One of the problems public transport faces is the perception that it is more expensive than the private car. On some occasions, this is true; on many, many others, this is simply untrue. Press proponents of private motoring on the issue and rather than admit defeat, they change the subject onto how infinitely more convenient their four wheels are.
In order to inform motorists just how reasonably priced travel by public transport is - especially by local bus - I propose that all petrol and diesel should be dispensed at filling stations for free.
That's right, free. Zero. Diddly-squat.
To me, the problem lies with the manner in which passengers pay to use public transport. While there are moves afoot to offer electronic top-up payment, this will never be rolled out to every bus operator and certainly not to those who use buses very infrequently. You also have to register, often online, for eligibility and to receive your card, in whatever form it takes.
This is far too much hassle for those who poo-poo buses and trains, let alone those who really don't care and begrudge their trip to town every other Saturday night on the local bus.
So, make petrol and diesel free at filling stations. You then fit payment devices in every single car. A little electronic card reader, which scans drivers' debit or credit cards. The cost of driving the vehicle would then be determined on miles per gallon, which of course, is determined by how efficiently the owner of the vehicle can drive.
I believe that if motorists were forced (because you really would need to force them, rather than cajole or enthuse them) to pay for their motoring in the same way as they perceive how they'd pay for public transport, you'd see many converts.
I've been using the excellent website Fuelly for almost two years now. It's effectively a posh calculator, into which you input details of each and every refuel at the local filling station. You state your vehicle's odometer reading, the cost per litre of your chosen fuel type and the number of litres dispensed. A miles-per-gallon figure is then calculated and a £-per-mile premium is also shown.
My car costs 17p per mile to run. Using this data, and knowing how many miles your daily commute is, the likely savings can be seen. But as I've mentioned above, seeing the savings on paper is not good enough. By dispensing fuel for free and then charging motorists per mile to use their vehicle (for me it would be 17p), the savings will be far more widely felt by virtue of how expensive the car is.
From the LEYTR Editorial in Bourne, a commute to the nearest city (Peterborough) is 32 miles, or £5.44 by car. This is 84p more than the equivalent return on the local bus (two buses per hour M-F from 0620 in the morning peak and last return journey M-S at 2015). "Big deal, 84p" petrol heads will say. But over a 5-day week, this is £27.20, compared with a Week Saver on the bus, costing £18.50, meaning a saving of £8.70 and that doesn't include any payments for parking. Over a 47-week period, car users would save £408.90.
Naturally, those who commute by car as they have no competing bus or train or those who commute to Peterborough but then have to head to the other side of the city to one of the many offices where the competing bus doesn't call, will not benefit. Importantly though, they wouldn't be any worse off as their per-mile payment would total the same as if they'd paid for a tank of fuel at a filling station.
But the concept of more literal pay-as-you-go motoring cannot harm the perception of the cost of using public transport. Paying £60 to fill your tank already causes many to bemoan the government and the tax levied. The best way to 'get back' at the Chancellor is not to use your car.
If nothing else, the Fuelly website, which also sees users' mpg data anonymously used to calculate average UK mpg data, throws into sharp light exactly how much using your car costs, with the per mile value. This generally sees private motorists commuting medium distances against a competing bus or train service paying more. My method of expressing just how much more they're paying by forcing motorists to pay to use their car in the same way they would for a bus or train is controversial. But then so is increasing the cost of fuel by 2p as each and every government over the past two decades has discovered.