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Public transport will drive growth, not roads.

October 27th 2010

Apparently the war on the motorist is over. After months of behind the scenes negotiations conducted by the Norwegians in secret, the warring factions have announced a ceasefire and the basis of a full settlement that will be negotiated in final status talks in Washington. One of the Clintons is expected to attend a ceremony in front of the media tomorrow.

Well not really. But it does look like road building and private transport are back in fashion. Back in the summer, several local authorities decided to end funding for speed cameras. To some extent these decisions were made by financial (the fines go straight to the treasury, whilst running costs come out of local authority budgets), but they were also made due to the alleged unpopularity of speed cameras. The AA has of course predicted the consequences of this cost cutting.

This was then followed by the announcement of the closure of the M4 bus lane. The bus lane was originally introduced to speed up the journey times into central London for those travelling by public transport, but was subsequently criticised by many motoring organisations who have wondered why motorists have been stuck in heavy traffic whilst buses and taxis drive past them. The irony is that the decision to close it will in fact lead to heavier traffic. The reason for this is explained further by a road history enthusiast: the bus lane prevents a bottleneck occurring further up the motorway, and its introduction resulted in more reliable journey times for everyone.

Then this week has seen the announcement of the go ahead for several major road upgrades and road building projects, which have been protected in the CSR. The reasons for these projects going ahead are that the government sees them as crucial projects driving further growth. It is clear from these announcements that roads and cars are back in fashion.

But there is a downside to this. Whilst drivers can look forward to a few minutes shaved from their commute times, public transport continues to lag behind the rest of Europe. Nothing symbolises this more than today’s new report on accessibility of railway stations from the assembly’s equality of opportunity committee. It exposes the shocking lack of access to trains that people with disabilities face. This is illustrative of a far wider failure to truly invest in public transport over the decades. Whilst road building has benefited those who can afford to own and run cars, enabling faster commuting times to places of work, the public transport user still all too frequently faces unreliable or infrequent services. Lack of reliable and regular public transport is one of the major barriers to employment cited by people outside of Cardiff. If people who are unemployed are to be expected to travel lengthy distances to work, it is only reasonable to expect there to be public transport that is comfortable, reliable and regular.

The Assembly has yet to announce how it intends to cope with the reduced budget handed to it. One hopes that it realises that it is public transport not road improvements that will help enable people to access jobs, services and a social life. It is thus public transport that is going to be the real engine of growth.

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