Three Studies In The Welfare State

by the time this article sees the light of day, we will all have had a surfeit of material on the railway problem. Why should NLR join in? One answer is that this is an outstanding example of the conflict between the values and criteria of commercialism and those applicable if social need is used as a guide. Here is a case where commercial accounting gives all the wrong answers. Secondly, it illustrates the contradictions that nationalised industries are caught up in within a mixed economy dominated by commercial interests. Moreover, here is a question which affects the whole fabric of our lives in a highly urbanised country, one that we will increasingly suffer from, and the Labour movement has no policy. True, Harold Wilson (New Statesman, 5 March, 1960) has written about railway financing, but what he has to say does not go to the root even of that problem, and he has very little to say in the context of broader problems of transport policy. The NUR, and all credit to it, has written a very effective pamphlet—Planning Transport for You (NUR 1/-)—but this still does not avoid being railway-minded instead of transportminded—nor is there any sign that there is any agreement in sight between them and other transport Trade Unions (notably the T & G) as to what should be done.

Some ideas as to the trends we have to allow for when discussing future transport policy can be gleaned if we glance at the experience of the USA. There, a commercial profit-and-loss accountancy has reigned supreme in transport, and under such pressures urban public transport systems have become vestigial, the cities have been re-shaped as ‘strip cities’ to fit the requirements of the motor car, and still—after enormous investment in roads at the expense of other public services—urban roads are congested, traffic crawls, air contamination becomes an increasing problem, and uncontrolled use of the motor car calls for further vast expenditure on road building. This in a country that has the space that we lack. The other day I met a professor from Los Angeles who argued that the fact that his family had two cars was not a sign of a high standard of living but of the high cost of transportation.

In Britain we move swiftly towards an overwhelming problem of transport, and the danger of a diversion of resources on an enormous scale towards a roads programme that will solve nothing. Urban public transport, and the railways, are in decline. Our congested roads are confronted with a car industry rapidly expanding its output capacity to nearly 3 million vehicles a year. This process is welcomed as bringing employment to development areas, although it is based on each company assuming it will increase its share of the market! Faced with the surplus capacity and underemployment of the motor car industry by 1962–63, will it be easy to resist the campaigns of the road lobbies (behind them, the oil companies) for a massive diversion of resources? This expansion programme (£160 million over two years) is being heavily subsidised by Government loan: is it really a first priority, while the modernisation of the railways remains undone—or is the community once again in the hands of the motor industry? This estimated capacity of 3 million vehicles is well beyond estimated demand, even if that demand continues to expand, at home and overseas, at the same rate as in previous years, Will we find ourselves, financing a massive “two-cars-in-the-garage” advertising campaign, encouraging the society to “take up the slack”, buying back at a fast rate of obsolescence in 1962, the cars it helped the motor manufacturers to build in 1960? Will it be easy to impose restraints on the use of private cars in city centres, especially as growing congestion by slowing traffic down makes bus transport more costly and less reliable in terms of timetable? As a community we have taken a few hesitant steps from laissez-faire towards urban planning, only now to find our limited attempts at urban control swamped by the new aspect of urban laissez-faire, the private car and all the vested interests that surround it.

Where then do the railways fit in? What is to be done?