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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
The long road to better transport
By Roger Pinney
BBC News

St Mary Street in Cardiff
Cardiff's St Mary Street is one of Wales' most traffic-choked areas
It has never been easier to get around Wales.

Between north and south, through trains now run every couple of hours during the day, coast to coast, without passengers needing to change.

There are buses and soon an air service will start between a new civilian airport at Valley on Anglesey and Cardiff International in 40 minutes.

The nation joined up as never before. Pats on the back all around, then? Perhaps not.

The thing about transport is that there is always something to complain about. Whether we use buses or cars, trains or planes there's a moan.

To think of me being classed as a 'Chelsea tractor' owner is ridiculous
Tudor Jones, farmer

Your view of it depends very much on where you are or what you do. In and around our cities it is probably congestion. Out in the countryside, the paucity of public transport.

Take three Welsh voters - and it could be any three - and you get three very different views.

Tudor Jones farms at Dolwen, near Colwyn Bay, and also runs a mobile butchery business which does the rounds of farmers' markets in north Wales.

He beats the supermarkets at their own game by taking his produce out to his customers.

Congestion charge signs
Could congestion charging reach the roads of Wales?
But not surprisingly, transport costs are a major overhead for his business, and now finds himself penalised for running a 4x4 vehicle.

Congestion charges

When he next replaces the farm Land Rover he could be paying as much as 400 a year for his tax disc.

"They are getting at me for where I live and what I do," he said.

"You can't run my business without a four-wheel drive. To think of me being classed as a 'Chelsea tractor' owner is ridiculous."

In south Wales, Pauline Pritchard works in a day nursery in Cardiff but lives in the valley town of Hirwaun.

For her, as for thousands of others, the daily commute has become something to dread. She is caught up in a problem for which she is partly to blame.

One solution - and it is being actively considered by politicians in Wales - is the imposition of congestion charges.

If petrol was 100 a gallon I would have to use my car or give up my job
Pauline Pritchard, commuter

No one knows how it would work yet. There are lots of different options, but the principle is straightforward enough.

In areas where congestion is a problem, motorists are priced off the roads. Saving money becomes the incentive to walk, cycle or jump on a train or bus.

Not that any of that will help Pauline Pritchard, though. It is nigh on impossible to get from where she lives to where she works without using a car.

"To be honest I can't really see what the government can do," she said.

"To say put petrol taxes up is futile because I have to use my car and if petrol was 100 a gallon I would have to use my car or give up my job."

The introduction of free bus passes for pensioners was a feather in the cap of the assembly government, and received almost universal approval.

Bike and boats at Swansea Marina (pic: Stephen Gallagher)
Bikes and boats could both help Wales' transport problems

At Cefn Pennar near Mountain Ash in the Cynon Valley, Alma Jones and her friends have taken to it like a duck to water.

The pass gets them out and about, enjoying day trips as far afield as Swansea. But even here there are gripes, and the buses never seem to go exactly when they want them.

"And at night, the buses don't run at all," said Mrs Jones.

"I love my bus pass. But at night it's leaving pensioners as prisoners in their own homes"

Nation building

All of this presents a big problem for the would-be new AMs as they pound the streets and hammer on doors trying to win our votes.

Solving transport problems inevitably means there will be competing demands on a limited budget. And as far as tax is concerned it is the chancellor at Westminster who has the final say.

But according to Prof Stuart Cole of the Wales Transport Research Unit in the University of Glamorgan, the assembly government is uniquely well placed to act in all sorts of ways.

"The overall objective is to invest, to provide good interchange, to provide good information and in doing that to make it easy for people to travel," said Prof Cole.

"Public transport has got to be easy. Not as easy as a car - it never will be. But it has got to be a lot easier than it is now."

But of course to go back to where we started, joining up the various bits of Wales is important.

It is part of that "nation building process" which got underway when the assembly was first set up.

As far as the voters are concerned though, the rest matters too. And probably a bit more.


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