Jeremy Corbyn is right to spend a billion on buses – but the best way to pay for it is by clobbering motorists

Making vehicle users pay would reduce pollution and put more money in the chancellor’s pocket. There is plenty of room here for the Labour leader to be bolder

James Moore@JimMooreJourno
Saturday 27 April 2019 12:31
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Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May argue about bus services: 'A bus pass isn’t much use if there is not a bus'

Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to reverse the Conservatives’ cuts to bus routes earlier this week was a rare example of the Labour leader hitting it out of the park.

It’s a completely praiseworthy policy, the benefits of which could scarcely be more obvious.

Buses are a handy way of providing cheap mobility to those that lack it; the young, the old, the poor, disabled people (when they can actually get on the things, but that’s a separate issue I’ve written at length on).

With a bit of investment, and as part of an integrated public transport policy, they ought to help with getting people off Britain’s polluted, traffic-choked roads.

The decline in bus routes the Labour leader has identified under the Conservatives really ought to be a national scandal. So good on him.

Tory claims that he would have to “clobber motorists” to pay for a policy that would be of considerable public benefit was pathetic, and wearily predictable.

But it’s just as easy to criticise the Labour leader’s counterclaim that he wouldn’t need to as another example of him indulging in fairy tales, in pretending that Britain will somehow become the Big Rock Candy Mountain under his party, with only a few fat cats having to pay “a bit” more along the way.

Corbyn said the £1.3bn policy would be funded from the revenue generated by road tax.

Much as it pains me to say it, his Tory critics are right in one respect. That only produces so much. If you use the funds to restore bus routes you either have to cut back on road building and repairs, or you have ask motorists to pay more.

When it comes to his bus policy, Corbyn shouldn’t be afraid of making the case for the latter. The fact is, motorists could use some clobbering, and I say that as a motorist.

Private cars pollute the environment, and damage people’s health. They cause asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Just yesterday Public Health England warned that the air pollution they contribute heavily to is a factor in thousands of deaths from lung cancer among people who’ve always viewed cigarettes as having been coughed out of Satan’s backside.

Non-smoking-related lung cancer is among the eight biggest cancer-related causes of death in this country, ahead of leukaemia, lymphoma and cervical cancer.

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The number of private cars on the roads is also arguably hampering the economy through gumming them up. Gridlock Britain serves nobody. And that’s what we have.

It’s not as if there isn’t ample space for motorists to pay more. They’ve been pampered like prize-winning poodles for the best part of a decade.

Take the fuel duty freeze, which was supposed to be a temporary measure when the coalition took power in 2010 but has been extended in every budget since it was first introduced.

It was renewed for its ninth consecutive year in the chancellor’s most recent outing, starving the government of resources that could be put to good use elsewhere. They policy cost £46bn in its first eight years, with a projected £21bn extra set to be racked up by 2021.

The obscene benefits cap that has contributed so much to the rising use of food banks, something which ought to shame us all, could have been brought to an end a year earlier had it been scrapped, a point made by the Resolution Foundation.

If Corbyn and John McDonnell don’t fancy hiking road tax to pay for the extra buses they want, they could easily bring the curtain down on the freeze and still have several double deckers full of cash left over for some of the many other things they want to do.

Labour is quite right to prioritise investment in public transport. It could prove to be one of Corbyn’s best policies. The current coddling of car owners is one of the current government’s worst. It’s exacerbated by what Greenpeace calls “the perverse priority the current government is giving to polluting cars”.

Campaigner Areeba Hamid says dirty diesel is still being favoured through vehicle excise duty while subsidies for cleaner hybrid vehicles have been cut. This inevitably nudges people to buy cars that both make our air quality worse and contribute to climate change.

So there is plenty of room here for Corbyn to be bolder.

The truth is, making motorists pay more for the pollution they cause and the roads they use would be just as beneficial a policy as getting more buses on to the roads.

Labour should make the case. There might even be an electoral dividend for being truthful about it at a time when there’s little enough honesty around.

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