Road pricing not the answer

Letter to the Guardian published 14 February, 2007
Published version at http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,2012301,00.html

When Labour came to power 10 years ago John Prescott proclaimed “I will have failed if in five years time there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It’s a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it”.

He has failed. Since that proclamation the nation’s motor vehicle population has increased by 7.5 million. At parking meter distances (264 cars per mile parked nose to tail) these extra vehicles could be accommodated in a new car park stretching from London to Edinburgh 85 lanes wide. The owners of these extra vehicles expect not just somewhere to park at home but also the ends of their journeys, and roads on which to get there. Huge amounts of space are required to meet these expectations.

Congestion pricing is not the answer. It is symptom treatment that will make the problem worse. It will simply disperse the problem into those parts of the country currently least congested. It will encourage yet more sprawl and low-density, car-dependent land use patterns, hostile to pedestrians and cyclists and unserviceable by public transport.

The on-street car park in older urban areas has been full for some time. Overwhelmingly the extra cars added to the nation’s car population each year must find parking spaces out of town. Their new owners are choosing to live in areas where they have no choice but to depend on their cars.

You note (The Price of Pricing, 12 February) that motoring is now cheaper than it was 25 years ago. To discourage sprawl and increasing dependence on the car motoring costs should be increased most in the areas where the growth is fastest – the opposite of the congestion charging currently proposed.

An extended version of the argument can be found in Darling, meet the 800 pound gorilla!  and Hypermobility: too much of a good thing

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  1. Martin Parkinson says:

    The seeming intractability of tranport issues makes any intelligent greenie want to bash their head against the nearest tree.

    I subscribe to a number of E-lists in sustainability and transport matters and have been surprised by some of the responses to the road-pricing petition. So desperate are we for *any* government measure that even
    vaguely resembles an attempt to prevent traffic growth that we have started urging each other to get behind
    dubious schemes.

    I posted a comment on a list for “green communications professionals” in which I explained that congestion/road-pricing measures are often intended to “pack more in” (by spreading out the traffic) rather than reduce absolute numbers and my comments were dismissed as being “technical” and defeatist.

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