We’re running out of ways to counter the summer holiday travel chaos – and losing options for efficient transport too

Railways are a great way to see the world. By leaving the interrail scheme and fixating on airport expansion, the UK has one less way to do that and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time

Amelia Womack@Amelia_Womack
Wednesday 07 August 2019 19:44
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British airways delays: Travel chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick

It is chaos at the nation’s airports today, again. Our television screens are full of frustrated, tired, confused families.

Let’s face it, air travel is a horrible experience, even when things aren’t going wrong, and we should be taking this opportunity to think about travel, holidays, and how these could be far better for people and planet.

And then of course there are the profoundly unsustainable environmental impacts – that means we should be thinking about giving people great travel alternatives, and reducing the pressure that pushes many to feel they just have to get away.

Instead, and despite declaring a climate emergency, the government is ploughing ahead with ideas of airport expansion – and not just at Heathrow.

There are plans for a 59 per cent increase in airport capacity around the UK, utterly unsustainable environmentally, but also, were it to happen, creating even more crowded skies, less resilient systems, and far more misery.

Europe is, generally speaking, a fairly small continent, one that would be perfect to travel by train.

Yet, decades of wrong political decisions make flights the cheapest option between many European cities and often, unfortunately, also between cities in the same nation.

Airlines have been allowed to keep offering cheap tickets by a tax-exemption bonanza that allows them not to pay any taxes on aviation fuel, or VAT on tickets.

These subsidies, introduced when air travel was a new industry just getting off the ground, have the wicked result of making the most polluted means of transportation also one of the cheapest, leading to its increase in popularity as part of weekend getaways or holiday packages.

With public demand for alternative travel options, chiefly rail, growing, the provision of services is going backwards.

UK rail companies have today decided to pull out of Eurorail, the decades-old way in which particularly the young people of Europe have been brought closer together.

And shared, cheaper tickets to Germany and Austria from St Pancras have been pulled.

Young Green Party members have in the last few months organised and led protests to demand that train travel from London across Europe be made more convenient and cheaper.

Once again, it is only through activism and caring for the common good that we can bring about systemic and lasting change in the way we travel.

It is by pressuring our leaders that we can force their hands in changing the paradigm of transportation making rail travel the default option around Europe.

Of course, sometimes things go wrong on railways too, but it is all on a far more human, manageable scale – and in the normal case of events, it is a great way to travel. You can enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

We should also follow the approach taken by countries such as Sweden and support overnight trains.

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But we also need to think about why our lives are so pressured, our working hours so long; that aside from the big summer holiday, many also feel the need to take regular short breaks.

A four-day working week, as the Green party has proposed, would be a big step towards reducing the pressure.

We also need to think about improving transport links within the UK and supporting our home destinations, starved of investment like so many parts of the country outside London and the southeast.

The Green Party spring conference this year was in Scarborough, so we all got to see firsthand just how dreadful is the rail link to one of our premiere seaside resorts, an absolute jewel in the crown of Yorkshire, with its castle, magnificent bay and lovely gardens.

There is so much we can do to rebalance the UK economy, stop shipping money out with our tourists, tackle the climate emergency and improve our lives at the same time.

Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party

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