Friday 23 November 2007

The road to Hell

It's virtually impossible not to sympathise with the road hauliers who are threatening to re-start fuel price protests, and I - along with countless other motorists - wish them luck. Caught between the taxman bleeding me dry, and the capitalist petrol companies forever hiking the fuel prices (and their profits), I certainly feel more badly stung than someone who's had a naked romp in an ongaonga tree!

As if the petrol price hikes aren't bad enough, the ever increasing car tax and the threatened road-pricing plans are also igniting considerable anger. What's more, the new structure of car tax discriminates against older cars, driven predominantly by working class people who can't afford newer models - my car is a 1.9 litre Renault Laguna diesel, in a high tax bracket because it's over 1.5 litre. and was made before 2002. (OK, maybe it's a "chavmobile", but 1.9 litre for a diesel car is hardly a "gas guzzler" is it ?!?)

All, officially, in the name of cutting CO2 emissions from cars and protecting the planet. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for protecting the planet and stopping the greenhouse effect, and on a selfish level I'd like to see less traffic on the roads - it's no fun at all being stood for ages in traffic jams (or, to be politically correct, "congestion") when you're already late for work.

However, I'm extremely sceptical about whether the increasing costs of motoring are going to have much - if any - impact on car use. Any motorist who's run into debt paying for fuel, taken out an IVA to pay for the car tax and insurance, and auctioned their organs on ebay to pay for repairs, will tell you that motoring ain't cheap!

So what is the solution? To answer that, we must look at what is causing the problem...

Many of us (myself included) must commute long distances to work. This can be traced to the decimation of local jobs, notably the closure of coal mines and steelworks in the 1980s and early 1990s, and there have been several factory closures and cutbacks in public sector jobs since. Not just under the Tories, but also under the current Labour government which is now laying the belt into those of us who now have to travel much longer distances (50 miles in my case) to work.

It's not just to work we have to travel. Local shops are being replaced by out-of-town shopping centres, so we must travel to do shopping. And the "school run" has been aggravated by the increasing selection in schools, gathering pace as a result of the government's obsession with new PFI schools and "specialist" acedemies, leading many kids to travel larger distances to school.

At the same time, public transport has seen cutbacks in services and/or fare hikes as a result in privatisation, and the profit motive now takes priority over the welfare of commuters, let alone the environment.

The closure of local workplaces and the centralisation of production in a few large workplaces (often abroad) has at the same time increased the number of lorries on the road, as goods must be transported further than when they were producd locally. What's more, back in the 1980s, we saw a massive increase in the number of lorries as a result of Thatcherite moves to weaken the railway unions, by encouraging the use of road transport. So it is sweet and fitting that the lorry drivers are now turning against the same capitalist Establishment which gave them that power (but has so long denied them the wages and working conditions they are entitled to).

So any bogus solution based on attacking motorists in the wallet, or any other underhand method (such as making it harder for young drivers to get driving licences and easier to lose their licences, or charging disabled drivers for parking), ain't gonna have much effect. Just as taxing cigarettes heavily is not going to deal with the nicoting addiction, so taxing road transport more heavily is not going to deal with society's addiction to the motor car.

The answers lie in:
  • creating more local jobs and services, to reduce commuting by workers and excessive transportation of manufactured goods
  • renationalising public transport to provide affordable, regular and frequent services (including off-peak services, to accommodate shift workers)
  • central planning of the distribution of goods and services - it is wasteful when two lorries carrying the same product pass each other on the motorway, going in opposite directions!
Only these measures can properly protect both the planet, and the living wages of ordinary working class commuters.

No comments: