By Steve Hounsham
Could a TV show about sensible driving and environmentally-friendly alternatives to cars really be entertaining? Eco pressure group Transport 2000, which wants to scrap the BBC's high octane Top Gear, thinks so. But what would it be like?
A Smart Car: Could make sensible motoring fun
Fans of the BBC's long-running Top Gear enjoy the presenters' passion for cars and its creative, cheeky style. But an environmentally-conscious transport show wouldn't have to be straight laced and po-faced. We'd even keep the spirit of the Top Gear name, calling it instead, Third Gear.
It short, it would be devoted to encouraging responsible motoring based on less environmentally damaging cars, considerate and safety-conscious driving, and thorough exploration of alternatives to the car.
But that needn't exclude Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear's other petrolhead presenters. Clarkson's face is as much a fixture on the television screen as Tony the Tiger's is on a packet of Frosties. And he has his strengths: he is amusing, in a laddish sort of way, and is game for anything.
Third Gear would give the Top Gear guys the chance to adopt a new image: greener, more caring, willing to slow down for old ladies crossing the road and perhaps even to stop to help the odd cyclist mend a puncture.
So, here's the running order for the imaginary first two editions of Third Gear, the first to be broadcast on 5 June, World Environment Day, with the follow up a week later during Green Transport Week/Bike Week.
Jeremy Clarkson would "test drive" a range of new "shopper" bicycles and assesses the advantages of front basket over rear rack. He takes a trip to his local organic food store and stocks up on green lentils, brown rice and mung beans before stacking them carefully on his bike for the journey home along traffic-calmed Liverpool Road in north London. Once he arrives, he measures the amount of lentils, rice and beans left in the bags before cooking himself a nutritious meal.
Another presenter would be invited by Transport for London - who run the capital's public transport - to "see it from the bus driver's point of view" and operate the No 19 bus through the heart of the city during the morning rush hour. The presenter would begin to appreciate considerate behaviour from motorists, and be pleasantly surprised by the comfortable, value for money journey he provides for his passengers.
Jeremy again. This time he would test national rail and the London Tube by taking a Brompton folding bicycle from his home in the Cotswolds to Westminster Station, where he would join a demonstration outside Parliament calling for the government to do more to improve public transport. On the way, he harangues and lampoons train and Tube representatives on why they make it so difficult for people with cycles to use public transport.
One of the Top Gear boys would drive from London to Paris in a Smart Car, while his colleagues try out the Eurostar train and a plane journey. On arrival at the Eiffel Tower, they all fill large balloons with gas to represent the amount of carbon dioxide their journeys have pumped into the atmosphere. Green halos to the Smart Car driver and train passenger.
He's going to need some persuading
Another presenter spends a week living in a flat alongside the commuter racetrack that is the A40 Westway in London. He comes out with a headache on the 7th day and stops a motorist at random with a list of alternatives for making the journey. The driver finally agrees, under the stare of the cameras, that the next day he will catch the train from Oxford or look at the daily coach service. Presenter takes two aspirin and heads home to recover.
Have someone join a police mobile speed camera unit on a dangerous section of the A1 in North Yorkshire. As the police wave drivers into the lay-by, presenter approaches to gently remonstrate with the speeders and sign them up for an advanced driver safety course. Later he joins a demo which 3,500 people lie on the road (which his new police friends have kindly closed off) to represent the total death toll on Britain's roads each year.
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