Motoring: luxury or necessity?

The charitable view of your editorial on petrol tax (18 September) is that it was intended to be read as a provocative piece by a Londoner who never ventures further outside the M25 than Heathrow. For him, motoring is a luxury compared to London Transport; for most of the country, it is a necessity for anybody needing to go further than they can walk with a bag of shopping. Out-of-town supermarkets have killed off local shops, especially in villages. High fuel tax renders non-viable attempts to run mini-bus services, as we have seen in Swanage.

The fixed costs of car ownership - depreciation, tax and insurance - require a certain mileage to justify the expense; another reason why petrol tax makes a risible contribution to environmental control. Compare the tiny air-passenger tax; airliners, led by Concorde, are huge polluters. Also to be considered is the inflationary effect of a tax that raises the price of every commodity that travels by road - ie, practically everything in the shops.

Laurie Moss
Swanage, Dorset

Your editorial argues that petrol is too cheap and should cost more, but where is the political programme that would carry through this aim? What is needed is a fuel subsidy for pensioners and the low paid, who find themselves, at the moment, with little alternative but a car to get around in many areas. Then a tax on the oil companies to provide cheaper and better public transport, to get people out of cars. Finally, investment in the railways to get freight off the roads and back on to the rails.

What a pity that, in their Churchillian stands, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown managed to say precisely none of these things.

Keith Flett
London N17

This article first appeared in the 25 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Women: still firmly in their place