Mobile solution is at hand to cut through transport's Gordian knot
As many of you will remember, not long ago the Sunday Times devoted a whole page to the proposition that railways were out of date, and instead of minting £33 billion on bringing them up to speed, we should be tearing up most of the tracks and relying on minibuses instead.
This transport theme was soon followed up by The Times itself, which took a similarly bracing line on the threat by the major airlines to discontinue some internal flights unless the go-ahead was given for a third runway at Heathrow. On this occasion the lead letter in the paper's correspondence page was given over to a Green Party MEP who urged the transport secretary to accept the airlines' offer without delay and thank them for closing down as many flights as they wish 'in a truly environment friendly deal'.
It is generally accepted that it takes three related departures from the ordinary to make a trend, but I think these two at least deserve a hearing. A respectable number of academics were quoted in favour of the anti-railway page, and surely sufficient grandeur appends to the status of MEP in the matter of flight reductions to justify a little bending of the rules.
If so, I would start by wondering whether there might not be a new kind of fundamentalism brewing on the transport front - a fundamentalism that will take the place of the mindless multiplication of speed bumps, speed cameras, train crashes, extra lanes on motorways and unwanted runways at airports that we enjoy at present.
My first observation would be to point out that the annoying tendency for every vested interest to blame the others supports nothing so much as a growing radicalisation of the transport debate.
For years the pro-rail dinosaurs have blamed the motor industry; the motor industry has blamed the government; the government has blamed the airlines; the airlines have blamed the tourist industry; and the tourist industry has blamed the state of the railways.
What none of these vested interests have done, until now, has been to look at the outcome of transport chaos, which is not the end of the world but a gateway onto the rich possibilities of zero movement. The heroic 'cut the Gordian knot' philosophy of the 'scrap railways', 'ban cars', 'cut flights' school of chaos reduction may still be derided in some quarters, but with the increasing fantasy of our so called conventional solutions it can no longer be dismissed out of hand.
The key to unlock the drastic solution to the mother of all impasses is probably in your pocket even as you read this. It is your mobile phone, the epitome of miniaturised communication, harbinger of a future world where community is not dependent upon proximity but is a technological construct capable of simulating every kind of encounter, from passively watching TV to videoconferencing halfway round the world.
The capability and symbolism of the mobile phone, intensified by technical developments that are as yet unknown and coupled with a level of computer programming that will make today's primitive digital speed camera seem as barbaric as a Neolithic warrior's club, will be the agent of our reconversion.
After more than a century of high-speed travel and frenetic movement in all directions, we shall return to a state of pre-industrial immobility. Once there, we shall have copious leisure to contemplate how grandly life is arranged and to reflect that just as the city conquered the farm in the ancient world, and the car is still conquering the city today, so is the computer dispersing the motor car, and the mobile phone enslaving the computer.