Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 391)



  380. How far does it change people's behaviour?
  (Mr Dawson) In the Californian situation, and this is where it is more socially progressive, people can still use free the road to the left of the premium lane, and what we find is the typical American uses the lane about one day a week when time is at a premium.

  381. You have not answered the question really. How far can you extend the rush hour?
  (Mr Dawson) It is about 20 per cent by extension.


  382. In how many areas of the United Kingdom do you think it would be possible to build in the extra lanes?
  (Mr Dawson) This is where we are still in the area of, if you like, exploring pricing, whether it is congestion charging or any other form of pricing.

  383. So it may be that even in real life the Californian example has not a great deal to offer us.
  (Mr Dawson) It may not have but there are 360 miles of widening in the current 10 Year Plan, and that actually illustrates there is a fair degree of freedom on the inter-urban network to do it.

Mrs Ellman

  384. Could the AA clarify an apparent discrepancy in their evidence? In your five priority action areas you say, "provision of quality alternatives to the car and truck by improving bus and rail services", yet in your memorandum you seem to be questioning the expansion of the rail network.
  (Mr Dawson) Let me reconcile that at once. Public transport has natural markets and it must win the markets into and out of cities, between city centres and around big city centres which it naturally ought to win. The object of policy is to try and stretch that so it goes beyond what the free market would have it winning. The point where it becomes economically unthinkable is when you are trying to make public transport compete with the car, for example, on criss-crossing journeys around the town and country. There is no feasible system of public transport where it can do that, but there are high density corridors where it can and should be the preferred mode of transport for most people, as it is for example when things are working well in and out of Central London.

Mr Donohoe

  385. You said earlier that you want road tax to be reduced or fuel tax to be reduced if this form of charging came into place, but surely one of the reasons for it coming into place is to have established new projects which otherwise would not be built?
  (Mr Dawson) That is a very shrewd point you make. There are two ways of and two reasons for changing the charging regime or introducing a new one. The first is, as happened with graduated road tax, a revenue-neutral change to discourage gas guzzlers and to make smaller, cleaner cars more economic. The commercial vehicle consultation which the Treasury has embarked on at the moment is another example of reducing road tax and introducing distance-based charging. Another proposition that the consumer, the customer, might actually listen to is one which says, "If we introduce this charge, we will give you better service." The Dartford Crossing is an example of tolls going up and a facility being provided, but the Dartford Crossing also provides the great warning about anything involving Government. We had a parliamentary promise that the tolls would cease on the Dartford Crossing once the capital cost was paid off and the maintenance fund established. What do we have now? We have draft orders published to continue the tolling for peripheral reasons nothing to do with the Dartford Crossing. This is the pattern across the world. Unfortunately, when we come to pricing and charging in transport, because we have governments involved who will not honour the pledges which were given five, ten, 15, 20 years ago, we get into an era of people not trusting the promises they have given, which makes it so much more difficult to reform the system.

  Chairman: It is difficult to trust politicians! Mr Grayling.

Chris Grayling

  386. Congestion charging. Whether it is the congestion charging model described from Singapore or the tax-raising model described from Oslo, one of my concerns about the placing of congestion charging in schemes in city centres like London is that it will displace traffic and simply cause congestion outside the congestion-charging area. Is that your view as well?
  (Mr Dawson) Yes, our view on the London congestion-charging proposals is simply that the information we have on it, from the projections reported to us, is not enough for any reasoned person to take a judgement on whether this will work or not. Our main concern, I think, is the diversion to the London Ring Road and then the ripple-out effects beyond the London Ring Road. That is a serious concern. One of the economists who advises us suggests that the benefits may be one-quarter of what Transport for London are suggesting, which means in the end it just is not worth doing because the revenue cost is more than the benefits, and the direction of this displaced congestion is your major effect.

