There are numerous ways we can reduce car use – the key is to do them

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The St George's Roundabout is one of the busiest parts of the city

We take our ability to travel easily and at a time of our own choosing for granted

For those of us who own cars, we value the freedom of movement and time flexibility they give us. But as we can all see, our obsession with cars is choking our towns and cities, polluting the air our children breath and, because of routine traffic congestion failing to give us the very freedom they are supposed to promise.

The International Energy Agency estimates that transport consumes 60% of all oil used in the world.

UK road traffic is forecast to grow 55% from 2010 to 2040 and CO2 emissions will begin to rise again after 2030, according to the Department for Transport. The introduction of self-driving cars is likely to increase rather than decrease journeys by car according to a study by Leeds University.

So how can we, addicted to personal transport, resolve the tension between the convenience our cars provide us and the negative impacts they create?

On our own, of course, we can’t. So long as we act individually rather than collectively, the problems will get worse, especially in Canterbury where the medieval system of roads converging on the city delivers so much traffic straight to its very walls.

But evidence from other towns and cities grappling with similar challenges shows that we don’t have to carry on as we are. Other solutions are possible, given the will.

The key is to give people something significant and positive in return for the loss of convenience, and adopt a range of measures that work across the whole of our communities.

For example: in Dunkirk, there is a trial of running completely free buses around the town. That’s already reduced car journeys, massively increased bus passenger numbers, and created such novelties as quizzes being held as the buses travel round the town.

Tallin in Estonia offers free travel to residents only, as do 57 other authorities in Europe, 27 in north America, and several others globally.

In tourist magnet Avignon, the Park and Ride is free to use and the ancient town centre is served by electrically powered micro-buses which run from by the railway station to the main tourist sites every 10 minutes, for just ¢50 fare.

But in the UK we seem to be hamstrung by our privatised transport system and our abject fear of demanding that taxes be raised to pay for anything.

And the costs of these schemes are not negligible: our local bus company, Stagecoach, had costs of £3.93 per passenger journey last year across its operations in east Kent, with a total operating cost of £57 million.

However, to use cost alone as the basis of rejecting change assumes that a new solution would maintain the status quo.

It also ignores the fact that cheap or free fares plus greater frequency would drive down the cost per passenger journey, since much of the cost of any bus operation is fixed in the buses themselves – £64 million worth of them for East Kent – and in drivers and staff , at around £30 million per year.

Filling the buses with passengers, which manifestly is not the case at the moment, wouldn’t raise those costs substantially but would provide a massive social benefit, especially for those on lower incomes and those who live outside the urban areas, as well as radically cutting congestion and pollution.

Furthermore, running the buses for the people rather than for profit might mean that we change the routes and frequencies. As has been observed rather a lot recently, running buses to the west and east stations rather than the central bus terminus might be a good idea, as would the introduction of genuine hopper buses around the centres of the city and the towns. Or indeed from the villages to and from the Park and Ride sites.

The key to making something like this work is imagination and courage. If we are all prepared to trade off driving into our local town centre for free or cheap buses, and to require that businesses and employers and ratepayers all contribute to the costs since they will all benefit, then suddenly the costs begin to look much more manageable.

And if we were to take the service back into public ownership we could save much more than the £5 million profit which Stagecoach makes from East Kent.

Even if we can’t afford to go the whole hog and have free buses, we could certainly make a step change in the services provided.

The question is whether, in the long term, we can afford not to.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I hope this article provokes the serious debate it merits.

    One word stood out for me “imagination”.

    My newspaper yesterday had separate articles about the imminent arrival in other parts of the country of driverless taxis and almost unbelievably a bit later down the track airborne taxis using drone technology.! Real Dan Dare stuff .

    I have often wondered what the impact of free buses would be here and remember the Ken Livingstone/Dave Wetzel scheme in London some 30 years ago where tube fares were reduced to a bare minimum.

    We do need to start talking in Canterbury about these things rather than limiting our horizon to the idea that private motor cars will still be needing a huge car park in 30 years time.

    My wife and I took part in the Canterbury Festival walk along Wincheap at the weekend and very enjoyable/informative it was apart from …. the traffic noise.We were expecting shockingly awful air quality which was duly delivered but the noise especially from a minority of souped up cars and motor bikes was ear piercing at times. Have the authorities done a health impact assessment there? No sign of a bus unless it went past when we were in the pub.

    Finally a plea for more hedges along our roadsides and in the centre of the dual carriageways .They look great / absorb pollution AND noise all for very little cost

  2. Thanks David for your positive comments about the Canterbury Festival walk in Wincheap which I lead. I should have been more prepared, perhaps by having a microphone, for the appalling level of traffic noise on a supposedly non-peak time, Sunday morning.

    We could all go away afterwards to our quiet roads but those who live in Wincheap have this noise and poor air quality seven days a week. Maybe…after all these years there will be some road layout alteration to lessen the problem?

    To give a perspective, I found out during my research for the walk, that in 2008 17,900 vehicles per day used Wincheap and that when the M1 was opened it was expected that 20,000 vehicles per day would drive along it.

    However, we are assured by our City Council that all the extra homes due to be built near this part of Canterbury will not lead to the traffic being any worse than it is now. I can breathe a sigh of relief…but it might be dangerous to breathe in again in the City Centre.

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