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1995-03-28 DoT-001
Department of Transport

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National transport policy should not ignore individual choice – Mawhinney


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Department of Transport



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Department of Transport

National transport policy should not ignore individual choice – Mawhinney
_______________________________________________________________


date
28 March 1995
source Department of Transport
type Press release



Individual choice is central to any consideration of the future shape
of national transport policy, Dr Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State
for Transport said today.

Speaking at an Automobile Association conference in London, Dr
Mawhinney was making the fifth in a series of speeches encouraging a
new look at transport issues.

He stressed that the national debate needs to take a careful look at
the transport choices that people make and why they make them.

He said:

"We need to look at people's choices as individuals not as motorists
or pedestrians or cyclists. People do not fit neatly into exclusive
categories: they seldom choose one transport mode for all purposes,
for all of their lives, or even for all of one journey. We have to
try to answer multiple-choice questions."

Dr Mawhinney highlighted the importance of achieving a sustainable
balance between the economic importance of transport, its
environmental impact and the freedom of choice for individuals.

"Better transport leads to expanding choices across our whole way of
life. But not all choices are equally attainable for everyone at the
same time."

Dr Mawhinney posed a number of questions around the issue of
transport and personal choice:

- If we want a less-polluted countryside and cleaner air for all,
should we accept that we cannot each drive everywhere we want? If
so, how could this goal be achieved?

- Is there a danger that opportunities are turning into costs for a
significant number of people and maybe even for the economy as a
whole?

- In commerce, should a business manager choose to receive deliveries
"just in time" which makes economic success for his company, but with
subsequent considerable cost to the economy?

- If we want to promote vibrant and healthy city centres, should we
commute to work by bus or train, rather than expect to park a car at
the office?

Dr Mawhinney said that most people choose to use a car for most of
their journeys. Around 60 per cent of journeys are made by car.

"For today's young people, learning to drive is taken for granted -
and around half of 17 to 20 year olds already hold licences," he
said.

And much of the growth in passenger travel - not just car journeys
but also other modes of transport - has been leisure travel. But
here he sounded a warning note.

"The wider leisure choices we now enjoy, and the mobility we take for
granted, can have severe impacts on the lives of others and on the
environment."

"We cannot explain our entire social structure through looking at the
development of transport, but we do need to be aware of the complex
web of connections between transport and thousands of other
activities.

"Better transport leads to expanding choices across our whole way of
life. But not all choices are equally attainable for everyone at the
same time," he said.

Dr Mawhinney concluded by saying:

"Our instinct is to extend choice and allow individuals to make the
decisions that best suit them. Sustainable development requires that
we find ways to accommodate the consequences of the choices the
majority of people have already made. Nor must we allow people to
feel that there is little they can do as individuals. There is a
great deal they can do."

NOTE TO EDITORS

A copy of Dr Mawhinney's speech is attached.



SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT

SPEECH ON TRANSPORT AND CHOICE

28 March 1995

Introduction

1. In the series of speeches I have been making to encourage a new
look at transport issues I have referred often to the importance of
personal choice. It has been the hallmark of this Government to
increase personal choice, opportunity and freedom. Today I want to
explore what this means for transport and I am grateful to you for
providing me with the opportunity to do so.

2. A belief in increasing personal freedom and the extension of
opportunity and choice has been at the heart of this Government's
programme since 1979. Transport has a vital role to play in
increasing and protecting freedom. Easy mobility is a defining
feature of a free society. Wherever people live under democracy, they
have freedom of movement. In the old Communist regimes freedom to
travel was restricted to the elite. Ordinary men and women were not
permitted to travel freely let alone to leave to visit other
countries. In free societies people are free to travel when they
want, how they want and wherever they want to go.

