Who needs a second car?

Prescott plans to cut traffic pollution and switch lorry loads onto trains
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The Independent Online
John Prescott yesterday weighed in on the side of buses and trains, and proudly forecast the end of the multi-car family, saying that having two cars in the drive was due to the "failure of public transport system" - and not a status symbol.

"People will realise that they will not need two cars - and pay for two sets of tax discs and two insurance policies - because public transport will get them there," the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday.

Announcing the Government's proposals for an integrated transport policy, Mr Prescott made it clear that he was determined to unclog Britain's road network. Buses, trains and trams should be an alternative for motorists and meet the needs of the "third of the population that do not have access to a car".

There were some new initiatives in the consultation document he presented. Railtrack, which owns the nation's stations and signalling, is preparing a study into an orbital rail system around London. Lorries from the main ports would drop their loads on to freight trains which would carry containers into and around the city before continuing northwards on the East and West Coast lines to the north. This, ministers believe, would reduce road freight considerably, in particular on the M25.

Mr Prescott did not rule out fiscal measures to price people out of cars. The consultation paper invites views on congestion charging, increasing parking rates and taxing company cars more heavily. This is only half the battle - he would need to convince the Treasury that money collected from motorists needed to be recycled into public transport.

Mr Prescott, who runs the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, also risked the wrath of his Cabinet rival, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, by saying that London Underground needed pounds 1bn to meet its investment needs, and added that he favoured changing Treasury rules in order to get it. "I think we could be a bit more adventurous change the Treasury rules to allow public bodies to borrow ... like they do in Europe".

Stressing that driving a car would not become an offence, he urged British motorists to follow the lead of continental Europeans, who have higher rates of car ownership but use their vehicles less.

When asked whether he thought the Parisian initiative to cut ticket prices in half on public transport in order to reduce pollution could be emulated in Britain, he replied that London Underground would not have the capacity to cope.

Pressed by reporters about a mythical man living in Bodmin, who had only a "second-class road network, a third-class railway and no buses", Mr Prescott grew clearly exasperated. "I am not going to suggest he gives up his car if that is all he's got, am I?"

But the consultation document got a distinctly frosty reception from transport and green groups..

The Retail Motor Industry Federation, the body that represents car dealerships, issued a press release headed: "Prescott's glib solutions not the answer".

Motoring organisations disagreed. Both the AA and the RAC welcomed the document, but both stressed that getting "proper funding" was the key.

"Mr Prescott should stop prevaricating," said a spokesman from Friends of the Earth. "And instead should get on with funding quick, cheap measures like traffic calming, bus lanes and cycle routes."

Letters, page 17