You drive - they watch - you pay

Given that most of the comments and emails I received re road-pricing were anonymous, it's no wonder Pay-As-You-Drive is such a hard sell. Post 9/11, we're all pretty paranoid ... or does it go deeper than that? I don't think all 1.8million anti-road-priving petitioners fully agree with the attitude of the Ass. of British Drivers (the group who started the petition). But they are against the tracking device, dubbed by the Daily Mail as: "the black box. Would readers be less concerned if it was painted white?

Ironically, I never read Brave New WorldBrave New World or 19841984, because the Orwellian Apartheid regime in old South Africa banned such publications. I am however sympathetic to the fears of BME groups because during Apartheid, black people faced serious restrictions all the time. White opponents were beaten up and ostricised. After Apartheid, I struggled to get a job because I was now an ethnic minority of the wrong colour. When I moved to the UK, I kept meeting closet-racists who assumed they met someone they could confide in.

Back in SA, my own cousin couldn't face telling me he was gay. People live in gated communities with armed-guards at the entrances of their once public roads who would stop me from cycling through. I don't live there anymore and if I don't read certain papers and watch certain channels, I can believe that I live in an advanced society, which is a part of modern Europe. Groups like Liberty provide well thought-out arguments and ensure that this society is (usually) far better than the one I grew up in.

I enjoy conspiracy theories but am always aware that most of them are thought up by people who smoke way too much dope and are trying to justify their self-inflicted paranoia. The Home Office can't even keep track of offenders so I don't see the risk involved in Oyster cards or monitoring 34,000,000 vehicles. I may eat my words, but our towns and cities are so densely populated that in most cases I don't think knowing which station you get off at or where you park your car is particularly revealing. Unless of course you plan to rob a bank or join a militant animal rights group.

I have criticised old South Africa, but at least back then I could cross a road without any difficulty, cycle home from school on my own and breathe clean air. Nowadays, in increasing numbers of towns and cities:

  • Pedestrians are herded towards traffic lights where they wait for the cars to let them cross.
  • You're basically encouraged to buy a 4x4 to deal with the all the speed bumps.
  • The UK has one of the highest rates of people with asthma in the world. (air pollution can aggravate the airways and worsen an attack.)
  • There are constant complaints by the emergency services that they couldn't get to the scene of a tragedy in time because they were stuck in traffic.
  • You can't use your mobile on the high street because of the road noise.
  • The Ass. of British Drivers still refuses to accept any responsibility for global warming.
  • This is being repeated across the world. These issues, in my view, are a real and everyday infringement on civil liberties.

I don't expect pay-as-you-drive to solve all these problems, maybe it'll only be capable of stopping them get any worse. So what are the alternatives:

  • Impose higher taxes on fuel? - we know how difficult that is.
  • Ban heavily-polluting vehicles? - the car industry is fighting the EU every step of the way.
  • Impose carbon-emissions restrictions on cars? - California has the strictest limits in the world, but the car industry found a loop-hole and made SUVs fashionable.
  • Establish carbon-emissions-trading and a system of contraction & convergence, whereby every person in the world is given an equal ration of carbon-credits which is gradually reduced over time? - I'm still working on a related project now and hope to get it on the web soon. Despite this, I think it'll be a while before I've managed to convince the entire world.
  • Build more roads? - I have a theory that one reason trains are so expensive and railway lines are closing is because of declining revenues from rail-freight. More roads = more lorries and less trains.
  • Move to a less-developed country? - old cars from the developed world often end up in other countries, making it more affordable to drive. e.g. Modern Johannesburg is close to gridlock with hardly any public transport to fall back on.
  • Wait for congestion to put people off? - the UK will get hotter in the summer and wetter in the winter but at least in your car you can stay cool and dry.

Like Big Brother, you decide!


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike

I really like your well thought out piece and agree on all the measures listed to reduce pollution. But I still believe that people who are currently part of a minority - for which it is still ok to openly demonstrate with hate demo messages - will have a different opinion to you when you hint at paranoia. The march against gays recently (due to the new goods and services act) is one example.

The govt knowing about our whereabouts isn't necessarily that bad on its own but linked in with all the other info that is and will be collected soon it mounts up to a big amount of data.

Plus this govt may have good intentions but it only takes a few more years and a change in public opinion, and govts, and a whole new set of legislation can be brought in regarding use of data. I am sure any sensible person in Germany pre Hitler would never have envisaged what later happened...not to mention further ethnic cleansing which has since happened and continues to happen...

So all power to you and you know I agree on the need for things to be done. But don't be so quick to put aside the concerns of people who are concerned about a big brother state...its not paranoia to them


Anonymous said...

See Blair's response to the road-pricing protesters here:
The DFT have posted a road-pricing myth buster at: http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/roads/roadpricing/debate/faq#bookmark7b