  387. As you have said, the revenue congestion charges, given what appears to be the objective in this country, certainly within the 10 Year Plan, were an essential element of the financial effort being put into achieving budgets within the 10 Year Plan.
  (Mr Dawson) I would probably dispute that that is a realistic assumption in the first place, because the revenue coming in from the central London congestion charging, in comparison with what is needed, is very small, and even if you multiply it up by the small cities around the £2 charge inevitably, for example, you are not talking about huge volumes of money. It actually begs the question, and hopefully the Treasury will, in a sense, learn from the consultation with the heavy goods vehicle industry. We really need to talk about how we pay for our infrastructure and differentiate taxes on motorists from schools and hospitals, which is a matter perhaps of political debate, if you like, and charges for service. We really do need discrete funds which make sense. All the Government is doing at the moment is being incredibly opportunistic: "Ooh, there's Dartford. Perhaps we could carry on tolling there and nobody will notice. Same on the Mersey, same on the Forth. Perhaps we can get away with London congestion charging. If we give lots of concessions, people may not notice that Parliament's social scheme was originally to manage congestion, its main effect actually is to raise a little bit extra on the budget." Let us have a grown-up debate with the British public and actually say, "We need to pay for the transport system, we are going to reform it and we're going to have proper accounts, properly overseen by an independent body and have, if you like, the Government as tax collector and distributor of funds as well."


  388. Who else can you have as tax collector except the Government, Mr Dawson?
  (Mr Dawson) I think that is the distinction I am trying to make: that a tax for schools and hospitals is perhaps something for the tax collector. A charge for service delivered , as we see at Dartford, if you want to take the Dartford model, is actually paid to the people who deliver you the service.

  Chairman: That is a nice point of debate on which doubtless we could all spend many hours.

Chris Grayling

  389. I have one final question, if I may, which is on major road schemes. In 1997 77 authorities had budgets for £5 million plus projects which are typically about road improvements, bridges and so forth. In the last couple of years that figure is down to below 30. What has been the consequence of that? Do you believe now, in the budgets you see going into local transport plans, that that trend is being reversed or not?
  (Mr Dawson) I think that again the great thing about the Government's 10 Year Plan is that we can begin to ask for a rational assessment of what the impact on safety, on congestion, on CO2 reduction and general environmental improvements is of making those investments. Certainly a lot of the work of the AA, the DBA and the Transport Road Safety Research Institute is beginning to grab hold of the information that we now have to point out where the worst blackspots actually are. I think one of the things that will emerge very clearly out of this is that over half our deaths on the roads are outside built-up areas, ridiculously focussed on single-carriageway roads of the type that you have identified, where, if you like, bypass schemes relieving communities of traffic and cutting the killed and seriously injured toll is their prime objective. I think these schemes will look very, very much better when we get a true handle on the cost of not doing what needs to be done.
  (Mr Billington) Could I comment briefly on this point. I think the answer to your basic question—are they spending enough now—is no, there is not enough. They are not in fact going to deliver the necessary facilities. One important side-effect of that is that resources and skills in the transport field have fallen to very low levels, and there will be great difficulty in actually achieving much more by way of delivery. This, I think, is a major theme or major concern about the 10 Year Plan, that the transport industry is not at all as it used to be in the great days of building roads extensively. Local authorities have run down their transport resources to a bare minimum, there are very few contractors now operating in the transport field, and to crank this up again will take a long time. It is a business which builds up slowly, it feeds on skills. There is a dearth of the relevant skills at present. People have moved out of transport into other areas, and unless steps are taken positively to rebuild the skill base and the resource base, there is no prospect of delivering what the 10 Year Plan proposes.


  390. That would apply, for example, with things like the multi-modal studies, would it?
  (Mr Billington) Absolutely.

  391. What effect are they going to have? Are they going to slow things down even more?
  (Mr Billington) There is a particular further point about multi-modal studies of course, that they will recommend transport developments, but those will then have to go through the full planning process. They start as though they have just been newly conceived. They will be designed, they will go to public consultations, despite the fact, as I say, that they have already been to public consultations, but they will go through the normal public consultations, orders will then be published, and they will go to public inquiries. This is a process, as the 10 Year Plan recognises, that takes 10 years plus on average. There is a hope that it might be reduced, but we have been trying to reduce it for years and in fact the public inquiry process has become longer and longer as time has gone on. So I think there is a very real bar to delivering anything of the 10 Year Plan's objectives coming out of the multi-modal studies within the ten-year horizon.
  (Mr Dawson) We will send the Committee a report which we have commissioned from Mori, which actually looks into this issue in the round with the industry. I think you will find it very interesting. We have timed it so that it will be arriving hopefully before the end of your inquiry.

  Chairman: That is very helpful. I am grateful to you, gentlemen. Thank you very much indeed.

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