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Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK


Prescott's ticket to ride: What you think

I am all for reducing rush hour traffic. However I am concerned about the focus on the school run. I have 2 children, one 8 years and with Cerebral Palsy - how is she to get to school other than by car? My second daughter would walk but is frequently laden with coat, bag of books, games kit, clarinet and saxophone - impossible to carry. We encourage our eldest daughter to cycle to the shops, but fear her bike will get stolen as there is no secure place to leave it. I would like to see the introduction of 'buddy lanes' as in California, I am sure that when I am sharing a car on the way to work that at least 75% of the cars around us have only one occupant. I fully support the improvement of public transport and would like to see emphasis put on disabled access to trains, buses and station platforms.
Mr. S Sandow, Burgess Hill West Sussex

The price of public transportation continues to go up and now you're going to charge even more for driving (on top of car taxes and petrol taxes). Fantastic.
Kate (formerly of Wales)

As there is no viable alternative for many commuters to driving to work, is the outcome of new charges for accessing cities as well as increased fuel prices and possible toll charges not going to affect inflation rates and pay settlements more so than traffic congestion? Labour has really left its socialist beliefs well behind on this one - are only the rich and privileged going to be left with the freedom offered by a car?
Steve Bradshaw, Glasgow

My little girl's school is 25 minutes walk away from home. *My place of work is another 20 minutes walk beyond that. *Cars race around the estate where my 5 year-old goes to school and at 40 mph down the 30 mph limit road she has to cross to get there. *The school has no bike sheds *A speed limit of 20 mph would speed traffic flow as one could actually join a road without having to dart out. *A 20 mph urban limit would be safer for pedestrians. *Vehicles that do 20 mph more naturally and with less pollution (bikes) should be encouraged more. *Speeds limits should be enforced. *The car park at my workplace will just lie empty if we get charged and people will park and clog up the road outisde - next to the local primary school! *The government should have done more research - these proposals are too weak.
Chris McWhinnie, Emmer Green, Reading

I am a committed cyclist - not because I am an environmentalist, but because it is one of the best ways to get to work. We are very lucky to have dedicated off road cycle tracks in our area. Mainly using the old railway they are safe from motorists and probably fairly safe from assault due to the volume of traffic using the routes. Most cycle tracks along side roads are more dangerous than no track at all. When a cycle lane intersects a side road, the cyclist is required to give way - however it is not always possible to tell when a car is going straight on or turning, so crossing the side road can be quite dangerous. If you are on the main road, the side road only presents a problem if someone tries to overtake and then turn left immediately. I understand that in a study in Milton Keynes 6 serious accidents occurred associated with a cycle track and only one associated with a road - I don't know what this proves, but just 'sticking' a cycle lane to the pavement may not be ideal.
When, because of business, I need to use a car (normally a hired car) to get to work or return, I am amazed at the amount of time spent queuing - I have to leave at about the same time to arrive on time. Obviously when you have a lot of equipment or are going a long distance, the car is a much easier option, but for work and school it is easier - I think - to use the bicycle.
Getting me to use the bus is harder. Though I used them for getting to school, they don't have a particularly good image. Waiting at bus stops, unclean buses, even if they are on time. Park and Ride however is a much better idea. Park on the outskirts and ride into town.
The train is a much more likely proposition. They are easier to work on, appear to be more reliable, cleaner and convenient; a bit like catching a plane. However they are very expensive. To get to London from Poole prior to 10am is more than 50 (I don't known exactly I have not done it for a while!).
I work in the traffic industry (we make traffic lights) and we are investing a lot of time, money and effort in providing innovative solutions to traffic problems. Road space is not always the answer.
Brian Higbee, Poole, Dorset

