Statistics show that only 12% of all journeys made are by public transport. Around six times as many are made by car. Unfortunately, the poor performance and questionable safety of British public transport has brought passenger figures down, and is forcing more and more travellers into cars. But, as anyone who has experienced the motorways recently will agree, this isn’t always a quick and easy alternative.
About a quarter of all main roads in Britain are jammed for at least an hour a day – compared to our neighbours in Germany and France, where that figure is less than 10%. In fact, a car journey on the motorway from London to Manchester, that’s less than 200 miles,
frequently takes as long as seven hours. That’s an average speed of less than 30mph on roads with a maximum of 70mph. A fit cyclist, accustomed to lengthy periods in the saddle, could get there quicker. Of course, it isn’t just the increased number of car owners that are choking our motorways – there are more trucks out there too. However, it’s wise to be careful when apportioning the blame – after all the motorways were originally built for freight. In 1994, a law was passed that all trucks over seven and a half tonnes had to be mechanically restricted to 56mph. This safety measure transformed British motorways overnight, and not necessarily for the better. Before the legislation was passed, there were always faster lorries and slower ones, so they were evenly spread along the length of the motorway. Now all lorries travel at the same speed, give or take a few miles per hour. As a consequence, they now bunch together in long lines travelling nose-to-tail, which has a devastating effect on the flow of traffic. In Germany, trucks over seven and a half tonnes are confined to the inside lane during peak hours and restricted from overtaking. Unlike in Britain, in many European countries trucks are also banned from driving on Sundays and public holidays. Also, more goods are transported by rail and even barges. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why their roads have only a fraction of the problems that ours do.
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