27 February1998

Mr. David Drew MP (Lab. Stroud)

I would devise what I call the alternative transport test, which can be put, not only before Government but before individuals. It would allow everyone to test out ways to branch out travel-wise by comparison and contrast. I do not pretend that it will be without sacrifice, but one person's sacrifice is another's gain. In these days of counterfactual analysis and contingent valuations, it should not be beyond the rhyme or reason of personkind to take decisions based on new scenarios, which place obligations on the individual as well as expecting Government action.

The alternative transport test would ask three questions. The first question would be, "Is another form of transport available?" I ask that deliberately for, in the semi-rural constituency that I come from, many villages have little or no access to public transport. That is why I hold bus deregulation in contempt. It has been an unmitigated failure in rural areas. However, even there, people can respond positively by car sharing and initiatives such as community transport. Local authorities, by careful use of bus tokens and subsidies, can help rural and other areas. That is just the type of joint responsibility that is needed in the alternative test.

The second question that should be asked is, "What is the cost, reliability and convenience of different forms of transport?" That also needs to be thought through. Individuals need to make a proper assessment of what it would be like to use other forms of transport. Obviously, the Government can make commitments to those other forms of transport, but individuals can really make a jump, in the sense that they can understand what they do every time that they jump in a car, and what they could do if they chose not to do so. The real costs need to be factored into anyone's equation.

Thirdly, and finally, we should ask, "How can the alternatives sit with regard to planning and the tax system?"

Suffice it to say that we need to place other forms of transport at the front end of all our planning, and not simply to treat it as an afterthought. More thought needs to be given to the relationship between where people live and where they work, and to the type of transport that is available to them. The individual must take the lead in that regard, but it is also a matter for Government.

The difficult issue of tax cannot be avoided indefinitely, and the Government must face up to it. If we genuinely want to make our society a better one in which to live, we must evolve a green tax strategy which penalises the use of the car while allowing moneys raised to go into other forms of transport.

I am emphasising that the Road Traffic Reduction Bill is about Government action and about placing the onus on the individual, in equal measures. The old adage that you can take a horse to water--we have heard a lot about hoses and carts--is very apposite in this respect. In supporting the Bill, which I do wholeheartedly, I would ask that its resonance is felt, not just in the House of Commons but, more especially, among the general public. They need to get the message and to find alternative ways of moving themselves about, and if they do so our society will definitely be a better one in which to live.

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