It was good to receive an email this week from the Department to say they were removing the M4 bus lane. Soon the broadcasts were alive with the message that the war on the motorist was ended.
I welcome the news about the bus lane. There should be no place for Zil lanes in modern Britain. Mr Blair’s famous use of the lane summed up all many of us disliked about it.
Cancelling it does not, however, restore a sense of proportion into our use of the car. Doing so requires not just changes at the Department of Transport, but also in many Town Halls and County Halls around the country. We need leaders who recognise that 86% of our passenger and goods travel is by road, and who understand that not many people can go shopping on the train or ride a cycle to work.
Of course national and local government has to regulate road traffic for safety reasons. Of course when we are pedestrians or at home in our residences we expect traffic to be properly shepherded so it does not harm or annoy us. Much of the traffic management we now experience goes well beyond that, making the life of the motorist difficult and unpleasant.
Car parking is a case in point. Making car parking more readily available is a good idea, not a wicked one. If you can find cheap or free parking near to your destination, and find it easily, it removes traffic from circulation going round and round trying to find a parking space. If you want a leisurely shop, it takes the panic out from realising that if you get delayed for five more minutes at the till you will be wheel clamped and face a huge fine. If there is enough car parking provided with modern housing, it avoids cars blocking side roads and neighbours drives.
Many politicians say they want more town centre shopping and less shopping at the mega stores on the by pass. One of the main reasons people prefer the out of town store is they can drive straight there and park for free outside the shop. They can park for as long as they need to do the shopping, and can put any heavy items purchased straight into the boot of the car. Going into the town centre means running the gauntlet of a whole series of different speed limits, chicanes, one way roads and a welter of signs with orders you have to obey, followed by study of the complex and detailed regulations over whether you can park and if so for how long and what cost. One car park is Wokingham is notorious for catching people out, as they park in the private part of a public car park, only to get wheel clamped and fined for doing so. Councils seem to delight in threatening their Council tax payers with heavy fines should they overstay their time in a public car park by a few minutes. Why not just ask them to pay for the extra time?
Other politicians say we should tax people for workplace car parking, or make employers charge. Many people drive to work because it is the only way to get there on time. Employees with children of school age may need to drive the children to school first and then drive on to work. There are often no buses to complete the complex journeys the school and work run takes, or no combination of buses that allow you to travel in a realistic time. At work it makes sense to allow the employee to park near the office for free. The employer can afford that, but may not be able to afford car park charges and taxes that some now wish to impose.
One of the main reasons many people in the UK do not feel local and national governement has been on their side in recent years is the way the motorist has been hounded. There are too many rules and regulations that do not go to heart of safety but are for other purposes. The rules are often difficult to grasp and comply with. Some straghtforward rules to prevent accidents are most welcome. The current jungle of traffic mismanagement will take more than the abolition of the M4 bus lane. It is nonetheless a welcome sign of better things to come.