Book Review

This article was published in 1996, in Newsletter 6.

The following extract is taken from Colin Ward’s book ‘Freedom To Go : After The Motor Age’. This book is a clearly written overview of transport issues in our society, illustrated with many interesting facts and observations on the evolution of a kind of Transport “non-policy”. This is from the concluding chapter:

We have to be won back from car-dependency. And in a society dominated by central government, this means a policy of attracting people back onto an improved public transport system by manipulating fares. The alternative, of manipulating taxes on car ownership or on fuel, or of sophisticated road pricing devices, would simply penalise the poor, leaving the roads to the rich, the show-offs and the expense-account drivers. Some of us have for many years advocated free public transport in towns and cities, either for ideological reasons or as a cheaper solution than any other to the task of winning people out of cars. The pendulum of opinion has moved away, but will swing again as the intolerable dilemmas of an individually motorised society oblige governments to retreat. It is glaringly obvious that a whole series of demands on the politicians and policy-makers can be shared with others of all political persuasions. Let me list these.

  1. No more motorways. They defeat themselves. As Charles Correa puts it, “traffic engineers have to postulate a traffic ‘solution’. So they usually come up with an expensive system of freeways, tunnels, flyovers , and so forth. Yet we know that such palliatives are short-lived; ease of movement encourages more journeys, thus clogging the arteries once again. Journeys always multiply to the point of clogging – it is a kind of Parkinson’s Law in transport planning!” The evolution of, say, the M25 around London illustrates this dramatically.

  2. Invest in railways. No-one can dispute the overwhelming evidence that railways can carry passengers more safely, take up less land, cause less pollution and cost less money than trying to move the same numbers by road.

  3. Push the transport of freight from road back to rail. This is a fiscal matter. If the Treasury assessed the true cost to the economy of moving goods by road, as opposed to rail, it would manipulate the overheads accordingly.

  4. Demand urban rapid transit systems, meaning trams or light railways as the automatic means of getting around in towns. They are safer and more economical in terms of energy. It is true that this may simply involve transferring the emissions of carbon dioxide to a power station somewhere else, so it depends on how the energy is generated. This is a different issue. But undoubtedly rail-borne public transport entails the least demand on energy sources.

  5. Find economical rural alternatives. Learn from the experience of the poor half of the world with “jitneys” or collective taxis, or from the Swiss institution of the Post-Bus.

  6. Calm traffic in towns, by simple measures to keep it out and to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

‘Freedom To Go: After The Motor Age’ is published by Freedom Press (ISBN 0 900384 61 1), 84B Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX.My copy is going around from person to person if any one else wants to read it!

Mike Tabrett