It appears that, after coming to power in 1997 with a pledge put the environment first, to change the balance of journeys taken by car and those taken by public transport in favour of the latter, after suggestions about charging car drivers to motorways, after attempts at dedicated bus lanes on them, and despite the planned introduction of congestion charges in cities, whose aim is to get people out of their cars and onto buses and trains, the British Labour government has thrown in the towel.
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It appears that, after coming to power in 1997 with a pledge put the environment first, to change the balance of journeys taken by car and those taken by public transport in favour of the latter, after suggestions about charging car drivers to motorways, after attempts at dedicated bus lanes on them, and despite the planned introduction of congestion charges in cities, whose aim is to get people out of their cars and onto buses and trains, the British Labour government has thrown in the towel. Despite all these measures and all this hot air, car traffic levels in Britain have continued to rise by more than 1 % every year. And so, in a spectacular U-turn in its transport policy, the government recently announced (at a quiet meeting without the press!) a vast new road-building programme. In addition to the 60 road schemes already programmed, a further 160 are to be added. It will be the biggest highway-construction programme in Britain since the days of the Conservative govern- ment of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher characterised her domain as "the great car-owning democracy". In retrospect, this U-turn was perhaps inevitable. One could say the British are more attached to the privacy of their cars than other Europeans. But that would miss the point. The Labour government has not turned back the tide of the privatisation of public transport (and here lies the difference between Britain and most other EU countries). The results are all too obvious; because trains and buses have to make a profit, they only run when they are crowded (so a car is more comfort- able), there are hardly any services early in the morning or late at night (so a car is essential), there are crashes (so a car seems safer) and there is chronic under-investment (so facilities are getting worse). The results of the new road-building programme are fairly predictable too. Just as happened in the 1980s, it will encour- age yet more traffic onto the roads, which will rapidly fill up the increased capacity, and there will be just as much congestion as there is now - the only significant changes will be even more pollution and even fewer green spaces. Perhaps the government is thinking that there must, logically, be an end to this cycle. After all, there are a finite number of people in the country, so eventually, if enough roads are built, there will be room for all their cars. True. But by then there won't be anywhere left worth going to. congestion: verkeersopstopping. facility: voorziening. finite: eindig. hot air: veel beloften, gebakken lucht. pledge: plechtige belofte. scheme (hier): plan. to turn back the tide: het tij doen keren. U-turn: ommezwaai, bocht van 180 graden.