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Sanjoy Sen: Winning over drivers

Sanjoy Sen (CEN supporter and parliamentary candidate for Alyn and Deeside in 2019)

Here in the UK, we have, roughly speaking, one car for every two people: to be more precise, that’s 473 cars per 1,000 people based on 2018 statistics. And for those outside our major cities, whether it’s going to work, socialising, doing the school run or going shopping, sadly, there’s often only one option - grab the keys and take the car. The truth is, so many people in the UK drive not because they want to, it’s because they have to.

By contrast, in Europe, countries like the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany have some great public transport networks. People’s journeys basically flow from door to door as they switch seamlessly between buses, trams and trains across integrated systems. Plus safe walking and cycling options at either end. But you might be surprised to discover that in all those countries, car ownership is actually slightly higher than over here. The big difference is not in ownership – it’s in usage. In countries with great public transport, many people still own cars but they don’t always choose to drive. That’s because they have better options.

We all want the same things: better public transport, cleaner air, less congestion, access to work and education. But to get there, we need to start focussing on finding British drivers some better alternatives. As Conservatives, we should never see drivers as an enemy to be taxed, fined, banned and inconvenienced just for living their normal lives, especially when they have no realistic alternatives.

We need to start by getting the basics right like they do in other countries: clear signage, integrated ticketing, capped daily prices. And frequent, comprehensible timetables that fit around people’s lives – including park-and-ride schemes you can actually depend on. On the upside, we’re already spending millions on high-tech, zero-emission buses. But if we want drivers to start using them, we need to make them usable. Given that so many rush-hour cars only carry a single occupant, one double-decker could take up to 80 cars off the road.

We don’t need fancy schemes like monorails, but we do need to think how best to roll out key infrastructure. Trams have been a huge success in such cities as Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield. But the costs, delays and disruption have been significant. And in all those cities, many areas remain unserved. So, let’s think about how to bring together the advantages of trams (capacity, low emissions) and of buses (flexibility, low cost) – is now the time to bring back the trolleybus? After all, they work just great in cities across Europe and beyond. Meanwhile, developments in Very Light Rail could be ideal for smaller towns and cities. Or even on defunct branch lines where there is demand for a service but the economics haven’t justified re-opening a traditional railway.

The future of transport is looking pretty extraordinary. Last year, 200,000 electric cars were sold in the UK. And over the coming decade, the next big thing will be self-driving vehicles, potentially revolutionising how we all live and work. And we’re already seeing that the next generation thinks about transport very differently, with millions of young people not learning to drive. But we need to take everyone with us on this journey. Voters don’t appreciate being punished for living their normal lives. As Conservatives, let’s find them better alternatives so they can make the choice not to drive if they so wish.


Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Conservative Environment Network. If you are a CEN supporter, councillor, or parliamentarian and would like to write for the CEN blog, please email your idea to


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