Railway use increasing at faster rate than car use

New figures released from the government have revealed an increase in car use of 7% over the last five years, while in that time the number of rail journeys has increased by a substantial 25%. Use of light railways has increased by an even greater 36%, while the number of bus journeys being made nationally remains unchanged compared to 1997.

Road traffic levels in the first quarter of 2002 were 98 billion vehicle kilometres, an increase from 91.4 billion vehicle kilometres in the second quarter of 1997. On the trains, 250 million journeys were made from October to December 2001, a great increase from the 200 million journeys made in the first quarter of 1997.

A spokesman from the Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions (DTLR) told edie that the increased popularity of the trains over the last five years probably reflects the boost in the number of trains in the country over the past decade as well as increasing numbers of passengers. The DTLR spokesman emphasized that there is “a lot of work still to be done”.

The Environmental campaigning group, Friends of the Earth has written off the Government’s transport policy as a failure, having been unsuccessful in achieving the promises made by John Prescott. Mr Prescott is quoted from The Guardian on 6th June 1997 as saying, “I will have failed if in five years time there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It’s a tall order, but I urge you to hold me to it.”

However, there have been recent confusions about what exactly was promised five years ago. The Press Association at the Transport Department have claimed to Friends of the Earth that Mr Prescott had set the record straight in the House of Commons at the time, where he said that the aim is to increase the use of public transport and to get people to use their cars less.

This week also sees the publication of On Track and National Rail Trends from the Strategic Rail Authority, outlining the recent improvements in the performance of the majority of train operators since Autumn 2001. Between January and March 2002, 23 out of 25 operators have seen an increase in the number of trains running on time. Short term increases in rail journeys being made are not as substantial as the longer-term trends, with the number of passenger kilometres travelled up by 2% in 2002 compared to the previous year. The new reports also reveal a 20% reduction in passenger complaints compared with the previous six months. The problem of overcrowding on trains in the London and the South East has improved slightly since last year, despite continued increase in the number of passengers.

The Department of Transport has also just released its latest Rail Performance Indicator Scorecard for the last quarter year. Punctuality, reliability and safety performance scores have increased slightly compared to the previous three quarters while quality performance scores have remained fairly constant.

The challenge remains for the Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling to come up with new ways of persuading people to use their cars less and rely even more on public transport. A review of the governments transport plan is due next month.

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