Viewpoint

UK transport policy is standing at a crossroads. The decisions the current Government takes to tackle the dual challenges of climate change and rising oil prices could have significant repercussions […]

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By Richard Dyer Friends of the Earth

UK transport policy is standing at a crossroads. The decisions the current Government takes to tackle the dual challenges of climate change and rising oil prices could have significant repercussions for many years to come. Recent rises in the cost of petrol have left many motorists understandably concerned and the Government is now under growing pressure to take action to cut fuel prices.

Friends of the Earth sympathises with motorists and hauliers having to pay more to fill up at the pump, which is why we want the Government to take urgent steps to make these price shocks more manageable. The coalition is considering a ‘fuel price stabiliser’ which would adjust fuel duty to compensate for changes in the price of crude oil, giving people more predictable fuel costs and so help in ironing out and controlling these sudden price changes – but any scheme introduced must ensure that fuel prices gradually rise.

The inescapable reality is that global factors are bringing an end to the days of cheap fossil fuel, and the Government should focus on taking the sting out of these price shocks by rapidly helping to deliver a low-carbon transport system. Not only would this reduce the UK’s dependence on overseas oil, it would help tackle climate change too.

The UK must substantially cut its carbon emissions by 2020 if it is to play its part in preventing climate change. Greening our transport system is a vital if we are to meet our targets. This doesn’t mean a war on motorists, but cars must be part of a balanced transport strategy.

Government action is needed to encourage people to switch to cleaner, smarter vehicles that use less fuel and are therefore cheaper to run. And as most car journeys are relatively short, Ministers must do more to make greener alternatives such as walking, cycling, car-sharing and public transport affordable and more attractive to motorists.

Although many motorists may find it hard to believe, the latest Government statistics show that the cost of motoring has been falling in real terms for many years. At the same time the cost of using public transport has increased, offering motorists little incentive to ditch their cars and hop on trains and buses instead. No wonder we have such a car dependent society.

Transport policy must take a new direction to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and rising fuel prices – and give us a modern, efficient and affordable transport system to be proud of. Now is the time for our Government to act and make big steps towards realising their claims of being the greenest ever.