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".Reuse content