Leading article: Who wants to get on the bus?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
GOING SHOPPING today? Or visiting a great national monument? Or maybe taking in a theme park? The chances are that you'll be going in your car and that, contrary to the dreams of the advertisers, it won't involve any encounters with Kim Basinger or Claudia Schiffer. And, on the whole, you won't really care if the car in front is a Toyota or not because, whatever it is, like you, it won't be moving. Traffic jams are a fact of national life and not confined to Bank Holidays. So the latest research from MORI that suggests that we are all jolly worried indeed about the problem is timely but hardly startling news. The reports suggest that 71 per cent of us would be prepared to support motoring charges if they were invested in public transport. Sounds plausible. But there are reasons to doubt that we are really prepared to get the bus next time we go and see Uncle Victor.

Of course, we know what we really mean when we answer surveys like that. We mean that we would like to rid the roads of everyone else's cars and give ourselves a chance of trying out the twisty bits of the A-roads that the likes of Jeremy Clarkson are always on about. It means that the family in the car next to us should pay more because "that old jalopy's unsafe and should be priced off the road" or "they've got a big car so they should pay more taxes" or "I need my car for work so why should they make me pay". We sometimes display what psychologists politely call "cognitive dissonance" when it comes to our attitude to this kind of issue. During the 1980s pollsters persistently told us that we were all very happy to pay more taxes for better public services, only to watch us, from the privacy of the polling booths, return Conservative governments who promised, even if they do not always deliver, tax cuts.

As Mr Prescott presses ahead with his White Paper on transport policy, he should, of course, "do the right thing" and encourage us out of our cars and onto better public transport. But he should also realise that this policy may not be quite as popular with the voters as it is made out to be. There is no proof yet that we have the maturity to throttle what was once called our "great car economy".