Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Roads vs. trains

Christian Wolmar raises a very pertinent question, Why are roads favoured by the right and trains by socialists?:

... a whole host of right wing think tanks in the US lobby strongly for increased spending on roads, while simultaneously trying to kill off public transport systems, arguing they are inefficent and expensive. (...)

What is it about roads that attracts the Right? Surely they must, by now, realise that the freedom afforded by the car is illusory, since, as usage rises, the extra societal costs of more people getting on to the road outweigh by far the benefits. And the simplistic view that roadbuilding is the answer has been widely discredited. There is a gaping intellectual gap in the Right's thinking which environmentalists and public transport supporters should be more adept at exploiting.

2 comments:

Neil Harding said...

I think it comes down to the individualist v collectivist argument.

Public transport is just too egalitarian for the Right. Public transport, like healthcare is not made more efficient by competition, so doesn't fit the Right's ideology. Plus, public transport is reliant on staff that can be easily unionised. How do we divide and rule to keep wages and conditions cheap?

Then there is the wealth and status factor, apart from having first and second class etc, public transport cannot be easily divvied up for the luxury market. Cars and oil are massive businesses with big lobbyists particularly in league with the Right, don't underestimate the vested interests of the status quo.

peezedtee said...

Your trade union point is interesting. I think Margaret Thatcher's well-documented hatred of railways may have started when she grew up in Grantham (a railway town) where there would have been a lot of heavily unionised railway workers, in stark contrast to her Poujadiste shopkeeper father.

As you say, the Right see the private motorcar as the "individualist" (read: selfish) option and public transport as unacceptably collectivist from their point of view. But Christian Wolmar points out, in the piece that I linked, that if they were being intellectually consistent they should oppose government spending on roads. They ought to want all roads to be self-financing toll roads. But they don't seem to say this.