A case of fewer is more

Laurence Inman has a radical plan to make roads safer – but you won’t like it.


motorway driving

Many decades ago I had a Christmas job with the Post Office in Manchester. It was at Piccadilly Station. I, along with a dozen or so others, had to throw bags of parcels onto the trains. I loved that job. It was the night shift and was very well paid. My fellow bag-chuckers were lovely people; warm, witty capable of the most elaborate obscenities I have ever heard, before or since. Such a pleasing change from the empty, flat, grey personalities of the university Philosophy department, where my ‘proper’ work was supposed to take place.

One night, a Friday, one of my colleagues, Len, told us all over pints in the London Inn, just across the road from the station and open and roaring well into the early hours, that he was holding a party the following week, and everyone had to go.

This party was to celebrate the arrival of his United season ticket. He had been waiting eighteen years for it. It was a great party, what I can remember of it. I couldn’t join in the sense of ecstatic celebration much, because I wasn’t much of a Red enthusiast. (In those days, you could just go to the ground, pay, and get in.) I was much happier standing on the Kippax at Maine Road, watching Colin Bell, who was a much better player than George Best.

I often think of Len and his season ticket. He had to wait until someone died to get it. Probably he had to wait until the line of succession of the ticket had died out completely, because they were passed down within families. This obviously has to be the case, because space at Old Trafford is limited, no matter how fierce the demand for tickets is. The ground capacity is currently 75,000. They could conceivably enlarge it to 100,000, but would the expense and disruption be defrayed by the extra income ?

If demand were the only driver of planning, they could build a stadium holding a million. Two million. Ten million. The whole country could become Old Trafford. The drawback there would be that no one would be able to see the game, no one would be able to get away from the ground and what was once a fairly habitable chunk of the earth’s surface would be covered in concrete and morons.

And yet this is exactly what we have done with the transport system. Anybody can buy a car and the road network has to expand to allow this. A much more sensible plan would be to limit the number of drivers. New licences would be issued only when an old one expires, through the death of an earlier holder, or through his being banned for breaking the rules. We could make the limit fairly generous, say five million. But the proviso would be that they, and they alone, would pay for the upkeep of the roads to which they are so addicted.

Comments please.