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Public transport investment is more vital then ever

Andrew Braddock Yateley Hampshire GU46
21 August 2020

Roger Davies (ibid) paints a very depressing picture of a dystopian future that we must all ensure doesn’t happen. Have we learned nothing from Los Angeles and other cities where endemic car dependence has created huge problems – not least for the environment?  

It would be madness to go from one health crisis (Covid-19) to another (the climate emergency) without even pausing to breathe in our already lethal levels of particulate emissions, made worse by simply having too many cars on the road.

The highly successful but hugely counter-productive Government command to avoid public transport – sadly implemented with unconscionable zeal by most train operating companies – has caused untold and unnecessary damage to the modes that must be developed if, ultimately, the human race is to survive.

‘Working from home’ is unnatural and, in the long- term, potentially damaging to people’s mental health. I am certain that in my 50+ years of work I would not have achieved much without the interaction among colleagues that video technology such as Zoom and Teams simply cannot deliver.  

Roger may never visit a shop again but the initial return of retail to the high street has shown that a majority of us really don’t want to buy everything online. Besides, the huge increase in delivery van traffic that Amazon alone creates has worsened congestion and increased pollution on an unacceptable scale.

The slow recovery of the economy from the pandemic must involve ‘building back better’ and it is the job of politicians to put the environment front and centre of the new normal. High quality public transporhas never been more important. 

For the rail network the reduction in high-peak demand will lower fixed costs and enable the creation of all-day clock-face timetables of the kind the Swiss have enjoyed for more than 60 years. That, taken together with real efforts to integrate all rail, tram and bus services within common regional ticketing systems, would make car travel much less attractive.

Of course we need HS2. It is the key to eliminating domestic air travel and reducing the mileage Britons cover in their cars – in most cases double the distance driven by motorists in other European countries.

The number of people who have lost their lives due to Covid-19 is little different to those who die every year due to appallingly poor air quality in urban areas (in truth, in both cases largely through the premature demise of older people), but it is the latter which is far more damaging to the healthy development of our grandchildren and the generations to come.

The car needs to be consigned to history in due course, not turned into the conveyance of necessity at the very moment it becomes unaffordable for the significant number of jobless people that coronavirus has created. 

Public transport is vital to the recovery and to the transformation of urban air quality, alongside increases in walking and cycling, and it must be the top priority for city and combined authority mayors with enlightened devolution of fund-raising powers from central government.

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