Stand clear of the moving cars

As we await the impact of the latest bank-bail-outs it is interesting to look at what other countries have been doing in response to the recent recession.

Several of our near neighbours, including France and Germany, have opted to invest in transport infrastructure as a more value-added form of fiscal stimulus. Transport came very much to mind during a recent trip to New York – in both good and bad senses.

My experience started with the usual air travel hell – from the corporate daylight robbery of airport catering to the ‘liquids in a bag and hand over your shoe-laces and belt routine’. Six hours, one blood clot and an inedible meal later I arrived in Newark Liberty International – a hop and a skip from the Big Apple.

One excellent development since my last visit is the new Air-train monorail that takes you from the terminal to the railway station – with through ticketing from the airport I was in the bright lights of Midtown Manhattan within half an hour. The recent economic recession has led to a big jump in people using the New York Subway as the price of car travel becomes prohibitive for more people.

You don’t have to walk far in the city to see that this is a very sensible option. At rush hour you could walk from the East River to the Hudson along the roofs of taxis in this grid-iron gridlock. Even the pizza delivery guy travels by subway.And it’s good value for money – I took the hour long subway ride to Coney Island for the flat rate of two bucks. In London that would get you nowhere (even if you changed it for Sterling).

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is currently building a $1.1 Billion extension to the number seven line funded by City coffers but to be repaid through increased property tax revenues in the area benefiting from the project. But environmental (as well as economic) concerns are starting to emerge on that side of the pond. The city is rapidly expanding its fleet of 550 hybrid buses and there is even a cycle lane running along Broadway.

Although there seems to be very few people both environmentally progressive and foolhardy enough to go up against the phalanx of New York cabbies in a Raleigh Shopper. Recent transport investment in this country seems to be only marginally less controversial and calamity-prone than banking hand-outs. The government has given the green-light to the controversial Terminal 3 project despite massive opposition from community and environmental campaigners.

And every morning my bus journey takes me past the construction site for most expensive (and possibly most short-sighted) stretch of motorway in the country. The M74 extension at about £140M a mile is driving a further concrete wedge between the disadvantaged communities of South Central Glasgow and the city’s economic heart. It is hard to see how the £700M cost can be recouped – as the impact (through blight) has been overwhelmingly negative. We pioneered railways and engineering for decades and yet we seem to be building yesterday’s infrastructure at tomorrow’s prices.

Our government gives lip service to a green agenda while subsidising air and car travel to a huge extent. Meanwhile train travel becomes more expensive and more complex. Last year I travelled First Class from Paris to Turin for less than a Glasgow to Aberdeen standard train fare.

When are we going to start thinking about investing in the transport system we will need in ten years time? Maybe in another fifteen years?


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