What are we to do with road congestion? We keep coming back to this point in Britain. The roads are full and people are buying and running cars in greater numbers. The time is fast approaching when congestion could become terminal.
The basic problem was created about a decade ago, when the government decided to virtually stop road building programs. This was, in fact, a good idea. Environmental consciousness was just becoming popular, and it seemed a good idea to help the environment. But in typical governmental fashion, the problem was dealt with half-heartedly.
In taking away road improvements, they didn’t even attempt to deal with the car itself. Of course, they appeared to do so. They put a green tax on petrol. But this had two effects. First of all it threatened commerce, and second, it made drivers so fed up that they brought the country to a virtual standstill in a few days of protest.
The environmental solution to road use must be found. But it must be found without destroying the freedoms of the person and business. Public transport improvement in town centres is one obvious answer, but we must also radically look at the car.
Whilst we should be building eco-friendly cars in greater numbers, people are turning to 4×4 battlewagons. The car makers are the only ones to answer this problem by creating eco-cars that people will want to buy. And with eco-friendly cars, road building could begin again without affecting global warming needlessly.
Of course, this won’t happen because of enterprise’s love of oil. A proper eco-car could have been here for decades if this had not been the case. But it is clear that the true answer to congestion is to change the way we make cars, sticking rigidly to the environmental agenda.
A counter argument is that road congestion will sort itself out. Eventually, people will become more time-flexible, working out when congestion won’t be as bad, and traveling then. Hence, what the government is doing is to exaggerate the problem in order to create more stealth taxes to hound the motorist.
One option that must not be tackled is the idea that you pay for road use as you drive. A tariff is set for the road and time of day and your car is tracked by satellite, adding up the miles. At first hand it seems a commonsense thing to do. But it is a system that reaches right to the heart of what a free country is.
Regardless of the advantages, the simple fact is an agency will then know where you go, and can track you throughout the country. Maybe this is why government is being so terrible at sorting out the congestion problem. Maybe it is this system of control that they are aiming to impose in the end. We must beware of this.
Technology is now at the stage where it is easily capable of being the tool of control of increasingly totalitarian states. We must beware that the order such technology gives to our lives does not become the order of a new police state.
© Anthony North, Feb 2007
See Beyond the Blog (Politics and Society pages) for more essays. Current affairs posts also appear on North's Review.