Thursday, 15 November 2007

Look At My Big Train

I’m so sick of transport campaigning.

We know what the sustainable transport solutions are - it feels as though we’ve known them forever - and yet we’re still having to fight the same wretched battles over motorway expansion, the privatisation of public transport, new runways, and the continued existence of Jeremy Clarkson.

But wait, Danny, wait! What about the Shiny New Eurostar Terminal?

This was Greenpeace’s comment on the matter:

This did make me smile. However, even though commentators all over the place are queuing up to declare that this is a Jolly Good Thing and Why Did It Take So Long, and despite the fact that a two-hour-and-fifteen minute journey from London to Paris should make any flight-free holidays I might want to take in the future notably easier, my cynicism muscles still won’t stop twitching.

A fast train to the continent is clearly a good thing if it gets people out of planes, but why isn't this kind of money and organisational clout being used to sort out local bus services, cycling facilities, inter-city coaches and so on? Where are the decent, affordable public transport facilities for all of the people in the UK who don't make frequent business/shopping trips to Paris and Brussels, but do want to travel within their local area and occasionally around the UK (i.e. most of us)?

I think this article on Indymedia illustrates this problem all too well:

“Around 30 cyclists met at 8.30 this morning for the opening of the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station, London. They were highlighting the poor facilities and planning for bikes in contrast with the much-publicised claims of carbon-neutral travel to Paris…”

As well as the complete lack of cycle access and parking at the station, the author also notes that if you want to take your bicycle to France,

“you either have a choice of dismantling your bike, putting it in a bike bag and carrying it on as luggage - I've done this and it's not great! - or you can take it to the station the day before you want to travel, and send it ahead for some £40 each way (adding another two-thirds to the price of a cheap passenger ticket).”

This is just one more small example to add to the heap, but once again a huge gleaming "prestige" project has taken priority over less glamourous but equally vital people-scale solutions. Sadly, it seems that the government (on the rare occasions that they’re prepared to give some serious backing to a public transport project) have decided that sorting out bikes, buses, coaches and pedestrian routes is fiddly and boring compared to big shiny trains, and might involve pesky "controversial" stuff like clamping down on profit-hungry private bus operators, subsidising "unprofitable" public transport routes and making things a bit less convenient for car drivers. Plus, of course, there isn't much scope for the government’s corporate mates to siphon large amounts of public money out of bicycle lanes and free bus rides for the elderly.

We definitely need more fast, reliable train services, but we mustn’t forget to get out there and shout for all the other, less prestigious (and less elitist) kinds of sustainable transport too. Even though the very thought of yet more bloody transport campaigning makes me want to crawl under a big pile of John Whitelegg transport policy documents from the early 1990s and weep.