13 July 2007

Rail and the environment

From the London Times:

[S]ome trains on rural lines, such as the diesel Sprinter, are less efficient than 4x4s because they are often almost empty. Douglas Alexander, when he was Transport Secretary, said last year: “If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter, it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive.”
The better environmental choice between alternatives is not always obvious, and a lot of damage can be done by people in powerful positions prejudging how environmental objectives are to be achieved. They would do better to help specify these goals, and allocate funds for their achievement, but to contract out the actual achievement to people who will be motivated to do so efficiently and quickly. A Social Policy Bond regime would encourage the exploration and application of the best ways of achieving the specified goals, and it would do so impartially. It would not assume, for instance, that rail, because it has apparently been the sounder environmental alternative in the past, will always continue to be so, under all circumstances. No handful of politicians or experts, however eminent or well meaning, can hope to keep track of the multifarious changing facts in the way that markets do. The information and the motivation are just not there.

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