Transport poverty is hitting the headlines – it’s time for fair thinking on fuel

Eleanor Besley argues that we can't focus just on car drivers when it comes to transport policy - and that if we put all our effort on to fuel price, we risk subsidising the rich.


Earlier this week, Sustrans launched research showing that more than a million people in Wales may struggle to afford to run a car – and that a lack of alternatives is forcing many people to choose between getting into debt and being cut off from jobs, healthcare, shops and schools.

This morning the RAC Foundation launched a remarkably similar piece of analysis and used it to call for cheaper fuel across the UK. This ignores the fact that an increasing number of people are already excluded from car ownership as a result of extortionate costs.

Across the UK, transport poverty is a devastating reality for millions. Fuel prices are going up and will not be coming down. As the certainty of peak oil hits home, more and more of us will be priced out of car ownership and there will not be alternative options in place.

As things currently stand, car dependency is an assumed condition for the entire British population. This means that the transport system and spending on transport is focused on providing for car journeys. Those people who do no have a car often find themselves without public transport options and will no facilities in place for them to walk or cycle.

The government’s approach is unfair and outdated:

• About a quarter of households do not have a car

Traffic figures for cars and taxis, which rose more or less every year since 1949, have fallen continuously since 2007.

• Over the last 20 years, 80-90 per cent of people have said they would find it very difficult to adapt to not having a car

• Over two thirds of car trips in Britain are less than 5 miles – many of these should be possible by public transport, on foot or by bike. Current transport funding does not seek to make this a reality.

Cutting fuel duty appears to makes sense in the short term, for car owners. But what about in years to come when the barrel cost of oil is itself so high that car ownership isn’t possible for anyone beyond the super rich?

We must invest now to ensure that large swathes of the population are not cut off from essential services, shops, education and employment when the inevitable happens.

The Welsh report, Access Denied, calls on politicians to recognise the complexities of and tackle the growing problem ‘transport poverty’.  With a quarter of households in Wales having no car at all, and fuel costs set to continue rising, the report calls for more investment in alternatives such as public transport, car clubs and routes for walking and cycling.

The report is backed by Age Cymru, Citizens Advice Cymru, Save the Children and Sustrans Cymru who agree that without investment now, the problem will only get worse.  The charities point out that many people in transport poverty aren’t just unable to afford a car, but also find it difficult to cover the costs of public transport.

Britain must see a transport system for all, not just for those who can afford a car.

One way to ensure we’re future-proofed would be to ring fence a proportion of fuel duty for spending on smarter travel (public transport, walking and cycling). In their 2010 report the Environmental Audit Committee recommended such an approach. This month’s response from government weakly refuted the idea without any argument.

The government revenue from Fuel Duty was £25.894 billion in 2009. Using just a small portion of the income from fuel duty to pay for alternatives to the car could help people to see that they were funding their own future.

See also:

Wales faces 6,000 more children in poverty due to welfare cutsEd Jacobs, February 29th 2012

Even if people prefer a 3rd runway to Boris Island, doesn’t mean they like eitherJohn Stewart, February 29th 2012

Conservative NIMBYism is scaring away the investment in renewablesKevin Meagher, February 27th 2012

Climate change sceptics and rural romantics – the Tories are a shambles on renewable energyKevin Meagher, February 7th 2012

Aviation industry turn on Greening over her opposition to third runwayJustine Greening, October 17th 2011

35 Responses to “Transport poverty is hitting the headlines – it’s time for fair thinking on fuel”

  1. Anonymous

    Well, the government has taken 400% of the cost of the road network.

    That leaves 300% which is a huge sum.

    No doubt the government has been investing the money. Wasnt’ that Labour’s mantra?

    So there will be lots of assets and lots of income generated by those investments that can be given back.

    Or has someone been lying?

  2. Anonymous

    So who are the villains for making the cost of cars so much.

    You could be paying 460.00 a year in VED. Villain – Government.

    So what level should VED be set at, and what gets cut to pay for it to make cars cheaper?

    The we have VAT and fuel duty. 12,000 miles, 30 mpg gives a tax take of 304 pounds.


    Villain – Government.

    Insurance premium tax 18 quid on average. Villain Government


    20% VAT on buying a new car. Say another 2,000 spread over 5 years. 400 a year.

    Then in some cases there is import duty. All paid for in the end by the motorist.

    All of this out of taxed revenue. Taxation on taxation upon taxation.

    Yep, the biggest cause of transport poverty is the government.

    However, the reason for all this taxation is the inability to stop spending

    All those five a day coordinators, etc ….

  3. Sigil

    A friend of mine was effectively forced out of her job as care visitor for disabled and elderly people (this was a private company contracted by the council, of course) as she was not reimbursed for the fuel she used on her visits: as the price of fuel rocketed, so it became impossible for her to earn enough to cover her own costs.

  4. AlmosJustice

    Transport poverty is hitting the headlines – it's time for fair thinking on fuel: by @sustrans' @EleanorBesley

  5. Tom Spencer

    Transport poverty is hitting the headlines – it's time for fair thinking on fuel: by @sustrans' @EleanorBesley

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