The government has no plan for decarbonising transport

There is much excitement in the transport sector, as the government has finally announced that they have published the long-awaited Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Social media is full of ministers with fancy videos claiming that they are doing something significant.

So I rushed to the Department for Transport section of and read what they have published. And I’m afraid it will be a massive disappointment.

There is no plan to decarbonise transport.

The government has not published any new actions that it will be taking to decarbonise transport. There is no plan for modal shift, there is no plan for decarbonisation of individual polluting modes and sectors. The government have made no commitments and have no policies.

For all their talk, Grant Shapps and his ministers are doing nothing at all to decarbonise transport in the UK. It’s business as usual on the Department for Transport website.

Control your message

I am, of course, being tediously faux naive for an annoying rhetorical effect.

What the DfT have actually done is follow their established and predictable media strategy of putting out a press release, fancy social media and a statement saying they’ve published something, but conveniently neglected to actually publish it until sometime much later, hoping to saturate media with their selected talking points for long enough that the story is old news before anybody has the actual substance in their hands to read, report, scrutinise and respond to.

This kind of media strategy is insulting at the best of times.

At a time when people are desperate to hear some actual substance about how we’re going to get through the crisis we face, it deserves to be treated with the contempt that it shows us.

So please, when the DfT try to use you like this, if you’re going to run with it, at least tell it like it is. The government is all talk. It has no plan to decarbonise transport.

Punch and Judy town planning policy

“Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government put these words in a press release and today 221 national and local newspaper journalists* copypasted them into their newspapers, noticing nothing nonsensical in their conjunction.  Great job, The Media.

The press release was announcing the abolition of two ten year old Labour policies: Planning Policy Guidance 13: Transport (PPG13), and Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing (PPS3).  The department spin this as the abolition of an “encouragement” to local councils to charge for town-centre car parking, and of a rule that limited car parking in new developments in the hope that fewer residents would own cars as a result.

Given that the war “on” motorists is a war between motorists as ever more of them compete for increasingly scarce land and resources, these policies will of course merely serve to make people’s lives even more miserable as they sit in a whole new level of congestion.  Not that I expect there to be any noticeable difference to most people’s lives as a result of this policy — it’s a drop in the ocean given the mess that we’re in.  And anyway, the policy merely devolves these decisions to local councils, who are unlikely to make any changes given their own dire situations.

Philip Hammond said, “this Government recognises that cars are a lifeline for many people.”  Which is interesting, because a lifeline is “a line to which a drowning or falling victim may cling to.”  The person on the end of a lifeline did not intend to be there, and he does not intend to stay there.  To get there, something has gone wrong, and the lifeline user intends to leave the lifeline behind as soon his feet are safely back on solid ground.  Lots of people will tell you that they have no choice but to drive a car, but most of them would rather they didn’t have to.  The car is a lifeline that have grasped after the doctor’s surgery closed, and then the butcher and baker closed, and then the library closed, and then the post-office closed — all because of the rise of car-dependent development around them.  These people don’t want to have to drive twenty miles to town.  They want their services back.  Philip Hammond’s policy is to encourage new developments that force people to use a car against their will; he’s pushing you overboard and expecting you to be grateful as you’re dragged along on a “lifeline”.

On the announcement, “Decentralisation Minister” Greg Clark said something that is actually mostly true:

“Limiting the number of drives and garages in new homes doesn’t make cars disappear – it just clogs residential roads with parked cars and makes drivers cruise the streets hunting for a precious parking space.”

But this is no excuse for giving up.  It is a fact that there is far more wrong with recent development patterns than just car parking; car parking alone does not create car dependent communities.  But we have to tackle all of the problems — we need more action, not less — and car parking was a start, at least.

And of course, Hammond again plugs his hoverboard development programme.  I know I should have no reason to be surprised by the depths to which British politicians and newspapers can sink, but the scale of the current farce is just amazing.  It looks like Hammond’s entire tenure as transport minister will be based on the recurring pantomime of riding his magic car to rescue the beautiful Motorist from the nasty Labour men and their War.  Apparently this is the “new kind of politics“.

* or, rather, 221 websites indexed by Google News, which is an overlapping, but not identical set.  And some of nationals at least didn’t swallow the line whole.

