Article written by Martin Betts, Vice Chair, Tunbridge Wells Constituency Labour Party
Being stuck in traffic jams and slow-moving lines of traffic wastes time, is expensive and damages people’s health.
Recent research has shown that the UK is one of the most congested countries in the world. Drivers in UK cities are spending more time each year stuck in rush hour traffic. Motorists in London lost an average of 74 hours – more than three days – in 2017 and in nearby Guildford nearly 30.
Although there is no comparable local data this news will come as no surprise to people travelling in and out of Tunbridge Wells early morning or late afternoon. Often it takes more time to travel by car from Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells as it does to commute to London.
Researchers concluded that the overall cost per driver of traffic congestion, including wasted fuel and working time, was £1,168. More importantly the impact of congestion on air pollution is enormous, badly affecting the health of millions of people across the country.
Transport is the largest source of air pollution and the health impacts of traffic congestion can be very serious. This is very worrying when so many Tunbridge Wells schools are on our major transport routes.
Even the ‘cleanest’ of car engines can produce noxious gases and other pollutants that can harm our health – increasing the risk of lung disease, particularly for children, and the risk of dementia.
Asthma deaths in England and Wales have risen by a quarter over the last decade and it is largely for health reasons that Labour is committed to encouraging investment in the manufacture and use of ultra-low emission vehicles.
Government claims that they are dealing with the traffic congestion problem by improving roads and traffic management are questionable. At the same time they have mismanaged the rail industry and cut bus subsidies, particularly in rural areas, leaving us with fewer buses and more cars on the road.
Instead of reducing support for trains and buses Labour promises a major expansion of public transport by bringing our railways back into public ownership, capping fares, supporting the creation of bus companies that are run for passengers rather than profit, and restoring many lost bus routes.
It was a Labour government that gave all pensioners a bus pass for free travel, but there is no point in offering free travel if there are no buses. We want to encourage more buses and a greater use of public transport by introducing a similar free travel scheme for under 25s.
Our local councils have their role to play in helping to reduce congestion and its damaging consequences. They can do this by firmly backing a cheap bus fares
policy and the use of buses as a way of getting into town centres, setting up a park and ride scheme, and encouraging more car-sharing and car clubs.
They must also do more to promote and provide safe routes for cycling and walking for some of our daily journeys, which will help us to make our own personal contributions to reducing the cost of congestion.