Fewer car journeys urged to cut down the smog

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The Government yesterday launched a month-long "Don't Choke Britain" campaign - just as the first smog alert of the summer was issued.

The next four weeks will see a number of local authority schemes aimed at persuading people to use alternative forms of transport. In Gloucester, bus passengers can get half-price tickets by showing drivers a set of car keys. In Liverpool, city dwellers will be able to hail rickshaws and tandem cycles to get across the town.

"We know that one-quarter of car trips are less than two miles. These could easily be made on foot or bicycle," said the transport minister Glenda Jackson. She also highlighted the problem of parents driving children to and from school.

"Seventy five per cent of children are driven to school. This `parental chauffeuring' increases traffic in the morning peak and adds another peak in the afternoon," she said.

However, many observers point out that parents need an incentive to leave their cars at home. This "carrot and stick" approach has been used in London, where parents who wish to send their children to popular secondary schools can only do so if they sign away the right to drive them there.

As Ms Jackson launched the initiative, weather forecasters were warning of high levels of ozone for England and Wales, while areas in South-west England and London may also experience high nitrogen dioxide levels over the weekend.

Yesterday saw levels of ozone - high concentrations of which contribute to asthma in children - breach government recommended limits in 19 places. The worst hit areas were East Anglia and Devon.

Ms Jackson was able to offer little yesterday in the way of new policies to reduce car-driven pollution and could only promise that "the waste" in the current budget would be cut out and used to fund local schemes.

The previous government had also sought to shift motorists from there cars and had set ambitious targets - such as doubling cycle use by 2002. Ms Jackson said that the new government was "very supportive" of the national cycling strategy.

"We all have a part to play in the drive for cleaner air, and reducing pollution and encouraging proper use of the car - in harmony with a clean, safe and efficient transport system - is crucial."

More than 300 local authorities and 100 other groups are uniting to take part in a series of activities for the Don't Choke Britain campaign.

Health groups were quick to point out the benefits of reducing car use. "More than 10 per cent of children have asthma and traffic pollution is one of the main sources," said a spokesman for the British Lung Foundation.

For the first time since it began in 1994, the campaign had the support of a major car manufacturer - Volvo. "Technology has a part to play and will reduce pollution, but we have to reverse the amount of car use for shorter journeys," said John Pitts, the company's environmental manager.

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