Get moving on congestion policy

It's hell out there, but, Mr Darling, there's more than one way to beat gridlock. Mike Rutherford reviews the options
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Indy Lifestyle Online

According to Alistair Darling, the so-called Secretary of State for Transport, we are faced with two choices: road tolls or gridlock. It's not true. Indeed, it's devious to suggest that the only options for motorists in the years ahead are Government-inspired road charges of up to £1.30/£91 an hour or vehicles unable to move in any direction.

There are hundreds of other ways to beat congestion. And many of the measures cost little, if anything, to adopt. On a personal level we can actually save money - lots of it - by doing our bit to create more road space.

Feel free to leave the car at home and take the train. But don't forget that there's the little matter of getting to the station, plus the fact that rail travel can be prohibitively expensive.

Cycling or motorcycling is fine, too - and it's cheaper than peak-time public transport or driving. Trouble is, according to figures published by Darling's very own Department for Transport, two-wheeled travel results in more deaths and injuries than just about any other form of everyday road transport. Walking is cheaper still - but it's also even more dangerous. And pedestrians will keep getting run over until they are separated from vehicles.

Opting out of the journey altogether is the most effective way to avoid congestion (and danger), while at the same time freeing up space for people who genuinely have no alternative but to travel. How many Brits commute to offices five days a week only to stare into computer terminals and speak into telephones? Millions. Why aren't their employers giving them the option of working from home for two days a week, enabling them to stay off the inadequate road "network" for 40 per cent of their working lives?

If the daily commute really cannot be avoided, rush hours can. They go on from about 7am-10am and again from about 4pm-7pm. Why? Because short-sighted employers and head teachers insist that their workers and students start and finish at broadly the same times. Madness.

Staggered work/study hours would radically alter traffic flows and pollution levels. Perhaps some employees could try working for 10 hours a day over four days, thereby enjoying a roughly 20 per cent saving in commuting time.

Why are there no real incentives for vehicle owners who can, but choose not to, run outside of the daily rush hour? The trucker with an eight-hour driving day ahead of him can surely squeeze that into the 18 non-rush hours, can't he? Give him (or her) a financial reward to do so. Let's seriously consider keeping lorries whose maximum speed is 56mph in lane one of motorways from 7am-10am, and again from 4pm-7pm, to enable faster-moving vehicles to make progress in the freed-up lanes. There will be fewer accidents, too.

My congestion-busting list goes on and on. Better road signs and markings are essential if we're to prevent people driving around in circles, hopelessly lost. Accident prevention and driving advice notices need to replace the advertising messages on motorways. The emergency services must get stuck in and clear up accident scenes much more quickly.

Buses and other vehicles with a legal right to stay in their own, dedicated lanes have got to do just that. Toll booths must go. Large, empty, rural buses should be replaced by seven-seater MPVs or community taxis run not by Stagecoach but by the locals, for the locals.

Road contractors need to be charged for every minute they overrun. Simple traffic management ideas such as turning left, when it's safe to do so, on a red light must be at least experimented with.

And new roads are essential, too. Highways don't have to be an eyesore. They can be built, without subsidies, underground. Motorists will happily pay for them out of the £40bn-plus they already pay annually in vehicle taxation, fuel duties, road fund licences and other direct road user taxes.

And if politicians want us out of our humble cars, they need to set an example by giving up their limos.

The writer is founder of the Motorists' Association

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