever going to be a realistic prospect for a small percentage of business journeys.”

With or without road pricing, he will say, gridlock can only be avoided by investing in more road capacity. “We need to spend more on mitigating the environmental effects of roads by using tunnels and we need to speed up the introduction of cleaner, greener, safer cars. We don’t need to keep our heads in the sand and just hope that cars will disappear,” he will add.