‘The country is doing ... a disservice by not providing cheap and genuinely reliable bus and train services’Maddy Browne with permission for Varsity

I should start this piece with a disclaimer. I, like an increasing number of young people, cannot drive. Much to my parents’ dismay, I have been dragging my heels about retaking the test since April 2022. Despite the freedom some of my friends are afforded at home when driving, I wonder why I don’t necessarily want that in the future.

And then, I read the government’s plans to stop ‘anti-car measures’ and ‘back drivers’. I listen to the leading members of the Conservative Party carefully craft their persona as the ‘party of the motorist’, ever since the by-election in Boris Johnson’s old constituency of Uxbridge. This leaves me with questions about whether the individualism of the car is growing more and more unsuited to contemporary living. And not just because I failed my driving test.

“The individualism of the car is growing more and more unsuited to contemporary living”

Despite the importance of low emission zones in counteracting deaths from air pollution, there still remains a problem. Local people argue that the introduction of these zones is robbing them of a choice that goes beyond the congestion charge. If a significant number of them would not be able to commute to work without paying £5 a day, then sustainable transport is still not up to scratch. All of this gives the Conservative Party an incentive to roll back green pledges on the grounds that they are protecting individual choice.

Take Cambridge for example. Even after extensive consultations and plans for £50m improvements to bus services, the congestion charge was paused indefinitely after local concerns. In my local area of Bristol, reviews for the Clean Air Zone stopped at local consultations and the money raised from the introduction of the zone in 2022 is now distinctly not finding its way into bus infrastructure. Still, the changes proposed to Cambridge’s city centre were not enough to minimise the impact for residents.

On a national scale, we are still a country of motorists. The 2022 National Travel Survey recorded that 69% of commutes in urban areas outside of London and 84% in rural areas were conducted by car. When considering the continuing impact of the pandemic, this is still a staggering reliance on the car. For those in remote areas or who run a small business, this reliance is more than understandable, but when it comes to those who could choose to use more public transport? The country is doing them a disservice by not providing cheap and genuinely reliable bus and train services.

Having consulted a series of experts – aka nerdy Londoners –they reminded me about a multitude of issues. They talked about problems from the inefficiency of the rail franchise system, to the use of old train carriages, to the problem of the new “blade runners”, people who are protesting the ULEZ by taking out the traffic cameras. One also reminded me of what is at stake, when he showed me a news story of a young girl who died due to air pollution not far from where he lives.

“Inefficiency and mediocrity have weaved themselves into the fabric of our transport system”

As another of my friends pointed out, by making it “all about the individual”, the government can then utilise this – blaming the public and climate crises on “the individual”. This then results in a delightfully ideological return to neoliberal deregulation and the corporations that are really doing the damage.

There are worrying flashbacks still playing out in the modern Conservative Party, as the new rhetoric on motorists reminds the public that they are always renewing their contract with individualism, and oil. This gives them a convenient language and a convenient lack of responsibility, while getting to avoid the dreaded ‘tax-and-spend’ label. Inefficiency and mediocrity have weaved themselves into the fabric of our transport system and of our public sector as a whole. Solutions are hard to come by, so long as the government continues to devalue public means of travel.


Mountain View

Students should have the right to move away from home

Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m older and want the option of having a car. But the fact remains that I shouldn’t feel like I have to. None of us should feel like we have to subscribe to what should be an increasingly redundant form of travel. This feeds back to the climate crisis being pushed further and further down the traffic-laden road – you don’t need me to tell you that. Until we make petrol and diesel cars more redundant, by making travel infrastructure reliable for the long run, then people will understandably choose the method that they can control. The “war on motorists” is not about curbing the freedoms of drivers, but about realising that people will choose the freedom of the car even if they might have considered other options. The choice is too often made for them.