Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Don't Cut Tube Investment say City Bosses

A bunch of City figures have voiced their concerns about cuts to Tube investment in the Standard today.

The cuts to investment will cost the economy £66bn, they claim.

Now, it's pretty easy to cook up figures like £66bn, but it's pretty easy to see that slow, unreliable public transport is going to cost businesses. What happens if you fancy going into town to see a show and have a meal but the Northern Line is not running? Maybe you stay at home, so the theatre and restaurant lose business. What happens when 10,000 people are delayed for half an hour in the morning because of signal failure? That's 5000 hours of work lost.

Part of the problem is that cutting capital investment is a lot easier for the Government than cutting current-account spending. With capital investment, the benefits aren't seen until some years hence, so cutting it doesn't make much difference to peoples' daily lives (except those employed on capital projects of course).

So here's an idea. Anyone who cycles regularly  in London knows that it's the most reliable way of getting around. Roadworks can often make your journey easier. About the worst delay that can happen is a puncture, which is fairly rare if you buy decent tyres and only takes 10 minutes to fix. Investing in cycling would be cheaper than other capital transport investments, and would relieve pressure on other transport modes, as well as cutting CO2 emissions and other forms of pollution. Of course, it would involve some brave and imaginative decisions, like allocating roadspace away from motor traffic and car parking. But the Government's current line when announcing unpopular decisions is 'there is no choice'. So why not take decisions that will have long-term benefits not only on transport, but on the environment, on dependency on foreign oil, and on public health? And who knows, they might actually prove popular in the long term, as people benefit from quieter roads, reduced road danger, and perhaps even think about cycling themselves?

Of course, this is very unlikely to happen, because Philip Hammond has a very weak grasp of the transport brief, and because the Department of Transport is stuffed full of car-centric beaurocrats who haven't got a clue about cycling, have never been to the Netherlands and can't think beyond the failed policies of the past.

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