I think it is fantastic that the government is now taking these sorts of measures to curb car use. They could however, have taken this opportunity to be much tougher. A tax on retail car spaces really should have been implemented to deter people from making unnecessary journeys and to ensure that drivers appreciate the true costs involved in using their cars.
Safe routes to schools have been around for ages. What we really need is the political support from councillors at a local level to implement what is being proposed by Mr Prescott. Local councillors are still very sceptical about making it more difficult to use the private car. Officer reports are frequently ignored to ensure that voters are not inconvenienced.
Miles Price, UK

By choice, I'm not a car user/owner. I commute to my workplace, around 10 minutes away, and use the company's mini-van that runs continuously between the main buildings and the nearest main town. I can reach most places by bus and train and save a lot of money doing so, compared to having a car.
I see many colleagues who drive to work, despite paying more for petrol, spending more time each way (they can take up to 45 minutes each way during rush hour to cover the same distance I do every day), and many even bring their car even if they don't have a parking place in the company's car park, having to leave their car over half a mile away and ending up paying even more for the council-run car park.
This problem (over-use of cars) will not go away simply by taxing people away from the roads. We live in a country where people move jobs and homes very often compared to many other countries. Many people live in the countryside where there are hardly any bus or train services. The public transport system is dirty, overpriced, stressful and irregular. Shabby inner cities make people - those who can - live far away from their workplaces. Schools, definitely responsible for the majority of traffic at the rush hour, not just 16% of it, don't run bus services like in the USA and other countries (this service could be paid for by parents themselves, who would know their children would be safer and would save money by not using their car).
Rather than just taxing "us" away from the road, people should be rewarded if they use public transportation. Even that wouldn't work. It will just delay the inevitable, which is the overcrowding of roads. Tackling the inner-city problems would be the first step to solving the problems. Making towns and cities better and safer to live in will bring in more people to live nearer to their jobs, reducing the time they would spend travelling to work.
Norberto Amaral, UK

I currently use my bike and the train to commute to London. I prefer to have a bike at each end of the journey - but the one in London only lasted 4 weeks before being stolen (it was a rusty heap - but that still didn't save it). I don't do this to be green - but because I like not driving.
Previously I spent six months driving a hundred miles a day (Rugby to Nottingham and back) - raising the tax would have no effect - there was no public transport alternative.
I applaud Mr Prescott's aims - he's a brave man upsetting our car loving culture - but it is no good putting up prices on car travel without getting the alternatives in place straight away. I feel people will find a way of continuing to afford their beloved car simply because it is more convenient.
Another problem is arriving at work on a rainy day needing a shower and change before being fit for work - it is far more inconvenient and time-consuming than the traffic jam people are being told to forsake. My kids walk to school (they are 3 and 5) - the school is the most local, less than ½ a mile away. My wife has the family car if she needs it but is quite happy plodding to and fro at the kids' snail pace. We live within walking distance of our local library and main shopping area - I realise this isn't possible for everyone. We'd need too many shops - so I speak from a very biased point of view. How many kids miss out on the simple joys? Balancing on the low wall as we pass the garage, not stepping on the cracks in the pavement, splashing in the puddles, poking at spiders' webs to make them cross, singing silly songs and generally gibbering - all of which don't happen during the stress-ridden car journey.
I receive frequent complaints about the noise level in our house. I am an enthusiastic (but amateur) musician and have loads of sessions with friends and lately the kids. But it seems any amount of traffic noise is permissible. Do people realise the level of background noise they tolerate? Try making a sound recording in your average garden - the sounds you hear when you play it back are generally disappointing (and I don't just mean the music).
Keith Nickless, UK

I live in Cornwall, where jobs, particularly in fields like IT, are very scarce. Public transport is limited, particularly over long distances. By car, my journey takes 30 minutes each way, from St Austell to Liskeard. When the trains are on time it takes about an hour each way due to the walk at each end. However 3/5ths of the time a train is late by half an hour or more. This often leads to an hour and a half plus commuting time home.
My wife works on the outskirts of Plymouth and has to commute two hours a day by car. If she uses the train, she has: 10 minutes walking + 1 hour on the train + 40 minutes on the bus + waiting time in between making a commuting time of 2 - 2 and a half hours each way.
Plus, many places are not on realistic public transport. Even well known places like Newquay only have 4 trains a day, with the times making it impossible to use for work!
Simon Wills, Cornwall

