Immobility For The Millions?
During the last couple of decades, there has been much ado about transport in the UK. So far, every proposal to alleviate the worrying situation seems to have attracted as much opprobrium as approbation. Perhaps few will be surprised to learn that this awkward question was recently referred to that icon of investigators, Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor at one of our finest academic institutes. Felicitously for everyone concerned, the Great Man returned from a holiday, spent largely in the reference library near his home, on the day he received this new commission. He cleared his desk at once and tackled the issue, reporting as follows:
What a coincidence that this matter should be referred to me only a couple of weeks after I had tinkered with one of its aspects. Heaven knows I am not a specialist in physics, though I believe I may qualify as one of the few genuine polymaths of our time. A former student of mine recently brought to my attention the parlous state of our railways. This induced me to devote a little time to that situation. I am not too proud to borrow from whatever sources are available, and in this case I leaned on US military advances, in particular the advent of the Stealth bomber, supposedly undetectable by defences. Harking back to my earlier interests, I addressed this issue for five hours, at the end of which I had devised a Stealth train, a conveyance which could pass through stations virtually unseen, thus reaching its destination on time. In due modesty, I must say that I did not get so far as to deal with the picking up of intermediate passengers at places between the two terminal points, but I shall deal with that in due course.
The above passage is merely an aside, included only because it demonstrates that my ability to grasp technological problems matches the intellectual rigour I apply when dealing with social ones. Now to the nub. Questions put before me normally meet at least one of two criteria, in that they are either urgent or important. Some have both characteristics. This matter is unusual, as it does not have either. I shall now explain why this is so.
The UK is among the most crowded countries in the world. Consequently it is a perfect place for reliable cheap public transport – so many potential customers in such limited space. But what do we have? I do not travel much, but am given to understand that we are obliged to contend with unsatisfactory and ridiculously expensive rail travel, crowded, sweaty bus stations and air services which, if we are to believe the protestations of their operators, constantly gallop a hairsbreadth ahead of gridlock. For those seeking independent solutions, we have hopelessly overburdened roads. What is to be done?
I hear that the government recently charged some old duffer with the responsibility for ‘blue sky’ thinking, and that his suggestion was that we should have even more motorways. What nonsense! This is a time for fundamental reconsideration. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but don’t need them, as it is obvious that most journeys undertaken are discretionary, frivolous or both. I remember my time in business, when I was often told that people needed to take long trips, as there was no substitute for eye-contact. Poppycock! We have telephones, text and fax machines, e-mail and remote conference arrangements. The people I have just referred to simply wished to get away from their normal workplaces, enjoy a little unsupervised activity and run up costs they would never have incurred had they been paying from their own pockets. Would you fork out £120 or more per person for one overnight stay with breakfast, knowing that you would not be reimbursed? No? Nor would I. Only a month ago, I had B&B in a pleasant boarding house for £25. Business expenses are a huge swindle.
We do not need more transport and accommodation facilities, but less mindless pressure upon those we already have. There is capacity enough for what we need, as distinct from what we want – not my first reference to this syndrome. I suggest that instead of trying to cater for apparently limitless demand, we curtail our gallivanting to what is necessary. How many Britons go abroad each year in search of the beer and fish and chips available on their own doorsteps? It is bad enough that these drunken people are often such terrible ambassadors, but even worse that their movements cause massive pollution. Aeroplanes may fly in thin air, but they do not fly on it.
As with so many supposedly large questions, this matter is basically trivial, requiring as it does only a change of attitude. If you don’t need to go anywhere, stay at home. You will find this less stressful than getting around and you will help to save the planet. I repeat my above assertion that this issue does not have either of the criteria I mentioned early, the reason being that if my advice is taken, any currently perceived element of urgency or importance will vanish as a consequence. That is all.
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