Pickles and Hammond to end the war on motorists

I don’t pay road tax

The I Pay Road Taxcampaign has done an excellent job of reaching out to cyclists.  Every cyclist now knows that “road tax” was abolished in the 1930s, that what motorists pay is “vehicle excise duty”, and that VED goes to the treasury and not directly to the highways agencies.  So when a white van man cuts them up and shouts something about paying tax at them, the cyclist can shout back something about zero-rated bands, carbon emissions, and Edwardian legislation.  Which is the perfect response to a dangerous nutter who is shouting at you: make yourself look more dangerously insane than your opponent.

Of course, the campaign completely misses the point — especially from the Motorist’s point of view.  Which is why, in all the bottle-throwing videos, the cyclist’s cringe-inducingly earnest attempts to explain the detailed content of treasury memos from 1926, are met with blank stares and swear words from the Motorist.  What matters to the Motorist is that they are paying a lot of money to drive — and they are paying a lot of money to drive — while the cyclist is paying a negligible amount to cycle.  The Motorist doesn’t care about the exact terminology of the fees that they’re paying, or which government department is processing the payment.  These details are irrelevant to the issue.

As a campaign to educate cyclists in historical legislative trivia, it’s brilliant.  As a campaign to change the attitudes of dangerously childish and spoilt Motorists, and facilitate peaceful considerate coexistence, it is, at best, useless.

Here are some suggestions for things to say when a Motorist tells you that they paid for the road:

  1. Oh?  I hadn’t actually put it up for sale –or– so I can shit on your doorstep if I pay the government £5?
  2. Not nearly as much as it’s worth.
  3. No, 97% of that was the wanker tax, you’re still behind on the road payments.

The first encapsulates an issue that is rarely raised: that these are our streets, the neighbourhoods and environments in which we have to live and work.  If you think you’ve “bought” them from the government then you’ve been conned: they were never the government’s to sell.  Motorists are a minority of London commuters — perhaps it would be fair for their subscriptions to pay for some sort of limited segregated infrastructure for motor vehicles, proportionate to their community.  But the rest of the streets, the majority of the streets and streetspace, should belong to the majority of the population — a majority who are not trying to fill it with inappropriate transport.  I Pay Road Tax seems in places to be struggling to vocalise exactly these points, but doesn’t quite seem to be able to get it out.

The second is that Motoring and Motorism doesn’t have a single cost.  Talk about “road tax” and people will say that they’re paying for road construction and repair.  Talk to the slightly more sophisticated Motorists about “vehicle excise duty” and they will say that they’re paying for carbon emissions.  Nobody will ever say that they’re paying for particulate pollution — the fines our cities pay, and the thousands of economically active people who are killed by it every year.  Nobody will say that they are paying for the thousands of people who die on the roads; for the operations, the years of physiotherapy, and the lifelong disability support for those who are maimed.  Nobody will say that they are paying up-front for the later-life care for the obesity-related diseases that their sedentary lifestyle will bring upon themselves.  Nobody will say that they are compensating us for the breakup of communities or the closure of the village shop, the deleterious shifts in developmental patterns that affect us all.  The issue is not whether the taxes that Motorists pay cover the cost of road repairs: it is whether any amount of money could ever come close to making up for the many and varied destructive forces of car dependency.

The final one recognises the futility of attempting to change the behaviour of dangerous and abusive Motorists.  Here at At War With The Motorist we make no attempt to engage with the hardened Motorist himself.  People rarely change: Motorists especially so.  It took thirty years for Motorists to work out what seatbelts were for.  It took thirty years for drink driving to become a faux pas.  We probably have at least another fifteen to go before mobile-phone use goes the same way.  It takes thirty years to change our culture and practices because it takes thirty years for one ruling generation to die out and for a new one to grow up in a world where seat belts and not drink driving are the norm.  The solution to abusive drivers is not to attempt to reason with them about the history of our tax system.  Give up on them.  Shout wittier abuse back and move on.  If you’re feeling optimistic about participatory democracy, engage with those who have the power to order proper enforcement of dangerous driving laws and a reform of planning.  Otherwise, focus your efforts in those generations who will be the ones to determine what is and is not socially acceptable over the next 30 years.

I don’t pay road tax: it’s irrelevant.