How Ya' Gonna' Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?
Bizarrely, the Royal Academy's own report, Transport 2050, contains less mechanical engineering than social engineering. Though it acknowledges the need for more infrastructure investment and technical innovation, the cornerstone of its vision is "True Cost Charging" of travellers -pricing that reflects "the real costs of journeys to themselves and to society". In effect, this means using the market to change our behaviour by adding the cost of pollution, congestion and accidents directly onto the cost of travel.
"Restraining demand" for transport is only part of the RAEng's strategy, alongside "maximising use of existing capacity" and "the creation of new capacity through infrastructure and technology", but it's a surprising policy suggestion from industry's traditional problem-solvers.
Although increased opportunities for travel are credited with improving "wealth creation and quality of life", the report then rapidly shifts focus onto the adverse effects on health and the environment, and the explicit suggestion that the future of British transport should involve shorter journeys and more walking and cycling. Never mind bio-fuels and hydrogen, the fuel of the future may well be a substantial breakfast.
Today's engineers certainly seem reluctant to take credit for the social and economic advances made possible by improved transport systems, both a catalyst and consequence of the industrial revolution, and they are unwilling to look forward boldly to a future in which engineering will contribute to even more freedom of movement.
When Telegraph Motoring contributor Austin Williams warned a few years ago that transport policymakers were effectively proposing that people (especially the poor) should be geographically constrained in a manner not a million miles from the feudalism of the Middle Ages, some thought he was being alarmist. Has such a short-sighted and pessimistic vision now become the accepted wisdom?