Quite disconnectedly, I came across a section of The Guardian for Wednesday (I didn't buy it). This is 4 broadsheet pages devoted to the question of "What can the UK do about growing traffic congestion?" "Produced in association with TomTom" (suppliers of traffic information/satnav systems), and containing a half-page ad for them, plus numerous mentions in the text, this supplement contained not one mention of cycling or walking, and few of public transport. Surprise, surprise, the methods of dealing with congestion that were being focussed on were, apart from the suggestion of road pricing, all concerned with high-tech traffic information management using the kind of technology TomTom supplies. And the focus of the road-pricing discussions were not really on reducing motor traffic, but rather, on using pricing as a mechanism to distribute it more efficiently.
In this supplement is a column written by Conservative transport minister Mike Penning. He writes:
The government recognises the importance of addressing the environmental impact of road use. But, rather than drive the motorist out of the car, we want to drive the carbon out of the car. We are making that areality with measures to support the purchase and use of ultra-low carbon vehicles, like our Plug-in Car grant and Plugged-in Places scheme.So, there you have it. The government does not have a policy to "drive the motorist out of the car". Which I presume means they have no policy to reduce car use. It doesn't mean they have a policy to increase car use, or to allow car use to increase, but one would have to ask the minister about that. Clearly no policy to reduce car use, only to de-carbonise the car. I am sure I don't have to explain to anybody who knows any science at all what the problem is here: that, if he is talking about electric vehicles, as he seems to be, the carbon issue is not dealt with, but merely transferred back to the power station stage. So unless a huge increase in nuclear generation is being proposed, and I haven't heard the government saying that since Fukushima, how does this help with CO2? It doesn't, but nevertheless the we are heading for a huge expenditure (I don't use the word investment) in on-street electric vehicle charging points: money that could have been used to provide safe cycle infrastructure.
Penning's background, according to Wikipedia, is in the army, as a firefighter, in business, and in political journalism. So not a scientist, then. He was in the past associated with the far-right anti-EU Tories who had the whip taken away by John Major. So, also, not a person likely to be influenced by how they sort transport in continental Europe.
I have long believed it a serious problem with Britain's democracy in this science and technology dominated world, where a fair level of scientific understanding is necessary to appreciate many of the most important issues, pre-eminently, global warming, that so many of our MPs are drawn from the professions of the law and journalism, and so few are scientists or have degree-level scientific training. Anyway, whenever you hear this government make any pronouncements on the environment, transport, cycling, or walking, bear this key fact in mind: they have no policy to reduce car use.
Conflicts of interest, conflicts of policy. As Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá, said in a talk recently in London, "Choosing between a city friendly to people or a city friendly to cars is a conflict". Perhaps what's wrong in the case of the person who feels there is a conflict between membership of a cycling organisation and being a publicly-employed transport planner, is that it really is a conflict, because the government really doesn't believe in reducing the role of the car in our country – and that leaves no room increasing the role of the bike.