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Congestion: who cares?

When asked to take their pick of motoring fantasises only 8% of respondents to the latest Lex survey opted for 'congestion-free streets wherever you go' (see News). Eleven per cent went for the use of a new Ford Escort for a year, while the top choice was 'a year's supply of free fuel for your car'. Asked to identify those things 'very harmful to the environment', 38% picked cars, while 42% named buses.

As the Lex report points out, concern over congestion and traffic pollution is relative and, compared to things like crime, it is relatively unimportant.

Optimistic supporters of transport reform could take some cheer from the report. That 39% of motorists support tolls and 23% back parking charges could be seen as a good result, given the lack of exposure that drivers have had to the improvements in public transport which could be paid for with the cash.

However, the overall impression is that British motorists will look askance at any Government which tries to force them out of their vehicles. Most of those who switched their votes to create a Labour landslide have access to a car. John Prescott must be a worried man.

A much more subtle and concerted campaign will be needed to win the hearts and minds of motorists. The benefits of integrated transport must be sold in the context of the positive effect it can have on things that people really care about - for example reducing car crime, lightening the burden on the health service, cutting the cost of transport, creating jobs and making the streets safer for children.

Civil engineers, of course, can do much to help. But will they - as individuals - want to?

When NCE carried out a survey into civil engineers' attitudes toward integrated transport issues there was a big vote in favour of congestion charging etc. However, nearly 40% of working civil engineers have company cars and another quarter have a car allowance.

If the Lex survey is right about the views of motorists, many civil engineers face a struggle between public duty and private convenience.

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