I'll get you on the bus, says Prescott

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The Independent Online
Within five years, more people will be using public transport and driving their cars less, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, vowed yesterday. ''Judge me against that,'' he said in a speech on World Environment Day. The number of cars in Britain might continue to rise, but the Government would encourage and persuade people to make more use of public transport.

His pledge coincided with a paper in a leading medical journal, which said that small and relatively common increases in air pollution caused six extra deaths a day in London.

Announcing a wide-ranging review of transport policy, Mr Prescott did not rule out higher taxes on fuel and on cars, and other taxation measures to discourage car use and ownership.

But he made it clear that he favoured ''road rationing'' - guaranteeing clear lanes for buses to move swiftly through cities. But creating extra bus lanes, tougher enforcement against cars moving or parking in existing lanes, or the third option of totally segregating bus lanes from the rest of the road all reduce the space available for cars and other vehicles.

He told a press conference that if a car journey to work took people 10 minutes longer as a result of increased congestion, while motorists noticed buses moving quickly, freely and frequently, they would be persuaded to leave their cars . Families who owned two or even three vehicles might then sell one. When public transport was highly reliable and frequent ''all the evidence shows people are leaving their cars at home,'' he said.''I want to go with the swim.''

The transport review will lead to a White Paper next spring which will spell out the details of the Government's integrated transport policy, Mr Prescott told a conference for environment and development groups in his speech on sustainable development. He accepted some policies needed to protect the environment would be unpopular with voters, and promised to lead the battle to win over public opinion. Politicians had special talents for communicating with and persuading ordinary people on difficult issues. ''We must have the courage to face up to them,'' he said.

He travelled to the conference at the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in London by Underground rather than his ministerial Jaguar.

At the press conference afterwards he disarmingly admitted that he had not understood some of the phrases civil servants had written in his speech. The exact meaning of ''biodiversity'' was a mystery to him. And a reference in the speech to ''endocrine disruptors, which mimic sex-hormones'' - the so-called gender-bender pollutants which are a fast rising environmental issue - left him quite baffled.

''There's quite a few things I don't know enough about yet,'' he said, asking for more time. But he warned environmentalists against jargon. ''I need to translate this technical language into something people can understand.'' He was asked about the Prime Minister's decision to fly to the G7 Summit in Denver and the five-year follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit in New York - both at the end of this month - using the world's single most polluting vehicle, Concorde. Mr Prescott would not criticise Tony Blair, but said when he flew to the Earth Summit he would not use Concorde.

The Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Matthew Taylor, called on the Government to set national targets for cutting road traffic now, and green tax reforms in next month's Budget speech from Gordon Brown which would end the company car perk.

Daily death rates in seven western European cities, including Paris, Milan, Cologne and Athens as well as London, rose by an average 3 per cent when pollution levels for sulphur dioxide or black smoke increased by 50 microgrammes per cubic metre, the study in the British Medical Journal found. Vehicles, especially diesels, are one of the most important sources of these pollutants. However, death rates in the five eastern European cities studied, including Bratislava, Cracow, and Lodz rose less - by 0.6 per cent when sulphur dioxide levels were raised by 50 microgrammes and by 0.8 per cent when black smoke levels were raised.

Researchers from the European Air Pollution and Health project say the findings show that the short-term effects of low levels of air pollution are "not a trivial public health problem" given the large numbers of people exposed. About 23 million people live in the 12 cities studied.

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