3. In discussing transport and in determining policy, we need to look
at people's choices as individuals, not as motorists or pedestrians
or cyclists. People do not fit neatly into exclusive categories: they
seldom choose one transport mode for all purposes, for all of their
lives, or even for all of one journey. We have to try to answer
multiple-choice questions. I know that many organisations such as the
Automobile Association are increasingly recognising this and I hope
others will follow their lead.

4. Nor are we looking just at transport choices. These reflect
decisions people make about the way they live. People want ever wider
access to job opportunities, to shops, to leisure activities, to
schools and to other people. This is a healthy requirement: it leads
to improvement in service through competition and to higher
standards. Government should seek to promote this kind of choice for
sound economic reasons as well as to meet the natural wishes of our
citizens.

5. Issues of personal choice are highly valued and hotly debated.
This is an emotive minefield into which Government Ministers should
venture with care. But it is too important not to make the attempt.
Significant changes to national transport habits imply significant
changes to individual transport habits which in turn may require
changes to lifestyles. That means we need to try and understand why
we make the choices we do and what would influence us to make
different choices.

What kind of choices?

6. I cannot hope to describe in one speech all the many choices we
make during our lives which have transport implications. I would like
to illustrate a few major choices by taking as an example an
imaginary young man and woman leaving school this summer. They look
forward to a life full of choices. They may wonder at the choices
their parents and grandparents made and, probably, they will find
they were very different.

7. As recently as the 1950s, we can see significant contrasts with
the present time in the choices made possible by developments in
transport. Jet aircraft had begun to shrink the globe, but car
ownership in Britain had not yet taken off: 86% of households had no
car in 1951. So the choice of workplace was restricted to areas along
bus or train routes, or within easy walking or cycling distance of
the home.

8. In some respects we can view the 1950s as an era of greater
choice. This was an age of local shopping, where it was rarely
necessary to travel more than a mile or two to find all basic
consumer goods. But of course the range of goods on offer was much
smaller. You would not, for example, have found kiwi fruits or fresh
yoghurt at the corner shop nor the vast range of electrical goods and
toys from which consumers can choose today. And, lacking the option
of a single, weekly shopping trip, many families were dependent on
daily trips made by women, whose career opportunities consequently
were thus restricted by economic necessity as well as by tradition.

9. I will concentrate on where these young people might choose to
live and work. Today's young woman is likely to have similar work
expectations as the young man. Both are unlikely to work all their
lives for one employer; they may change jobs frequently and work
part-time for periods. All this means that over their lifetimes their
overall transport demands will be much higher - more of it leisure
driven - than those of their grandparents or their parents.

10. Let us suppose that the young man decides to work for a bank in
Central London and to live 10 miles away in the suburbs. Because so
many other people also commute there is an extensive public transport
service available; the vast majority of people (83%) entering
Central London daily rely on it. But he may choose to join the 15%
who use cars for most of the journey or to drive to a local railway
station. We might ask why?

- is it because he lives some distance from a railway station,
Underground station or bus stop? If so, how much attention does he
pay to their nearness and the frequency of services when he decides
where to live, and how much does he balance these considerations with
other factors such as the kind of property to live in, house prices,
and whether to buy or rent?

- does his employer influence his decision in any way, perhaps by
offering a company car or free parking space, or other alternatives
such as facilities for bicycles?

- is there some aspect of travelling by public transport that he
strongly dislikes, such as waiting in the rain at bus stops or on
station platforms?

- why might he be unwilling to walk less than a mile before he
catches his train?

11. The young woman chooses a very different lifestyle and goes to
work for a vet in a market town in rural Wales, also choosing to live
10 miles away but in a small village. Few people make the journey to
work each day with her and public transport services are less
extensive, although there is an early morning bus to the market town
and an evening return service. Some of her choices are similar to the
young man's, although the options vary and some are very different;

- does she consider the daily bus service in choosing to live in her
village and how long, if at all, does she plan to make use of it?

- if she hopes to buy a car, does she simply assume that this will
be the best way to travel to work, whatever her future circumstances?

