Thursday, 7 May 2009

Environmentally disastrous public transport

I have just been looking at the local railway service's website. There's an amazing array of special offers encouraging people to travel by train. And very environmentally friendly one might think. But is it? The answer is a resounding NO. Most of the journeys being made using these astounding special offers are undoubtedly not essential. An in many cases it is not a case of going by train instead of by car. It is simply encouraging people to travel more and more. And if the trains from Norwich are only half full with people making essential journeys, it makes economic sense to fill the rest of the train with cheap travellers. And that way the rail service is not only profitable, but it can justify itself.

Unfortunately this has been taken to new limits in London. Here, travel cards allow a cap to be put on the cost of traveling each day on the London Underground. However many journeys you make, it gets no more expensive. The upshot of this is almost certainly many people use their card for journeys of one or two stops, making the underground even more unpleasantly overcrowded, but at the same time allowing the operators to claim that public transport is incredibly popular.

I think a fact that most environmentalists promoting public transport have failed to grasp, is that public transport can only really be environmentally friendly, in a centrally controlled political system, such as once operated in the Communist world. I recall visiting Czechoslovakia in the 1960s when train travel was dirt cheap, car travel only for a few, bus travel more expensive than trains, and air travel too expensive for most people. With central controls, then all fares can be regulated to ensure the right balance is achieved. But with the type of free-for-all we now have, with subsidised fuel for air travellers, and all travel actually responsible to shareholders (which means there is a legal obligation to maximise profit above all other considerations), there is virtually no prospect of an environmentally friendly public transport system. And while I am at it, I will remind everyone, that air travel is now de facto part of public transport, and often much more fuel efficient than the average rural bus service. But of course there is a difference, in that most air travel is non essential. {Having written that, I realse that many rural bus services are now packed with pensioners swanning around on their passes, making them most of free travel.

More people travelling more and more. That's the real problem. And everyone wanting more of everything, and wanting it cheaper than before. Thereby driving the manufacture of goods overseas where environmental controls are less stringent, the production of food overseas where welfare standards are lower etc etc etc. Depressing. Perhaps a positive aspect of the economic downturn is that we are all realizing how much 'stuff' we all buy that we don't really need. Perhaps some politicians may even realise that continued economic growth is simply not sustainable if it is dependent on constantly expanding human populations.

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