Gus Gies Grief

Chris Bainbridge (Planning Officer)

The saddest news in transport in the summer was the statement made by Transport Minister Lord Gus MacDonald that socially-excluded people should be encouraged to acquire cars.

I’m quite happy to accept that most people will probably want to own cars, and there’s not much we can, should, or need to do about it. But encourage it? While it’s true that in most parts of the country (arguably not in London) getting a car means a big step up in people’s lifestyle, every time someone makes the transition from non-car owner to car-owner, life gets a little bit harder for the remaining non-car owners. There are three hundred fewer bus journeys a year, leading to cuts in services or higher subsidies. There’s one more car to threaten pedestrians and cyclists, one fewer pedestrian or cyclist to give the others strength and presence.

Giving up the habit

It’s actually impossible for everyone to drive their own car, even if that were desirable – some people would need chauffeurs. What we should be doing is targeting some groups to give up or not get cars. Rich people in central London, or youth. In the UK, people are desperate to get their first car at seventeen. In Sweden, according to Stagecoach boss Brian Souter, they leave it until they’re 26 or 27. We could promote non-car owning role models. As comedian and impressionist Allister McGowan said: ” It’s been proved that the size of a man’s car is linked to the size of his genitals. I go everywhere by train”.

John Whitelegg has found, in his work on producing Green Travel Plans, a 20-60-20 split. Twenty per cent of people wouldn’t give up their cars under any circumstances, twenty per cent are keen to give up their cars, and the other sixty per cent are sceptical but open to persuasion if the alternatives are good enough. Targeting the committed twenty per cent would be a good start, and give us a base for making inroads into the sceptical sixty per cent.

It’s not difficult to reduce car use and dependency – but we have to want to do it. When the possible closure of Rover at Longbridge and Fords at Dagenham are seen as national tragedies, we have a long way to go. There is a massive over-production in the world car industries. Why not re-tool the plants to make trams, or lifts to make rail stations wheelchair-accessible? Encouraging people to get and use cars for the sake of “the economy” (which would be better renamed as ” the waste”) is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The car industry may not be too strongly opposed to changes either – Ford make more money from financial services than they do from making cars.

Dome a Favour

Whatever you may think of the contents of the Millennium Dome (my family enjoyed it), the access arrangements, in which people have to go by public transport, are good. Let’s hope that critics don’t blame the Dome’s failure to attract enough visitors on the lack of car access. It’s also a pity that the promoters couldn’t organise a combined travel and entry ticket.