Sean O'Grady: Want to avoid road pricing? Just drive less

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I've heard quite enough about road pricing, thank you very much. And what I have heard I have not liked. I also happen to think I've got a couple of ideas that Rod Eddington didn't give due weight to in his report last week. Allow me to expound on them briefly. Who knows; such freer debate, outside the parameters of the Eddington Report, might just save us all a few quid.

Now, I know that anecdotal evidence is dodgy and I don't know about your experience, but I notice a huge difference to the roads whenever the school hols begin. Journeys are much swifter. Have been for years. That gives you a clue what my first priority for reducing congestion would be; attacking the school run.

First, there should be much more funding to take children in those crocodile-like groups, supervised by an adult, safe and with the added bonus of giving the little ones a bit of exercise.

Second, I'd stagger school opening hours. Some could start much earlier, others much later in the day, depending on local conditions and parents' wishes.

Third, I'd make it even more difficult for parents to park their cars anywhere near a school. The restrictions would have to be draconian to work.

Fourth, and this is a more minor point, I would support special taxes on physically large cars, not just SUVs, in crowded urban and suburban areas. If more folk did the school run in a Fiat Panda rather than a BMW X5, the roads would also be just a wee bit less clogged.

That's the easy, short-term bit. Medium term, I'd go for the technological answer; sat-nav writ large. I'd make it compulsory for all cars sold to have really fancy intelligent interactive constantly updating sat-nav systems built in. Thus people would have no excuse about driving into traffic jams they didn't know about.

If you're bowling along the M1 on a Monday morning and there's a crash 25 miles up the road then, thanks to my supercomputer-controlled sat-nav system, you and all the other relevant traffic could be diverted away from the route, thus avoiding our old friend the 10-mile tailback. It wouldn't work all the time, obviously, because there is limited capacity on alternative routes, but sometimes it could make a difference.

Longer term, I'd reduce transport. That's to say, I'd reduce the number of journeys we have to make. I'm old enough to remember the 1980s, when the concept of the "paperless office" was invented just as computer print-outs became far larger and bulkier than all the paper we'd ever used before. So much for the information technology revolution.

But we've come a long way since then, and with Wi-Fi, broadband, cheap and powerful home computers, video conferencing, networking and simple-to-use but sophisticated and reliable software, there is no reason why more of us can't work at home. I know surgeons can't and mechanics can't and plumbers can't, because they all deal with real, tangible things that they have to get their hands on. However, for that significant chunk of the working populace whose activities revolve around shuffling bytes of data down phone lines, they can do that Martini style - any time, any place, any where. Not only would more working at home reduce congestion; it would also reduce carbon emissions, and help people to maintain their work/ life balance - oh, and help them cope with staggered school-opening times. Even staggering working times a bit, with more flexitime, would help.

I'm not entirely against road pricing. The Institute of Directors suggested that it be limited for the time being to new roads only; a neat way of dealing with the immediate political problem of persuasion. But we'd be better off if we - and our kids - just made fewer journeys.

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