Car drivers rally to Norris over scorn for commuters

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Perhaps surprisingly for a Tory minister, Steven Norris forgot one important motive when he defended commuting by car as opposed to public transport - money.

For many who drive instead of taking public transport, the chief benefit is financial. Why pay to travel by public transport when a company car and company parking allow them to do it for nothing?

Mr Norris yesterday stood by his comments on commuters. On Wednesday, he had defended private cars as "extraordinarily convenient'', adding: "You don't have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you.''

In Oldham he was adamant: "They are not words one regrets having spoken...but it is a sincere regret that people attempt to make a news story by taking a remark out of context."

The 49-year-old junior minister, a former Wiltshire car dealer, had flown by shuttle from London to Manchester, where he was met by a hired metallic silver Vauxhall Omega to take him on the 40-minute drive to Oldham.

"The implication I would be offensive to commuters of whom I am one, and have been one, for much more of my life than I have been a minister, is daft," he said. "They are not only my voters, they are the people that I like and get on with, because I am one of them."

Car drivers yesterday overwhelmingly agreed with the minister responsible for public transport that the cocoon-like nature of car interiors was a big attraction. They liked having their own music and controlling the temperature.

They understood what he meant - even when they did not agree - when he said a bonus was that "you don't have to put up with dreadful human beings".

Robert Halse, for instance, a 37-year-old computer service engineer, was enthusiastic about the advantages of driving his company car, a Ford Mondeo, the 14 miles from Feltham, in the west of London, to the City. It takes him an hour and a half.

"You can have your own music. You can stop and start when you want, break the journey and travel when you want, not when someone says there is a service," he said.

But, Mark Carpenter, 26, a long-distance rail commuter from near Southampton, who picks up a company Mercedes to use in London, said that his train-travelling companions were far from dreadful.

"I have only being doing it for about three months, but it's far better than I imagined. I haven't found anybody unpleasant at all. Most people just keep themselves to themselves," he said.