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Transport: The wrong kind of time-travelling

Inside Politics – The Policy Exchange newsletter (London), 28 January 2008

This has not been a good week for transport in Britain, and it is not only because a British Airways jet crashed at Heathrow. Not a day goes by without our roads, rails and airports being stretched beyond their intended capacity.

I was unfortunate enough to try to fly back to Heathrow from a meeting in Germany yesterday. My plane was ordered in mid-air to return to Cologne airport. With luck, I eventually made it onto a later flight to Stansted which was even busier than usual with passengers diverted from Heathrow.

The rest of my journey was not much more pleasant. The so-called Stansted Express was delayed; the train was filthy, the ticket expensive. I arrived at Liverpool Street to find the Hammersmith and City Line was suspended. If I had tried to drive from Stansted I would not have been home any earlier. Traffic congestion, not only in London, is now endemic.

My experience just underlined the core message of a report we published on Monday: that Britain’s transport infrastructure can no longer serve the demands of our modern economy. Whether it is Heathrow (even on crash-free days), travelling on the Tube or indeed driving on the M25, getting from A to B has become a constant – and expensive – hassle. The amount of time and fuel wasted in traffic jams costs the economy in excess of £20 billion a year.

It does not need to be this way. Our analysis shows how vital upgrades to Britain’s transport infrastructure could be financed with private money. Then, once real improvements have been made, road user charges could be used to repay the costs. Britain deserves better. Coming to the UK from the continent shouldn’t – and needn’t – feel like travelling back in time.

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