It was reported on Radio 4 this morning that some commuters have taken to sleeping in their cars to avoid the cost of fuel for the drive home. This is cited as evidence to back pressure on the government not to increase fuel duty in tomorrow’s autumn statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. This is mishandling evidence to reach the wrong conclusion.
The problem is that we burn too much fuel; and long commuter journeys are part of the problem. When the price of fuel increases, as it inevitably will, people will reassess where they work and where they live, but this cannot be an instant decision. A few nights sleeping in the car might be the nudge people need to make change in their lives, to live nearer to work and closer to access to public transport.
Reducing the length of commuter journeys is not something to resist, but to welcome. Time wasted in the car, is time that could be spent in productive work, with the family, or used to sleep a little longer before getting up. Employers and employees have a shared interest in cutting commuting, through more working from home, locating offices in attractive provincial towns, and people trading sprawling suburbs for life within a community.
If we wait until the price of oil rises, the extra we pay will be transferred into the treasuries of the OPEC countries supplying the oil. If the UK government increases fuel duty, this is income that can be spent to improve our capability to need the car less, such as better public transport. I hope that pressure to hold back the planned fuel duty increase is resisted as a one small sensible step towards a better future.