I read your article with interest. Each time I read such related articles I am amazed that no one seems to be looking at the poor depleted public transport system. Instead of the government restricting the use of the car I should like to see the following constructive improvements.
1. Improve public transport first before taking drastic steps re the use of the car. Currently the buses are in a poor state and would certainly not pass an MOT. They're dirty and overcrowded being single decker, especially during peak hours. During off-peak times double deckers are empty, are infrequent, consistently late or the service is cut during. Bus drivers are rude. The bus timetable does not tie in with local train times.
Trains are overcrowded and carriages reduced during peak hours. They should run more frequently than they do at present from Twickenham and Whitton - this would eliminate unsafe and crowded trains. There should be independent checks on the service of trains.
The Underground system is extremely dangerous due to overcrowded trains and platforms ie fire risks on the Northern, Bakerloo lines northbound from Waterloo and on the District and Piccadilly lines.
More buses should be introduced as a link between stations (rail, underground) as an alternative to using tubes. Car parking areas with special buses linking to local stations would be very useful for people who live a distance away from the station where local buses are either non-existent or run a poor service. Fares should be reduced as we suffer fare increases every year but the service gets poorer with less buses and trains and more delays.
Solution: Provide the public with good efficient public transport and more importantly reduce fares (especially for season ticket holders) and people wouldn't have to be forced to leave their cars behind. It's the total lack of efficient public transport that forces people to use their cars/have two cars in the family. Most working people cannot afford to be frequently late for work and the crippling fares leave very little choice for the harassed public.
I recognise that this will take some years to achieve but it would slowly gain the confidence of the public. I look forward to hearing more positive recommendations in the future and less about coming down heavy on car users who have no other alternative in order to hold a job and not be a drain on the government.
Yvonne Doskar, Twickenham

In reference to the supposed alarm I should feel at seeing the amount of time spent sitting it traffic queues: I currently commute from Winchester to Basingstoke daily, with a journey time of approximately 30 minutes. Admittedly, on occasion I am forced to sit in a traffic queue that may add a further five minutes to my journey. Summed over the year in which I work this comes to a total of around 4 hours 'wasted'.
Occasionally I have been forced to use the train service to reach my place of work. This has involved cycling to Winchester train station (15 mins), waiting for, and boarding the Winchester to Basingstoke train (10 mins), the journey from Winchester to Basingstoke (25 mins) and then the cycle to my place of work (25 mins). Admittedly I could always leave my bicycle at Winchester and catch a bus at Basingstoke station, but this only adds to the time I have to wait for my transport.
So now my journey of 30 mins has rocketed to 1h 15 mins. My 4 hours a year has now been boosted to over one and a half days 'wasted'! Add to this all the inconvenience I have had to experience by cycling and invariably being forced to stand on the rush hour train and then ask yourself whether this 'traffic jam' argument is really all that valid.
Jonathan Thorpe, St Cross, Winchester, Hants

Yes I would willingly leave my car at home if a viable alternative were available. It would have to be no more expensive than my car journey, regular, reliable, and easily navigated.
Unfortunately the present confusing shambles would, in my estimation, take a considerable amount of my remaining life span to achieve even the standard of pricing, reliability and regularity normally achieved by the services available during my childhood in the 1950s.
Keith Tomlinson-Knottingley, West Yorkshire

Many people need to use their car as part of their work ie care workers, social workers etc. It would really be unfair to require these people to abandon the use of cars. There is a big hype about reducing car usage but there are other ways to reduce the impact of pollution and we are getting better and better at finding ways to tackle the effects. Why not concentrate on the use of smaller cars? The last budget was very encouraging when the Chancellor announced a low level of car tax for small cars. Cars are here to stay and unless and until public transport equates to picking you up from your doorstep and back whenever you need to travel, cars will not be eliminated from the face of this world.
Peter Redmond, UK

