End of the traffic jam is nigh

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The Independent Online
Britain's roads could be far less congested in 15 years' time as the information superhighway supplies more of our needs. Drivers will abandon cars for two in five journeys by 2010, a report released today predicts.

The study, Travel and the Superhighway, forecasts that in 15 years car journeys made by commuters and shoppers will drop by 43 per cent and drivers will use their cars 20 per cent less for socialising. The 19.1 car journeys today's drivers make weekly will drop to 12.1 with the others becoming "virtual journeys" by computer.

"We will work remotely, from home; see our friends and family in their living rooms, but on surround-sound wide-screen television, not in person; shop for groceries by punching codes into our PC [personal computer]," the report says.

The study, compiled for the Autoglass company from information provided by organisations including the Henley Centre, British Telecom and the Information Superhighway Institute of Directors, also predicts a future for computerised vehicles. "Cars will be more intelligent than their drivers", it says, adding that roadside transmitters would enforce free- flowing safer driving.

Noel Hodson, of the consultants Strategic Workstyles 2000, said one in four jobs could be done by teleworkers. He envisages "telelearning" ending parents jamming roads by taking children to school and "interactive distance learning" for university students. Commuters could stay at home and use videophone conferencing. "Teleworking would cut commuter traffic," he said.

The British Roads Federation, which has predicted that 2000 will be the Year of National Gridlock because of lack of investment in Britain's infrastructure, is less enthusiastic. Spokesman Mark Glover said: "Advances in the information superhighway are clearly going to impact on transport, but people will still need cars. There remains a need for goods to be delivered and for people to visit each other either for work or socialising which is a face- to-face activity." He added that the report envisages a "horrible, cold, isolationist future" and fails to take account of human nature.

Mr Hodson said goods could be delivered by pipeline, pointing to Mars, the confectionery company, which has built a pipeline in the United States to deliver goods via capsules deep underground. "Oxford County Council is considering a similar idea," he said.

British Telecom forecasts there will be 3.3 million teleworkers in 2000, with one worker in six using the home as an office. The company's research suggests that a medium-sized central London firm with 100 teleworkers could save pounds 2m a year in transport and office costs.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, due to publish a document on the Great Transport Debate initiated by the Tory party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, more than a year ago, said the Government would be studying the report with interest.

Letters, page 14