I write this, and will publish it before the debate on free buses. It will be interesting to see how that will go. More on that later. I have been actively avoiding using my car to see if this is genuinely an option for islanders. But today I lapsed and drove into town. Partly to drop my daughter at work (yes I collapsed under the pressure to do this). I can honestly say that all this has done is strengthen my belief that we need to provide a serious alternative to the car for every islander.
I sat in traffic, feeling more guilty about driving as every second passed and as every piston turned in the internal combustion engine that I was driving. It was clear to me that this was a pointless journey. Particularly when I was asked by my passenger - “am I going to be late? Shall I just walk”?
I sat in traffic with so many others. So many single occupancy cars too. We just sat there, fuel burning. Waiting and polluting.
So how do we change behavior? I’m sure that my guilt, driven by the time I have spent understanding the climate change crisis; is not shared by many in their cars. Not because they do not care, but because the ease of using the car far outweighs the longer term conceptual fear of climate change and its effects.
I believe that we have to act as a government. I have used the word ‘enabling’ a lot recently. We have to enable people to choose to not use their car. To understand the long term impact of their behaviors. Instead, I am concerned that we are heading towards purely punitive measures that will yet again disproportionately affect the poorest in our society. We cannot tax our way out of a crisis. We have to provide real alternatives. Our government needs to have the courage to use its resources to provide the facilities we need in this area.
So we get on to free buses. The argument against this will be money. Purely money! It will be dressed up in all sorts of guises. Will free buses really get people out of their cars?
We will be told that we will need to do research. More research. As the limited time we have to effect change passes we will ask the same States Members and officers who have not made any change for years to research the need for and enable change!
We will be told that we can spend the money on more important things. But the truth is we will not. The same underlying philosophy of austerity and hoarding vast amounts of our money for an unforeseen emergency will prevail. Perhaps we need to realize that we have a foreseen emergency now.
We have to stop procrastinating and make a change. The States creating a free island-wide bus service sends a clear message to all of our residents. Your tax is being spent on a service accessible to all and designed to improve our environment. It is money well spent and will have knock on effects across so many areas. From the very real positive impacts for low income families to lowering congestion and the huge impact that has for us all.
I hope that Assembly members can get beyond the normal and dated arguments and we can make the Great Leap Forward we need.
Finally, I am a proud Leyton Orient fan. I am so sad to hear the news of the death of our manager Justin Edinburgh. He has given us promotion back to the football league this year and a trip to Wembley. My thoughts go out to is family.