In short public transport is so very, very bad, unreliable etc etc. I live in Gloucester and have to drive to Dursley every day. There is no regular public transport service that would not eat all of my money but now Mr Prescott is telling us that he wants to tax us even more. It's a joke, it really is. I struggle to survive on my wage as it is, maybe I should go onto income support and stay at home, because pretty soon that's all I am going to be able to afford to do. I voted Labour in the election and there is NO WAY ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH I WOULD VOTE FOR THEM AGAIN.
Gus Scott-Exley, Gloucester

I question how radical or effective these proposals will really be when the government has already passed over their first opportunity to tackle road congestion. In the previous tax changes they could have reversed the nature of company car taxes so that you are taxed less for driving less private miles instead of being taxed less when you drive MORE business miles. Also, the provision of 'fully expensed' cars, where all petrol, including petrol for private use, is paid for by the company, should have been taxed far more heavily. I would personally suffer from these changes being made. However I voted for Labour because I believed they were right for the country. At some point they will have to risk upsetting some of their voters!
Russell Fewing, Aylesbury, Bucks

I live in London SW12, close to Clapham South tube. I work near Tower Hill. I usually commute by car. If the Government's proposals result in my paying more to drive to work, that is likely to be a good thing. If it has the effect everyone seems to think it will have (not guaranteed, though!), then it will result in fewer cars on the road, and a faster journey time for me.
Who else will get a faster journey time? Not tube travellers; the likely levels of investment will just about keep up with the extra demand from those that abandon their cars. Possibly bus travellers, but their journey times at present are benchmarks for slowness.
Net result: improved journey times for those with the disposable income to drive their cars, none to speak of for others. But then Moscow was easier to drive around before the end of communism. Effect on pollution? More or less nil - we'll still have all those buses and taxis. If the objective is to reduce pollution, then a better remedy would be to legislate for lower emissions, and to police the legislation already in place.
I don't envy John Prescott his task. The only way to make things better is truly massive public infrastructure investment, but I don't see a constituency for that. Personally, I would go for the stringent pollution controls.
Alan Barker, Clapham, London

I totally agree with all the proposals mentioned as long as adequate, feasible and safe alternatives are provided. The first hurdle is really making people aware that it is possible to live without a car. My husband and I live in Oxford and cycle a total of 6 miles to work and back everyday. We don't have a car, even though we could afford one, as it's practically impossible to park in Oxford and the traffic is so bad. We don't resent the fact that we don't have a car. In fact, on the contrary, our lives are much better without one. We are much fitter and find the journey quicker, and it's much more flexible as we can stop off on the way and do shopping, sports, go to the cinema etc and not worry about parking. We do all our shopping on our bikes so only buy essential things which also means we are eating healthier.
For longer distances ie seeing friends and family, we go by train or borrow a relative's car or rent a car for the weekend. Going out in the evening means we sometimes get a taxi but again, adding up these costs, it is much less than running a car.
The only problem that still remains with cycling in Oxford is that often the cycle lanes run out and you end up fighting with the traffic to have space on the road. There are also an incredible number of buses especially as it is a tourist spot and, as the roads are quite narrow, you can often end up with some near misses! Car drivers and buses seem to resent cyclists and don't give them the space they need (this seems illogical as by cycling we are allowing them to have more space on the road!) and so cyclists also resent their attitude. Cyclists are generally not treated as road users and are often 'cut up' by drivers who are totally unaware of anyone else on the road except themselves.
The school summer holidays have just started in Oxford and the reduction in traffic is amazing. It's really disappointing to realise that the highest percentage of cars in Oxford are used for school runs. Surely there are bus services to these schools. I know people are worried about their children being safe, but if child escort rotas could be provided for the children, it would make much better sense or at least get the parents to use a car sharing scheme.
We could adopt schemes used in other countries eg large space cruisers or vans that operate like taxis and pick up and set down on demand with a much cheaper fare than the bus.
I also agree with the proposal that there should be a limit of one car per household and a higher tax on car use in general. I think that people have got to realise that as well as the Government trying to do something about this, it is up to them to also make the effort in limiting the number of cars on our roads at any given time.
Caroline Brown, Oxford