- are there other journeys she makes for which the bus service is
less convenient, perhaps to shop or for evening recreation, so that
she prefers to combine these with a work trip using a car?

12. These young people will face many other choices - where to shop
and send children to school, how to use their leisure time and take
exercise. But two fundamental points are already clear - what they
want to do will be influenced by what use is made now of the
different means of transport and the value that is put at present on
ready access to a car.

Choices already made

13. The fact is that most people already choose to use a car for most
of their journeys. Of the 1000 or so journeys each one of us makes
each year, around 60% are made by car. Car ownership has been rising
steadily and there are now over 21 million cars registered. Nearly 30
million people hold driving licences - 81% of the men and 53% of the
women in the country. For today's young people learning to drive is
taken for granted - and around half of 17 to 20 year-olds already
hold licences.

14. The demand for car ownership looks set to remain strong. The 1995
LEX Survey found that expectations of car ownership continue to
outstrip current ownership and that half of all 13-16 year olds in
car-owning households expect to have their own car before their 19th
birthday.

15. Not everyone is able to choose to go by car. We must recognise
that more than 30% of households do not have the regular use of a
car. For some groups the proportion is much higher - almost 80% for
single pensioner households. And households with cars do not use them
for all journeys. So we need to ask what alternatives are chosen.

16. Cycling has reduced dramatically; bus, taxi and rail use only
achieve significant levels in towns and cities. It is often forgotten
that walking accounts for 30% of all individual journeys - but mainly
over short distances. Around 80% of all journeys under a mile are on
foot - a proportion that has changed little over the last ten years.
Also people combine walking with other modes in many trips. So most
of us are pedestrians at least once a day.

17. Again, most of us want to own and use cars because in so many
ways they can enrich our lives and widen our horizons. Car ownership
and use is not all the story but it is the dominating theme. In
handling the choices we have already made, there are two main issues
to be addressed -

- how are we to ensure that adequate choices remain both for those
who do own cars as well as those who do not?

- does ownership of cars necessarily mean that we must expect people
to use them for all journeys, whatever the purpose or length of
journey?

Some effects of existing choices

18. I want to explore those two issues by looking at some specific
kinds of choices. Looking at today's shopping habits, for example, we
see an increasing number of people choosing to drive once a week to a
supermarket for groceries, and perhaps driving even further for
other goods at large out-of-town superstores. Undoubtedly these shops
offer shoppers wider choice. They are very popular with car owners.
But those who cannot afford a car may find it more convenient to shop
elsewhere, in local grocery stores perhaps. They find, however, that
some have gone out of business as a result of competition from the
out-of- town supermarkets, so their choice is limited.

19. The Government has recognised the importance of these two- way
links between transport decisions and the location of vital
facilities, such as shopping, in the planning guidance it has issued
to local authorities. It would be wrong to ignore the popularity of
out-of-town shopping. We have to ask ourselves why people prefer to
drive out of town rather than into traditional town centres? Is this
inevitable? If they are meeting a particular need, how can town
centres become more competitive? If we want to encourage people to
shop in town centres does this mean that we need more car parking-
and should it be particularly aimed at the shopper - or should public
transport provide the key? What should the right balance be?

20. Much of the growth in passenger travel in recent decades has been
in leisure travel. Choice has increased but again there are
trade-offs. If our young suburban Londoner drives to the young
woman's Welsh village to see a local beauty spot, along with hundreds
of other summer visitors, he is likely to be roundly cursed for
helping to cause congestion. If the young woman takes a foreign
holiday each year, flying out of Heathrow, she in turn will be
associated with the noise the jet makes when it flies overhead. So we
need to acknowledge that:

- the wider leisure choices we now enjoy and the mobility we take
for granted can have severe impacts on the lives of others and on the
environment; and

- there is a danger that some of the burgeoning opportunities that
we regard as benefits are beginning to turn into costs for a
significant number of people and maybe even for the economy and
society as a whole.

