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Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK


UK

Welcome to commuter's paradise



Welcome to Commutopia - the commuter's paradise where traffic jams are unheard of, the air is clean to breathe, and the next bus is only ever two minutes away. Here is a typical trip to work in this wonderful place.

Step 1. Because of roadworks, the traffic control centre has warned people to avoid driving into town.

Step 2. As a commuter, Citizen J has read the warning, having been e-mailed at home by the traffic control centre. It also has a website for casual travellers, a phone line and information on Ceefax.


[ image: John Prescott: wants to double the number of cyclists by 2005]
John Prescott: wants to double the number of cyclists by 2005
Step 3. J decides driving is a bad idea, and cycles from her home, on dedicated cycle lanes, to the railway station.

Step 4. There she puts her bike in a secure locker, although she could take it into the guard's van if she wished.

Step 5. Buys a ticket (without queuing), covering train and later bus trip, valid also for return journey.

Step 6. Train arrives within two minutes, and there are plenty of spare seats. (A new strategic rail authority has imposed new rules to stop overcrowding.)

Step 7. At the destination station, buses are waiting to take alighting passengers into town centre. J already has a ticket.

Step 8. Bus ride takes three minutes, thanks to complete system of bus lanes. (Car drivers steer clear of the bus lane, fearing large fines. And there are few lorries on the roads, as freight has been switched to rail and the local canal.)


[ image: More UK cities are getting trams or light rail networks]
More UK cities are getting trams or light rail networks
Step 9. As she walks to her office, J takes a moment to have a few deep breaths of fresh air.

Step 10. For the return journey, J decides to use the tram, which she rides to the railway station (her ticket is still valid.) Once there, she gets back on her bike.


Sadly this place is, of course, a fantasy land.

The real world is a touch different. Logjam, road rage, trains cancelled for lack of drivers, sardines on the Tube, asthma rates soaring; a tale familiar to millions, and to say nothing of underserved rural areas.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's transport white paper was published a year ago. However, it is looking unlikely that any of his major proposals, including the setting up a Strategic Rail Authority, will come to fruition this year.


[ image: Cyclists face the hazards of other traffic - and its pollution]
Cyclists face the hazards of other traffic - and its pollution
Transport has long been a contentious issue, both nationally and especially in local communities.

And the phrase "integrated transport policy" - one of Labour's 1997 election pledges - has often been held up as the solution to a complex problem.

So what does the phrase mean?

The basic point is that the different forms of transport, and particularly public transport, should work together.

A spokesman for Transport 2000 said: "You've got to be able to to travel seamlessly from one mode of transport to another. Recently one railway operating company introduced buses linking communities to stations, so that people could hop on and get straight to the train."


[ image: A shadow strategic rail authority was established earlier this year]
A shadow strategic rail authority was established earlier this year
But integration would also include things like town planning, so that shopping centres would be close to where people live, avoiding the need for car journeys.

One key aspect of Mr Prescott's proposal is for local authorities to have powers to charge motorists for driving into city centres, and to tax employers for providing parking spaces.

Leeds is operating a pilot project investigating congestion tolls to raise the cost of driving.

But motorists' groups say they are already subject to heavy taxes - for every ten pounds spent on petrol, more than eight pounds goes in tax. And only two of that eight is spent on the roads.

Leeds is already home to the country's longest guided bus-way, which has been a big hit in getting passengers to work quicker than motorists.

Which illustrates the point that, however far planning can go to creating a better transport system, in the end it will come down to people changing their behaviour.



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