Mr Prescott seems to think we all live next to a bus stop or train station and that they run when and where people want them to. Dream on! I live in Staffordshire in a small town lucky enough to have retained its train station, however trains only run every hour, (when on time which is rare) with no service after 8.00 at night and no service before 2.00pm on Sundays. Local bus services also fail to run in the evenings. The local school is just over a mile away, granted close enough to walk, but has Prescott tried walking a four and five year old over a mile in the pouring rain? I think not. The nearest bus stop is over half way there and then the fare is over 80p one way for adults and 50p for children. 5.20 a day for the return trip! I work in Birmingham a distance of 33 miles, about 1 hour in the car. By train I would have to make three changes and assuming all is on time the journey would take 2.5 hours! plus a mile walk to the station (in the pouring rain). I would have to catch the first train at 6.00am to be in work for 9.00am. No chance of working beyond 5.00pm or else I would not be able to get back before the last train on the local line. Wake up Mr Prescott, Join the REAL world.
David Wright, Uttoxeter

About the school run: it is noticeable how empty the roads are during a school holiday. SUSTRANS have a proven policy of developing safe routes to schools that enhance their safety and provide safe road crossings and avoid confrontation with traffic. Mr Prescott's plans must take the nation up on its appetite for change and test how hungry it is . But only if it is backed with funds to do it properly.
Neil Robson

I'm nearly 30, and I've never owned a car. In fact, I don't even have a driving licence. I lived carlessly (sic) in England for 27 years, and I'm now living carlessly in Boston Massachusetts. For me, it's been a matter of choosing to live somewhere with good public transport and community nearby. People who choose to live miles away from where they work, shop and live need to be more aware that they're being profligate. It's time we stopped subsidising their lifestyles and made drivers pay for the environmental costs of their driving. That's all I ask: that the taxes on cars and other vehicles completely cover the costs of those vehicles, including all the road maintenance plus the costs of cleaning up the pollution and treating all the people injured by cars each day. Currently the road tax doesn't even cover the costs of the roads. And let's make it fair - let's collect more tax from the vehicles which pollute the most, take up the most space and cause the most injuries and damage to property. Let's have a real free market, where the drivers pay their own way and don't leech off the rest of us. That would soon make them reconsider their use of their expensive toys.

I would love to use public transport to travel to work from Addlestone (Surrey) to Marlow (Bucks). It usually takes me 40 mins by car (even in rush hour). Does anyone have any suggestions as to how this journey can be accomplished in under 3 hours by public transport?
Alan Leeks, UK

Surely this is only one set of options - what about incentives to increase home working now that the technology is advancing so much? What about incentives to car share? Surely it is better to reduce the need to travel as well as find other more environmentally friendly methods. From my point of view the thought of using 3 different modes of transport, the time taken, the lack of control over my own environment mean that I will always favour the car for business travel and inclement weather - I spent too many years when I had little money waiting for buses in the rain and cold - but I do try to use bikes for pleasure and shopping to reduce car use. Time will always mean more to me than money and making it more expensive and awkward to travel will simply cause resentment.
Ann Philcox, Poole Dorset

Leaving cars at home is all very well, but last night I caught the 19.18 Great Western train from Plymouth to Paddington - it was over 3 hours late in arriving. If this is the public transport alternative I shall certainly continue to use my car, whatever the cost.
Martin Pugsley, West Hampstead, London