21. The choice of a business manager to opt for "just in time"
deliveries - which makes economic sense for his company - may be a
very good illustration of subsequent considerable cost to the economy
and society.

22. Just over half of all journeys are short ones, less than two and
a half miles. A particular sub-set of these are many of the journeys
children make to and from school. There has been a marked fall in
the number of school children who walk or cycle to school. Now nearly
a quarter of them are taken by car. I recognise that there are many
factors at work here - the increase in the number of mothers at work
so that journeys to school may be combined with journeys to work;
worries about safety; more books and equipment to carry. But there
are questions we need to ask -

- if, in the long-term, we want less air pollution for all of us,
including our children, should we be more ready to encourage them to
walk or cycle to school rather than expect a lift? and

- how can we find ways to ensure their safety?

23. When our children do walk or cycle to school, and when we are
pedestrians, we have certain expectations about the kind of journey
we want - safe, quiet and free from noxious fumes. This in turn,
leads to further types of choice to be considered, such as the wish
to choose a clean environment.

Balance of social, environmental and economic concerns

24. Such thoughts highlight the central issue of our debate: how to
achieve a sustainable balance between the economic importance of
transport, environmental impacts and the freedom of choice for
individuals. There are pressures to alter the balance: this was the
thrust of the Royal Commission Report on Transport and the
Environment. And individuals too are calling for change. 49% of those
interviewed in last year's British Social Attitudes survey were in
favour of stopping those who do not have essential business driving
in city centres during work hours. But, of course, opinion polls tend
to ask simple questions - just what is essential business? They also
tend to elicit answers which are of high moral tone, or politically
correct, while the respondent silently excludes himself or herself
from the reply!

25. Increasing concern for the environment is widespread. But this
does not seem significantly to have dented people's preference for
cars. The British Social Attitudes survey showed that about 42% would
always or often make special efforts to sort out glass or paper for
recycling, while only 9% would cut back on their driving for
environmental reasons. Yet in other surveys drivers report that many
of their trips are not very important. I do not suggest that people
are being irrational but that the many choices they make often
conflict. We are being human.

26. Some people argue that existing trends do not reflect what
people would choose if they had a "real" choice. Or that mobility
might be the choice of the individual, but it is not necessarily what
people want; that people are in a sense "imprisoned" by existing land
use and transport infrastructure.

27. Life has to be addressed as it is. We have to examine very
carefully whatever evidence is available to support this contention.
One conclusion I reach from the survey evidence is that the
Government cannot, and indeed should not, ignore people's choices.

28. At the same time, if people are genuinely concerned to reduce
environmental impacts, they have responsibility themselves to take
actions reflecting those views. Calls for the Government to 'show a
lead', and to bring about fundamental changes in the way society
works, need to be tempered by the knowledge that Government can lead
only where people are prepared to follow. Government cannot easily
force people to change their lifestyles, at least not without
potentially dire consequences.

What can Government do to show a lead?

29. This Government has not been frightened to lead. We have
increased competition in transport services so that operators are
better placed to offer new services better suited to today's
conditions. Deregulation of bus services, for example, has led to
more flexible services, often using smaller vehicles. We have
promoted the development of vehicles better suited to all passengers,
including those with disabilities, such as low floor buses. And there
are a variety of measures we have already taken to reduce pollution
and noise and to protect valuable historic, scientific and
environmental sites.

30. The Government faces many calls to do more. From one side there
are calls to spend more on roads in order to enhance economic
competitiveness ; from another, calls to spend less to reduce
environmental impact. Calls to respect individual choice are less
easy to hear; less focused ; confused by conflicting objectives - but
at the heart of a democracy.

31. A market which is as free as possible can provide the best means
for reconciling any number of conflicting objectives of this kind. It
can provide the mechanism for people to weigh up their personal
priorities and for society to balance all these against each other.
Nevertheless, as I have noted in earlier speeches, there are limits
on this role because markets rely on prices and we have not yet found
a way to attach values to all the environmental costs and benefits
involved. Nor is it possible to compare the costs and the
consequences of different forms of transport.

