It takes courage to sometimes do the right thing, irrespective of whatever pressures might be applied. What has happened is that following public consultation about some far reaching and challenging decisions designed to reduce air pollution, and avoid potential heavy fines after years of frankly doing nothing. The reality is that the powers of the car owner has swept aside strong and proper air pollution restrictions that actively reduce carbon emissions and make the air quality comply with European regulations.
From the bus world perspective this is very disappointing news, the industry has fought hard to earn its place as part of the solution, and not the problem. Now having dumbed down its proposals car owners may end up paying no congestion charges while buses , taxis, and vans will have to pay the tax. This is of course a soft and dare I say it a cowardly way out that neither sorts the problem and simply injects more financial pressures on bus Companies and other public transport suppliers. It is sadly not really a surprise as the nation is littered with examples where bus services have had to take second place to the car driver and local NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) politics. I can recall a conversation back in the nineteen eighties with a Conservative councillor who I knew who famously told me that ideally he would like to Driver is car into Marks and Spencers and do his shopping in the car. Regrettably that sort of logic is still very much alive and kicking even though everyone is aware of the of the danger of climate change and death through toxic air.
Ironically it is young people who seem far more supportive of clean air zones than middle aged or elderly people. The problem is that my generation has been guilty of blind selfishness, we have happily carried on letting everyone do just what they want with impunity, and now we are paying the price. Although of course it will not be our generation that have to live with these consequences, when I look back on my life and times back in the nineteen sixties buses were the primary cause of transport. Car ownership was at a fraction of what it is today, and of course with the explosion of the two car family in the seventies and eighties, that allowed free movement anywhere at anytime, it also produced congestion impacting on the reliability of buses as they caught in queues and backlogs. So, the perfect storm for declining bus use.
So, am I to hang my head in despair at the cop out in Newcastle, well, yes and no, it is demoralising without doubt. But, on the positive at least the surge of public opinion overall is turning. The recent public protests taking place across the UK are indicative of the fact that public opinion is changing, albeit at a slow pace. It is vital that the bus Industry keep the profile as high as it can be in both local and national arenas. I will happily continue to bang on about the huge benefits that the bus can bring, and I do believe that after 37 years in this bus world I do see positive change it is just a shame that Newcastle having been bold and courageous, did not have the strength of their convictions and ended up with a fudge that does very little if anything to sort the real problem out. Let us hope that they might change their mind, to avoid the Fog on the Tyne, its not mine, as the old song nearly said.