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You pay your money - but do you get a choice?

Not so long ago I was firmly behind the concept of freedom of speech, the ability to demonstrate peacefully and an uncensored media. Last week's scenes around the fuel station forecourts have made me think again.

The public is basically confused. Confused about what it wants from life, confused about how much it should cost and confused about who should pay.

The Government has not helped - do high fuel prices help keep both income tax low and the health service afloat or are they meant to persuade us to abandon the car and help save the planet?

The national media on the other hand, while just as confused about the issues, is simply ready to urge on a fine story.

The final straw for me was when Julie from Essex explained to the BBC that, while she supported the fight to reduce fuel prices, it was inconvenient as she was now 'going to have to take the train to work'. No more fuel crisis news for me after that.

On reflection, however, her point is central to the entire debate about transport in the future and will determine whether integrated transport is a workable concept.

People want to travel at speed and in comfort but are loth to pay for the luxury until they consider the alternatives.

The rub is that integrated transport is, of course, all about value and choice and not just cost. Yes, fuel prices are too high. But then so are train fares.

Value is value; choice is choice, cost is cost. At least your car has a radio and you have a choice about which route to take and what time to set off.

No one likes paying high taxes. But assuming that you have to, there must be evidence that society is getting something in return. If it was simply about fuel costs we would all go and live in France - and get cheaper wine, beer and cigarettes as well. But the French do not seem too happy about their taxation system either, despite also having a high speed train line and great cheese.

So for those of you about to start wrestling with the UK's transport infrastructure - there is £180bn, including a large amount of tax-payer cash, to spend - the challenge is not so much how to make the motorways wider, the trains run faster and on time, connect the buses services with trams or integrate the timetables.

The true test is finding a way to persuade the public that its tax is being spent creating an effective transport alternative to the car, and done in a way to ensure the media thinks it is a fantastic, maverick idea.

Sadly, this is an uphill battle and comes down as much to the soft skills of selling the concept as creating the hard infrastructure. Both are jobs for civil engineers and transportation specialists.

As an industry we have creating the infrastructure well under control but unfortunately, unless the selling side is also tackled, integrated transport will fail.

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