I absolutely agree, we must reduce the amount of traffic clogging up our roads and consuming vast amounts of irreplaceable fossil fuels. I gave up using my car to travel the 25 miles from my home to work just under a year ago. The bus takes longer (it visits several villages on the way) but it costs about the same (about 20 per week) as the car AND I can even manage up to half an hour's sleep on the way. It also means that I'm not wearing out my clutch sitting in the inevitable traffic jams, especially during term time.
The British own fewer cars than the rest of Europe, but use them more... perhaps we should look and see what they do differently from us? If we are to have any fossil fuels left to see us through the first half of the next century we must radically re-think the way we regard our so-called rights to drive the cars we own.
All that remains now is for the Government not to be intimidated by the motoring lobby - manufacturers, drivers and pressure groups - and to enact a really radical programme. I admit, I don't hold out too much hope!
Trish Carter, Oxford

In theory it is a good idea, but in practice it will stop no one. A reliable bus and train service is years away from coming to fruition; one cannot simply cut the numbers of cars on the road without giving the road user a cheap, convenient and reliable alternative. Very little thought has been given to the problem. Perhaps John Prescott will think differently when he is well over an hour late for an important appointment just because he dared use our ramshackle public transport system. The electorate would appreciate it if someone close to John Prescott would give him a nudge and wake him up.
Ronny Dyson, Swansea

While I am strongly in favour of taking measures to encourage other forms of transport than the motor car, I believe the emphasis should be placed on the development of a well structured and affordable transport system. In my previous work, I used the car to commute a distance of 15 miles. This journey would take me on average 25 minutes, including some time stationary in traffic. I considered taking the bus, as I would much rather spend the time reading than driving, but was put off because of two fundamental problems. 1. The bus took more that one hour, and only went in each direction twice a day. 2. The cost of taking the bus daily just to work would be more than my entire expenses for the car for all uses, about 12000 miles per year.
Part of the solution should be, survey motorists, and how they commute, use these results to go back and plan a system, then go back to the motorists for feedback. This process should be iterated a few times before the first changes to the public transport system are made.
Peter Grandcourt, High Wycombe

I do not drive but have contemplated it just because travelling by tube is so expensive. I have also heard that they are planning to raise prices even higher. If the government really wants to make public transport more accessible then they need to make it cheaper.
I would like to ride a bike so I am very pleased to hear that the government plans to build more cycle paths. I think the initiatives are good, but I would like to know how they plan to pay for all this. I will be most unhappy if tube fares are raised any higher!
Kate Alley, Finsbury Park

I think the proposals are disgraceful. Most of us NEED to work and I most certainly NEED to use my car to get to work. If Mr Prescott can show me a convenient way of getting from my home in Finchampstead to my workplace in Marlow using public transport then I would happily use it. I do not get a company car so the expense is all mine to bear for the car itself and any of the policies he adopts.
I guess he is going to give up his company car and expenses that go with it and we will see him and his family using the bus will we!!! I think it's disgraceful - we work hard enough as it is without being taxed even more just for getting to work and being there during the day.
I didn't vote Labour last time and I most certainly won't next time.
Karen Cleary, Finchampstead, Berkshire

It's high time something was done to stop the British cult of car power. As a cyclist who travels through central London every day, I have constantly to avoid motorists who act as if I have no right to use the road. What really angers me is the fact that most cars appear to be occupied by a single passenger, who seems happy to sit in traffic jams and pollute the atmosphere for completely selfish reasons. Yet with the state of the city's streets as they are, and the poor public transport on offer, there is at present little incentive for motorists to switch. Indeed in three years of commuting by bike, I have suffered three accidents - none of which were my fault. And while I have no sympathy with cyclists who constantly go through red lights and harass pedestrians - sometimes it feels as though the whole transport system is geared up against you. Motorists have had it too easy for too long - an integrated public transport system for Britain? It's about time!
Helen Booth, Knightsbridge, London

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