It’s no secret that I’m in favour of good public transport, nor that I strongly support the new Glider service, even though it isn’t a tram system. If you are serious about reducing congestion, buses, however smart, won’t cut it, because the public know they’re buses. It was the same when railway lines closed and former passengers voted with their car keys.
But we are where we are. The new bus lanes still ought to improve congestion, because buses will be using traffic lanes formerly used for parking seven hours a day and not ducking in and out of the outside lane, even before considering the impact of the higher frequency service and buses not getting stuck in general traffic and actually starting to run to time more reliably.
So where does the Bible come in?
Well, if you’re not a Christian, let’s face it, it won’t.
But if you are, several places.
First of all, the earth belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). Everything we have comes from God (1 Chronicles 29:11-14). It isn’t ours to abuse, and the stories of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the minas (Luke 19:11-26) show the consequences of using (or not using) what God gives other than to serve him.
It’s therefore important what we do with what God gives, whether it’s to please him or to please ourselves. It’s something I’m not going to get into here, because pleasing God does include keeping well, rest and holidays, and bluntly it’s complicated.
That’s an excerpt of the standard theology concerning environmental protection for Christians – we are answerable to God for how we use what we have been given – with great power (dominion – Genesis 1:26) comes great responsibility.
But there’s another aspect.
The invocation of rights (perceived or actual) always comes at a cost. There is certainly a right to go about ones own business.
But that right does not extend to driving as one pleases.
The questions come down to:
Do I need to drive to get about my business today?
Does my decision to drive impact on somebody who has no choice as to whether they drive?
And this is the sticking point.
Is it Christlike to insist on driving?
Consider how many people need to drive.
People whose business requires them to go places not easily or conveniently accessible by public transport.
People whose disabilities prevent them from using public transport.
Journeys which would be unreasonably expensive or unreasonably long if taken by public transport.
People who drive for a living.
People who carry things not easily carried on public transport or a bicycle (not limited to going to your preferred supermarket and returning with four hessian bags overflowing with groceries!)
And then remember that most people who own a car might be able to cycle or use public transport some or even most days, but need to drive on others.
The nature of congestion is that multiple vehicles are vying for the same limited roadspace. As I observed the other day in a discussion on Facebook, it’s all very well wanting more traffic lanes to be provided, but whose houses do you want to have demolished to achieve this? Realistically, there is little or no scope for adding capacity to the arterial roads of Belfast, just a question of how do we use what space we have.
And that’s where the line “I drive because I own a car” comes in.
It isn’t efficient. Given the peak congestion in Belfast, it is unfair to those who can’t avoid driving (never mind that probably half the commuters on a given bus own cars and use them in the evenings and at weekends!)
And that’s the thing.
If you can use public transport to get about your business efficiently and choose to drive, I suggest it’s theft of utilities that other people need.
In the end, that costs everyone because tradesmen and hauliers have to increase their charges to recover time and fuel wasted in congestion, both of which have to be paid for by the customers – plus the cost to commerce of delayed deliveries.
Add in the cost to lives of delays to the emergency services.
Personal freedom is there, but it isn’t there to be abused. The key verse is probably this:
23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
Public transport got so unpopular for several reasons, including the convenience of driving, the fact that buses can never match up to rail-based solutions for traveller popularity, the fares, and the unreliability of buses delayed in congestion.
Glider isn’t a tram, but as is always the case, we get exactly what our politicians pay for. If we want better public transport we need politicians who will commit money to making it worth giving up the freedom of driving if not cheaper. The question is will Christians lead the way in giving up that freedom if their journeys will allow?
Glider replaces Metro 4, 10 and 26 from Monday 3 September 2018, and will be running in shadow form for the last few days of August. All fares are as per existing Metro fares.