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editorial

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Blaming Prescott for transport problems misses the point

John Prescott has been the target of countless attacks over the state of Britain's transport this summer, almost all of them unjustified. You cannot solve an advanced country's transport problem overnight - it takes time, and in today's blame culture (where acts of God, in the absence of God himself, must be the fault of earthly agencies), nobody waits too long before putting the boot in. If Mr Prescott drives his car, he is supposed to be hypocritical, just as he is if he opens a bypass. If he suggests greater investment in public services, he is attacked as being anti-car. A sober assessment of future transport policy will not be helped by pouring abuse on the man in charge of policy.

Mr Prescott's unenviable role is to act as architect in the construction of a new transport architecture. He must, as architects do, synthesise the apparently irreconcilable demands of everyone from Friends of the Earth to the Road Haulage Association; he must make choices which he knows will offend at least a substantial minority of the population. In these circumstances he deserves our support, and criticism which can at least be read as constructive.

Having given up driving ( too much tax, too little benefit), I nevertheless think that the anti-car attitude being encouraged is unhealthy. One change required is the restoration of the bypass programme, which Mr Prescott should introduce as an environmental and social policy aimed at benefiting the tens of thousands of people whose towns are blighted by through traffic. Boosting our cities is part of general Prescott policies; to this end more, thought should be given to pedestrian assistance - and in particular, travelators - which should free up buses, trams and tubes, allowing them to carry more passengers in reasonable comfort.

Finally, Mr Prescott must, while keeping the courage of his convictions, be sure that sequencing works: the carrot of improved public facilities must come before the stick of discouraging the motorist from certain places at certain times. And on that front, when will fiscal policies be geared towards taxing use rather than mere ownership?

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