Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

Of course better driving is desirable, but to put up posters saying, "Be a better driver", and "Better driving pays" is just as sensible as putting up a poster saying, "Look more handsome". Is it likely that such a poster will make anybody drive better than he did before? The answer, unquestionably, is "No".

Those are the only points I want to raise. The traffic problem cannot be solved by one simple answer. There are approaches to the solution from many directions, and it is only by combination of a number of them that we shall get results. I repeat my belief that unless action is taken on a much more drastic scale in all these ways than has been done, the situation in the country in a few years' time will be so serious as almost to kill the centres of our main cities. They cannot live unless there is a proper flow of traffic through them. It would cause inconvenience to the public beyond anything we know today.

There are many ways by which it can be tackled, but so far the Government have not given a high enough priority to the solution of this problem, the gravity of which is far more severe than they appreciate; or if the Government do appreciate how severe it is they must have been inhibited from taking the necessary action for some reason or another. Perhaps they have not had sufficient public opinion behind them, or Parliament has not been insistent enough, to enable them to do what is needed and which would, admittedly, involve the expenditure of substantial sums of money.

This is a vicious circle. The slower traffic is in the centre of our cities the higher the cost of transport. Up go the bus fares for the people who want to travel by bus, and if bus fares go up fewer people want to travel in buses. They get out their private cars, and the worse the situation becomes. London Transport should take careful thought before they withdraw buses from routes which are uneconomic. Although, from its point of view, and looking at the matter from the financial aspect, it may be desirable for it to withdraw such buses on certain routes, it may well happen that if there is not an alternative underground method by which people living in the area can travel a large number of them will bring out private cars, although they previously preferred to travel by bus. As we know, the space occupied by private cars is much larger than that occupied by buses. Congestion, therefore, gets worse.

The Government, having in view the general state of congestion, and not the economic and financial viewpoints of London Transport, should urge the London Transport Executive not to withdraw buses except where it is clear that that will not create much public disturbance, and that the withdrawal will not result in a large number of private cars going on to the roads and congestion becoming worse. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to these problems and their solution. The longer that action is delayed the more intractable will the problems become and the more intolerable will be their effect on the community.