Which is worse: our public transport or our roads?

'The trains get worse, so people drive. So to get people off roads, driving is made more impossible'
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The Independent Online

I won't have to pay Ken Livingstone's inner-London congestion charge, because I gave up driving through the capital when I realised that it had enabled me to perfect the art of swearing mid-sentence, without missing a beat. I could say something like "I've bought the new record by oh for Christ's sake MOOOOOOVE you useless tosspot you can get a Stealth bloody bomber through you dingbat Pulp".

I would be reduced to tears by those blokes in Mini Metros who drive with their hats still on in the car, wheezing along at nine miles an hour, except when they slow down and indicate to go round a leaf. Then they get to a junction, at which nothing is coming in either direction, but wait and wait as if they're thinking: "Not yet, after all word has it there's a stagecoach due from Canterbury." And I would feel like banging on their window and shouting: "Look, everywhere you go in this poxy car there's a huge queue stretching behind as far as the eye can see. And never once in your life has there ever been a car just in front, not ever. Has that never led you to ponder possibly why?" But they'd probably just say: "Ooh, lucky I suppose."

I'd then get exasperated when someone would justify driving ridiculously slowly by saying: "Well you don't get there any quicker by driving fast." Of course you do; why then is Michael Schumacher world champion, and not Mrs McGinty, aged 84, from Shrewsbury?

More terrifyingly, there are the mad bastards who can't nip out for a pint of milk without re-enacting a car chase from a Bond film, tyres screeching, overtaking at lights and livening up the return from the Costcutter store by overturning a market stall piled with melons and skidding through a wedding.

Any lingering pleasure from driving has been abolished. Speed bumps, which we originally thought were provided by the local authority, are clearly a new species rapidly breeding and colonising every road in Britain, like bindweed. Soon they'll start spreading to new areas, like motorways and the dodgems. And, like many successfully evolving species, they're getting bigger. By next year the only way past them will be to strip the car down to its component parts and reassemble it on the other side. Or roads could be turned into slalom courses, with fines for anyone going the wrong side of a post.

If you try and avoid the main road, you're likely to come up against a series of obstacles, such as newly blocked off side-streets that leave you reversing in circles and feeling like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail. You expect to turn into a street and meet an 800-year-old man with a beard who bellows: "You have done well to get this far, my friend. But to proceed, you must drive across the canyon of faith. Then you must defeat the double-headed dragon that can mutate into a dustcart and park in front of you for 25 minutes."

Despite this, London is perpetually and irredeemably clogged with traffic. Eventually it will end up like Athens, where no cars move at all. I don't think cars have engines in Athens. Instead, each morning half a million Athenians walk to their cars, which have an allotted place in the traffic jam; they get in and spend their day tooting at everyone and yelling at cyclists; then they all get out and walk back home.

The congestion-charge solution to the capital's transport problem involves a novel twist to free-market competition. The idea seems to be to make public transport and driving compete to see which can be the most unbearable. The trains get worse, so more people drive. So to get people off the roads, driving is made even more impossible.

For example, if Ken Livingstone is right, and 15 per cent of London's traffic disappears as a result of the new charge, all those drivers will pile on to trains and tubes that are already packed. So some passengers will think: "Sod this, I might as well drive and pay the fiver, especially as now there's 15 per cent less traffic." And the spiral will continue, until railways are covered in speed bumps and trains aren't allowed to stop at stations without a resident's parking permit.

Then Livingstone would have to raise the stakes further, until local radio traffic reports begin: "Try and keep clear of the Aldwych underpass this morning before 10am, as this is currently under fire from B52s dropping daisycutters. And the Westway is down to one lane until 6pm as the other lanes have been declared a central pillar of the international axis of evil."

Perhaps we'll end up with the scenario I once saw in Communist Prague, where, true to the stereotype, there was a mini traffic jam that involved three consecutive Skodas being pushed. Maybe rush hour in Prague consisted of hundreds of people, bumper to bumper, pushing their Skodas – with an old man at the front holding up the whole street by pushing slower than anyone else, while occasionally a teenager overtook the entire queue and everyone sighed: "He'll get himself bloody well killed, pushing like that."

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