Motoring organisation says cars are vital, but Minister says high petrol prices are good for us.

We may be using our cars less now that fuel is so expensive. But a new report from the RAC Foundation reveals that our love affair with the car is as strong as ever.

Two out of three of us live in suburban or rural areas – and we depend on our cars. Three out of four households have at least one car. And non-drivers receive lifts from family and friends far more often than they’ll take a bus or train. As you’d expect, households with cars make a third more trips than those without. Suburbs and small villages will see their populations grow for at least the next 10 years, says the report, showing that the Government needs to continue to invest in ‘appropriate, car-inclusive’ planning to reflect this fact.

The Foundation’s head of campaigns, Sheila Rainger, said:’ The private car has fundamentally changed the way in which people live, making broader education opportunities and better employment opportunities, available to the many and not the few. The genie of travel demand cannot be put back into the bottle. The quality of life benefits of increased travel must not be overlooked when it comes to forecasting demand and planning our future road and transport network.’

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn last night welcomed dearer pump prices because they forced drivers to use their cars less. He also defended road tax rises coming soon for more than nine million cars, saying it was fair that they also apply to second-hand cars.

The Daily Mail reports that Mr Benn’s words prompted angry responses from motoring groups, who accused him of ‘rejoicing in driver’s despair’.

Mr Benn told the BBC’s Politics Show that high prices were due to global demand and were a ‘fact of life’ that drivers would have to accept. Public unrest over fuel prices is strong and the Government did look about to respond by helping drivers, hinting that this autumn’s proposed 2p a litre rise in fuel tax duty would be set aside.

But Mr Benn’s approach appears hard-line. He also defended proposed road tax changes, which in some cases could double the annual fee payable by owners of cars up to seven years old.

He said: ‘If we’re going to tackle climate change, there are some hard choices and we want to encourage all of us to choose less polluting vehicles.’

But Paul Watters of the AA said drivers would be bitterly upset to hear that the pain they felt was good. ‘People have to get from A to B, many have to drive to work, and the vast majority of trips aren’t discretionary.’

Stephen Jury


July 14, 2008

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