Arguments about switching from one mode of transport to another miss the point – we ought to be travelling less
All domestic plane journeys in Britain should be banned and passengers told to take a train. So says the Campaign for Better Transport in its contribution to the climate emergency debate. Planes emit six times more CO2 per passenger mile than trains. The trouble is that plane tickets tend to be half the price of train ones. So tax planes, and subsidise trains.
So far, so simple. Planes are bad, trains are good. But trains will always be more expensive to run than planes over long distances. Surface rail in Britain supplies a tiny minority of journeys – just 2% of “trips” and 9% of miles travelled. In 2018-19, 58% of public transport journeys were by bus. The car remains prime, accounting for 61% of trips in 2019. Rail subsidies chiefly benefit better-off travellers. Poorer people use cars, coaches and buses for both work and leisure. And while a car with one person is carbon-inefficient, it is estimated that with four it is nearly as efficient as a train.
Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist