Public transport minister says it's better by car

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The Independent Online
Steven Norris, the minister with responsibility for public transport in London, yesterday praised the advantages of travelling by private car because "you don't have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you".

His apparent dislike of the commuter emerged in evidence to the Commons environment select committee, where he argued it was a delusion to believe that providing efficient and reliable public transport was the answer to traffic pollution.

Defending private cars as "extraordinarily convenient", he told MPs: "You have your own company, your own temperature control, your own music - and don't have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you."

Mr Norris's remark - his responsibilities include London Regional Transport, Crossrail and local public transport - led Michael Meacher, Labour's transport spokesman, to accuse him of arrogance and "a gross insult to public transport users".

Michael Patterson, secretary of the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee, said Mr Norris appeared to have forgotten "that the man on the Clapham omnibus and the people on the train are ordinary human beings like himself".

Mr Norris, whose personal wealth came from running a Wiltshire car dealership, drives a Jaguar Sovereign, rates the Austin Allegro the worst car ever built and an Aston Martin DB7 as his dream vehicle. Last year he said he enjoyed driving less than he used to because "there are too many cars on the road".

Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: "Most people, real people such as pedestrians, cyclists and others who are suffering from congestion and fumes, do believe that public transport has to be improved."

Mr Norris told the committee that "the reality" the world over was that people liked cars because they took them door to door without having to sit next to other people. Expensive public transport systems would not solve the pollution problem because people were not willing to sacrifice their cars to save the environment.

Friends of the Earth, however, said it was "incredibly disappointed" that Mr Norris had under-estimated how much better public transport could be if the Government invested in it.

Mr Norris said later in a statement that his remarks had been taken out of context. "The plain fact is that given a choice people prefer to travel by car... studies have shown that halving public transport fares only takes 1 per cent of cars off the roads."