- economic instruments

32. We can make use of market forces even in the absence of perfect
pricing. A key feature of our Sustainable Development Strategy is its
support for economic instruments, which can aid in achieving specific
objectives at low economic cost. Our strategy for increasing fuel
duties, for example, offers a range of possible responses. People
can choose to drive less; to drive more carefully; to maintain their
car better; or to buy a more efficient car.

33. This is not the kind of choice which people necessarily want to
face. Proposals which include price increases are seldom popular. The
British Social Attitudes survey revealed a 50% opposition to the
proposal that for the sake of the environment car users should pay
higher taxes. But in fact this level of opposition is lower than that
for most other tax increases - which suggests that people now feel
some real concern for the environment.

- regulation

34. Some regulation, surprisingly, can be more popular. Regulating
vehicle standards has proved highly successful in cutting the level
of harmful emissions from vehicles and has attracted little
opposition. Regulating traffic flow in towns and reserving areas for
pedestrians only are widely, if not universally, welcomed. These
kinds of measures may be popular because many of the direct effects
on costs are hidden.

- public spending

35. The LEX survey shows that the most popular of all responses to
problems of environmental damage and congestion would be for
Government to spend more on trains and buses: some 40% of those
surveyed agreed with this idea. Again, this is hardly surprising.
But it is largely based on an unrealistic belief in the
effectiveness of such a policy.

36. Research has shown that Government subsidies alone cannot change
dramatically the way people behave. It does not follow that people
will choose to follow the money. Indeed, much evidence points in the
opposite direction. Research and survey evidence suggests that if
such measures are to succeed they may need to be supplemented by
other initiatives to restrict car use or make it more expensive.

Questions to be asked

37. We cannot explain our entire social structure through looking
at the development of transport, but we do need to be aware of the
complex web of connections between transport and thousands of other
activities. Better transport leads to expanding choices across our
whole way of life. But not all choices are equally attainable for
everyone at the same time.

38. So we should consider whether improved standards of living and
better lifestyles now require us to accept restrictions on transport
choices:

- If we want a less-polluted countryside and cleaner air for all,
should we accept that we cannot each drive everywhere we want? If
so, how could this goal be reached?

- If we want to promote vibrant and healthy city centres, should we
commute to work by bus or train, rather than expect to park a car at
the office?

- When we think about moving house, should we think about locations
that are well served by public transport, rather than looking to be
ten minutes from a motorway junction?

- and if we do live in such an area, particularly in urban locations
where private parking space is limited, should we examine more
critically whether 2-, 3- and 4- car households are sensible?

39. And, if the answers to any or all of these questions are
positive, how should we proceed in a democracy?

40. Then there are clearly factors which positively discourage
people from making certain choices - particularly using public
transport.

- what can be done to meet worries - well or ill founded - about
personal safety?

- how can we meet peoples rising expectations of comfort in ways
that do not threaten their rising concerns about environmental
impacts?

- what role has modern technology to play in providing people with
better information about public transport?

Conclusion

41. The debate now under way must be realistic. It is not the role
of Government - certainly not a Conservative Government - to limit
people's choices unnecessarily. Our instinct is to extend choice and
to allow individuals to make the decisions that best suit them.
Sustainable development requires that we find ways to accommodate the
consequences of the choices the majority of people have already made.
Nor must we allow people to feel that there is little they can do as
individuals. There is a great deal they can do. I would like those
who put forward calls for grand national strategies to recognise
this.

42. There are no easy answers. It is especially hard to see how a
multitude of often conflicting personal choices can be resolved at a
national level. Even at a local level it is not going to be easy. In
my next speech I will be looking particularly at the local impact of
people's travel choices and discussing what can be done to address
that impact.


Railhub Archive ::: 1995-03-28 DoT-001





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