The RAC is moving with the times to be a 21st-century "mobility" organisation, pushing the interests of cyclists and public transport users as well as motorists - or so its New Labour-style all-things-to-all-people manifesto implies. "We favour travel over traffic, and mobility over motoring. Our members want help and advice in all aspects of mobility - that is the future of the RAC," said chief executive Neil Johnson at last week's press launch. Johnson, who looks and talks like a politician, fended off questions from environment and motoring writers with equally skilled non-answers.
Quizzed by one environment correspondent on what the RAC was actually going to do to promulgate the appeal of non-car transport, he proffered the new RAC pushbike, yours for a mere pounds 647. When another writer pointed out that the bike had neither lights nor a bell, Johnson came close to being fazed. But not quite. Appropriately, the bike is engineered by Dr Alex Moulton, car engineer turned pushbike maker.
While the RAC's policies are changing, so are its vans. The handsome white, blue and silver liveried breakdown machines are to be replaced by Dayglo-orange coloured vehicles, which look like Dyno-rod vans. The monarchistic Knights of the Road are to be replaced by Republicans with a Rod, or so you'd think.
Of course, part of me welcomes the RAC's arrival into the Nineties, and its belief in "integrated transport policies". Most of us realised years ago that a roads-only transport policy is a road to nowhere. Now even the RAC is jumping on the enviro-bandwagon. This is an organisation, bear in mind, which has traditionally shown itself to be about as in touch with everyday issues as Bertie Wooster. It has historically resisted speed limits, the breathalyser and the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and still forbids women from becoming full members of its Pall Mall club, even though its recent Knights of the Road ads were aimed at females.
But is it right or appropriate for a motoring organisation to get all green and cuddly and pretend to have a balanced and enlightened view of integrated transport? Surely it should accept that its primary duty is to speak on behalf of its 6 million motoring members and, de facto, the nation's motorists. If you want an intelligent pro-car view, you talk to the RAC. Just as if you want an informed pro-green view, you talk to the Friends of the Earth. Nobody expects the Friends of the Earth to have a balanced view on transport, any more than you'd expect the TUC to argue on behalf of both employers and employees.
Myriad bits of legislation are imminent which will profoundly affect motorists. Extra road tax, extra insurance costs, motorway tolls, tighter speed limits, smartcards to bill those entering cities, more expensive parking tickets, escalating costs to squeeze the impecunious off the road - the RAC has a responsibility to talk on behalf of Britain's motorists on these great issues, and argue their case.
An organisation that runs silly pseudo-intellectual TV ads featuring academics and technologists and environmentalists - they began broadcasting last Sunday as part of a pounds 4m PR campaign - and which tries to sell overpriced pushbikes as proof of its green credentials, is an organisation starting to get dangerously out of touch with its members and with everyday motorists. Car drivers need lobbying champions, just like any other major group. (And there aren't many larger groups than motorists, nor many clouted harder by the tax man.) With the national mood becoming increasingly and often irrationally anti-car, so the need for a strong, independent voice becomes greater.
The RAC should fulfil this role. Yet it is on the verge of failing motorists. Some would say it has already done so. If it does fail drivers, so its whole raison d'etre comes into question. A "mobility organisation" doesn't seem to have much purpose in life.Reuse content