In the news: David Begg

March 1, 2002

When David Begg called for the satellite tracking of motorists in order to levy road tolls, he showed characteristic confidence in the face of potential outrage.

Such imaginative solutions to the United Kingdom's transport problems have been voiced before but not with Professor Begg's expert timing.

The "spy in the sky" proposal, recommended this week by the Commission for Integrated Transport that Professor Begg has headed since 1999, could, he claims, halve congestion within a decade. Yet the scheme would require that millions of vehicle movements were monitored and that monthly toll bills were sent to motorists nationwide. It takes a brave, visionary politician to risk public wrath in such a way.

Professor Begg, however, has such qualities in abundance. The 45-year-old is a keen golfer and supporter of Hibernian FC. He lectured in economics at Napier University for 16 years before gaining a chair in 1997 at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, where he is director of the Centre for Transport Policy. He was also a Labour councillor and convenor of transport in Edinburgh, where he pioneered a range of hardline policies, from giving buses priority on key "greenway" routes to bringing in private traffic wardens, dubbed the "Blue Meanies".

Opponents have complained about his apparent indifference to contrary views. The Daily Record dubbed him "the man Edinburgh motorists love to hate" but it also noted that he would rather be unpopular than wrong. While Professor Begg has not shied away from criticising the government and has called for more investment in public transport, his radical opinions have become highly influential on official policy. The CFIT's latest proposals seek to tax gridlocks out of cities and force more people to use trains, buses and bikes. Professor Begg gave away his car keys in 1994.

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