Commuting from Home

14 Aug, 2006 | Global PoliticsTdp

There barely seems to be a day that goes by at the moment without some announcement or article covering the environment, housing, transport or energy. The world seems to be caught up in this. We're all agreed fossil fuels are running out, oil especially, while demand is only increasing. I visit the petrol station once a week on average and everytime I go there seems to have been an increase. For me, all these issues are linked.

Last week a government report suggested that vehicle tax should be massively increased, especially on gas guzzling cars. No argument from me on that, if you can spend £40,000 on a big 4x4, you can afford £1800 for car tax. Although the argument is that these people are already paying their way through the tax on the extra fuel they must buy. The other question is whether 4x4s really are that bad, certainly they appear to be no worse than big-engined executive cars for fuel consumption and size.

Someone I know is currently having problems working out how to get to college, her parents have moved to 'the sticks' and she's now faced with a bus timetable that averages one service a week. It's going to take a car ride every morning just to get her somewhere where she can catch a bus. You can see the difference the school run makes to traffic when the kids are off school (although parents usually take time off to coincide, so it's not entirely the fault of the school run), surely an argument for school buses? This also highlights another problem: outside of a major city (even outside London) there is no real alternative. Buses and trains are expensive, unreliable, don't cover all the destinations people need and don't run regularly enough to offer the flexibility most people need. Either they need serious subsidisation or they need to be made a public service again and taxes raised to cover them.

I had to laugh when Dr Richard Ghail wrote for the BBC's Green Room to encourage people to car share in order to 'save money and the environment, and make some new friends along the way.' Talk about an impractical idea, even if it is morally and environmentally sound. There are far too many unpredicatibilities to allow people to car share, even if you do find someone who works anywhere near you. The time you both start, the length of your day and the possibility for emergencies means no one really wants to give up the reason the car has become our number one method of transport: the flexibility. Not to mention that these schemes have been tried and shown not to work, I've seen the lanes in the States as the article notes:

In an attempt to reduce congestion, the US has had car pool lanes for decades. Yet more than 90% still commute alone, leaving the car pool lanes empty. Why?

What's the point of having an empty lane when no one wants to use it? It's better to use that for everyone and reduce the congestion that way. There are other social reasons for this not to work too.

Then you have housing, we simply can't get enough of it and prices are rising fast. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is people buying second homes and homes for rent, my solution would be to tax the hell out of anyone buying a second house, make it unviably expensive and use the money from anyone who still has the money to buy to subsidise housing for others (low cost loans or joint ownership schemes, for example). Anyway, one effect high prices has is that people are forced to buy where they can afford to, not where they work. So, why not take all the extra money the government is making from high oil prices and use it to help people buy homes closer to where they work, thereby reducing emissions, congestion and wasted time?

Seriously, my commute has tripled in recent years because my office has been moved. I can't afford to buy a house nearby, so I'm burning through 300+ miles each week. I'd happily walk/cycle/catch the bus/train to work, but none of them is realistic options over the distance I commute.

Another option is to make everyone drive smaller cars. I have a small car, but even still I could fit four people and luggage if I needed to (which I rarely do). Consider the different in fuel economy between my car and a motorcycle, equally capable of carrying one person on the range of journey's I make. So scale cars to fit one-person commuting. Of course, no one will go for it because there are times when I do carry two, three or four people or enough stuff I couldn't get it on a bike.

So it's obvious that this isn't a simple issue with one solution, but we need to get past simply charging the motorist more and more as a way to show the government is trying to address the issue.