A Proposal for Beating the Jams

Introduction

Britain’s transport system is cracking up with the strain of too many vehicles on the roads, as no previous transport policy has been able to provide a satisfactory solution. Our country’s prosperity depends on having a healthy transport system for essential services, irrespective of who pays for it. However, investing in telecommunications and internetworks will provide significant relief by reducing the need to transport people, and reducing people’s perceived need for transportation. This can also apply to non-vacational air and rail travel.

It is far, far cheaper to move information than people or objects, and telecommunications costs are decreasing. Through technology, many jobs can now be done remotely. Although this work method is increasing, it needs urgent acknowledgement and consideration as Governmental policy and actively encouraged and promulgated.

More Roads?

Presupposing that we actually need more roads, if the Government provides the funding, then this should pump the economy, create jobs, and indirectly create wealth through more efficiency and therefore increasing tax revenue and reducing the social burden. However, history has shown that this is environmentally destructive and creates more traffic. (Wealth created by better roads goes to buying more cars!).

If funding comes from the private sector, the only motive is to maximise profits for companies concerned, by way of tolls. The bigger picture of increased overall economic wellbeing is ignored, and therefore any benefits to the country as a whole are purely coincidental. Although this can stimulate parts of the economy and generate some revenue for the country, it doesn’t seem desirable. The burden of cost comes from the road users. This could reduce domestic road usage, but it seems more likely that increased costs of transport for HGVs and other essential journeys would increase company expenditure and create inflationary pressures. Again, this is environmentally destructive and economically questionable. Road users can also be held to ransom.

Charging motorists using the experimental pay as you drive system is also missing the point - we already pay too much, especially in terms of our most valuable asset - our time.

Problems Caused by Congestion

  1. In a recent episode of Panorama, it was estimated that traffic congestion costs the country £13 billion in wasted time - about £600 per car owner per year. Recent terrorist activity has shown how vulnerable we are and could contribute significantly to congestion.
  2. The effects of gaseous and particulate pollution cost millions in health care for respiratory diseases, increased incidence of cancers, diminished intelligence and delinquency through lead and heavy metal poisoning and these pollutants also get into the food chain.
  3. Long-term damage to the environment by pollution and road building.
  4. Social stress on relationships and families, due to frustration, long journey times and frequent lack of sleep.
  5. Very high consumption of unsustainable energy supplies.
  6. Increased stress-related health problems, higher incidences of “road rage”.
  7. More accidents, deaths and injuries, higher insurance premiums.

Failed Solutions?

No policies have yet managed to solve these problems. Building more roads just makes more journeys possible which therefore attracts more traffic, and moves congestion to bottlenecks elsewhere.

I feel a lot of sense can be made by comparing a living organism’s biology to a heathy country, in which case our transport system is our blood and telecommunications are our nerves. The Internet is rapidly becoming a communal superconsciousness. Any ‘clot’ or ‘stroke’ is a threat to the health of the country, and extending the metaphor somewhat, some tumours grow by senselessly creating new arteries!

Increasing fuel costs may also help to reduce unnecessary journeys, but the costs of essential journeys and deliveries will only serve to increase inflation and the costs of living, and apply pressure for even larger vehicles to make fewer journeys.

Increased investment in public and rail transport may help to lure the commuter out of the car and get the HGVs off the roads but it will not provide a total solution. Considerable resistance will be made by the transport operators. Now people have tasted “independence”, even if it is spent being a “prisoner” in a traffic jam listening to music crawling along at 2 mph, they won’t want to give it up.

Everyone knows that something should be done to get the “other motorists” off the roads, but curbing car usage is deeply unpopular if it applies to them.

Low mileage penalties for company car taxation is counter intuitive, and encourages people to make unnecessary trips to avoid penalisation - this must be addressed with a more sensible system.

The lower costs of Government funding have visibly saved money, but at the expense of large invisible costs to the country and a toll on our social wellbeing.

Radio and TV discussions and documentaries on our road traffic crisis have just concentrated on the issues and solutions that have been mooted since motorways were created.

A New Solution

It is clear that a radical rethink is required, and one that surprisingly does not seem to have been considered before. This seems obvious to me, and that is to reduce the need for these journeys in the first place!

We have the technology now to make this happen, not by banning people from using their car, or using costly to set up tolls, but gently reducing their desire to travel, and this can be achieved through the Internet or other telecommunications, as I have been doing so for the last 8 years.

Having experienced commuting, and having been able to continue working during rail and tube strikes, and closures caused by terrorist threats, I feel that most commuters who undertake the painful trip into work, would gladly swap their lifestyle for one that would give them an extra three or four hours a day to sleep, work or spend with their families.

Nearly everything that can be done face-to-face, or in a meeting can be achieved using groupware, the Internet and appropriate audio/visual technologies, on a fast PC and training need not be prohibitive, as the software is now so easy to use. Even Parliament could theoretically be conducted from MPs’ surgeries, with full stereo cacophony!

Although physical things will still need to be transported, the roads of our future are electronic, not asphalt highways - and it is about time that politicians and commentators would wake up to this fact.

A possible scenario for the future is that the big hypermarkets disappear, as the Internet allows consumers access to individual producers. Unfortunately, individual producers of goods usually lack the resources and infrastructure to deliver products to individual consumers so the hypermarkets’ roles could therefore change to one of “delivery provider”, acting in much the same way as an Internet provider delivers information, except delivering goods to the door. This would further obviate the need for many car journeys, as deliveries could be batched up to make optimal use of time and fuel costs to service as many consumers as possible.

There are about 22 million cars on Britain’s road today. If it were true that £13 billion is being wasted every year in lost time and healthcare, costing the country and hence each car owner £600, surely it would pay instead to invest in providing the technology to commuters and consumers and upgrade Internet service providers and communications infrastructure and provide the consultancy and means to upgrade our outdated business practices?

What would have been spent on new roads should now be invested in telecommunications, and a technologically aware Communications Minister should be appointed as soon as possible.

This is a simplistic view, but it is possible for a Government to run as an efficient and effective organisation using the latest management techniques, and deliver a solution to these problems by investing in appropriate areas and thereby increasing the fitness of the country with communications technology for the population.

This short article has only skimmed the surface as there are several theses lurking here, but many more scenarios and undreamt of changes are yet to happen to our society. We do not have a choice anymore, we have to get the population more technically literate and capitalise on the new freedoms that IT can provide.

Paraphrasing Professor Jan Deeming, “We do not have to change, survival is not compulsory”.

Andrew Haveland-Robinson Dip. MIT
4th April 1997


Copyright ©2003 HRA
Last Modified: 26th August 2003
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