Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Eighth Report


9. This section examines whether the key objectives chosen are the right ones and have provided a firm foundation for the Plan. It begins with an outline of the Government's stated objectives. Next, the long-term vision offered by the Plan is examined. The rationale behind the selection of congestion and pollution as the key indicators of the Plan's success is then discussed. Their effectiveness as key performance measures is questioned and the implications of refusing to set traffic reduction targets is examined. The measures in the Plan to tackle social inclusion, a key challenge and a wider objective of the Plan, are then discussed. The section concludes with a summary of the approach taken to improving all the different modes in the Plan.


10. The Plan is based on the key objectives of improving choice for users of all modes of transport and reducing negative impacts resulting from the forecast growth in traffic, such as congestion and pollution. The Government sets out a vision of:

Long-Term Vision

11. The 10 Year Plan marks a welcome move away from the short-term uncertainty that has typified transport policy over recent decades. However, in choosing a 10 year period and setting objectives, it is essential that the projects put in place form part of a long-term sustainable solution, and not just a medium-term fix that moves us further towards car dependence.

12. The Plan begins by setting out the Government's long-term vision for transport as "a modern, safe, high quality network that better meets people's needs and offers more choice to individuals, families, communities and businesses".[10] The Secretary of State reaffirmed the Government's commitment to providing "a genuine choice as to whether or not [people] drive their car, get the bus or the train".[11]

13. The vision presented by the Government was regarded by many of those who gave evidence to us as insufficiently broad or ambitious. Professor Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, told the Sub-Committee that the Government's message of 'promoting choice' was inadequate to tackle car dependence. A "sticks and carrots" approach of continued improvements in public transport and car restraint is required to deliver significant change.[12] Living Streets criticised the Plan for failing to set out a vision for people using "streets in villages towns, suburbs and city centres, both on foot and by other modes".[13] Hampshire County Council believes the Plan's vision to be limited because of its failure to tackle "the real causes of travel that are linked to geography, social and economic activities, centralisation of services, such as education, defence and health, and the divorcing of these from the home".[14]

14. The Plan's vision of a better quality transport system for all modes is limited in its scope. Instead of concentrating on new facilities for motorised transport, it should set out a vision for living and travel trends not only up to 2010 but beyond. While we expect the Plan to be updated periodically, it is important to look further ahead now. Major transport projects take around 10 years from design to construction. It is therefore essential that the Department understands what will need to be done over the following decade if it is to plan ahead adequately. The Department anticipates conducting such work in due course.[15] Lord Birt is currently leading an investigation as part of the Cabinet Office Forward Strategy Unit's work into the future of transport between 2010 and 2020.[16] Most of the witnesses who gave evidence had met Lord Birt, and officials from the Department were seconded to the investigation and had regular meetings with him.[17] However, Lord Birt refused to give evidence to the Committee, despite the fact that, even at a preliminary stage, his findings could be significant for the review of the 10 Year Plan.[18] Professor Begg told the Sub-Committee that Lord Birt was on a "steep learning curve" and that a major difference between the work of the Commission and that of Lord Birt is that the work of the Commission had to be justified.[19]

15. It is essential that actions taken during the 10-year period of the Plan do not store up even greater problems for the future. The 10 Year Plan must be consistent with probable policy developments beyond 2010. Implementation of the Commission for Integrated Transport's proposals for changing how we pay for car use, which suggest a charge being made to those using congested roads at peak times of the day when demand is highest, could have a greater impact on congestion levels than all of the investment in the Plan. Its scheme would reduce not only the total volume of traffic but the time and location of many journeys. The return on investment in roads is assessed over a 30-year period. If such a scheme were introduced in the years following 2010, roads built towards the end of the 10-year period could turn out to be a waste of money. They may be in the wrong place or unnecessary because of traffic levels that are lower than anticipated as they would not have been designed to take account of changes in the cost of car use. On the other hand, if changes in how we pay for road use are ruled out for 30 years, then it is essential to reduce traffic growth further now, as it will be more difficult to tackle consequences later. In either case, the viability of schemes and the balance of investment in the Plan cannot be determined without considering a longer-term view. In reviewing the Plan, the Department must examine a range of policy options after 2010. In doing so, it must pursue rigorous policy advice from experts in the field. Blue skies thinking from casual enthusiasts such as Lord Birt is no substitute for a considered analysis of the impacts of future policies that the Government has hitherto been reluctant to consider.

Key Indicators

16. The Government has developed a small number of measures of success against which the Plan can be assessed. These key indicators were based on the Government's obligations under the 1998 Road Traffic Reduction Act. The Government declined to set a national road traffic reduction target for England and Wales. The Scottish Executive has adopted a traffic target for Scotland. For England and Wales, the targets have been adapted to 'reduce the adverse impacts of traffic' rather than traffic levels themselves. The Government has identified the two most important indicators of the adverse impacts of traffic to be congestion and pollution.[20] The strategy set out in the Plan is "to tackle congestion and pollution by improving all types of transport - rail and road, public and private - in ways that increase choice".[21] The Department told us that the Plan is intended to tackle all transport impacts, including environmental, safety and social exclusion, and contribute to the achievement of other Government objectives.[22]


17. The Government calculates congestion by comparing actual travel speeds with the 'free flow' speeds that would apply at very low levels of traffic. It converts that comparison of real and maximum speeds into the 'delay' encountered by the average vehicle travelling one kilometre. The effect of the Plan is expressed as a percentage reduction (or increase) in congestion, defined in that way, for different types of road and area compared with levels in 2000.[23] The Plan states that "in urban areas, the biggest concerns are traffic congestion and the cost, convenience and reliability of public transport" and that, on the strategic road network,[24] "about 7% of the network currently suffers heavy peak and occasional non-peak congestion, and a further 13% suffers heavy congestion on at least half the days in the year".[25] Table 1 shows the Government's estimates of the changes in road traffic levels and congestion with and without the Plan.

Table 1

All Roads
Inter-urban Trunk Roads
All Areas
Conurbations and Large Urban
Other Urban

Source: Transport 2010: The Background Analysis, p27.

    Two different concerns were raised about the congestion measure:
      (a)  are the congestion targets appropriate and achievable; and
      (b)  did the focus on congestion bias the Plan at the expense of other objectives including social inclusion and safety?

18. The Automobile Association described the congestion targets as desirable and achievable but modest.[27] The Freight Transport Association was reassured that there was the "prospect of things actually improving rather than just not getting worse".[28] However, it told the Sub-Committee that journey reliability was the most important factor to its members and that levels of congestion per se were not always a problem.[29] The Highways Agency told the Sub-Committee that it would target congestion hot spots and that there would be significant improvements in flows through particular parts of the network.[30]

19. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the measure of congestion currently adopted. The Government acknowledged in January 2000 that its congestion indicator needed further work and pledged to investigate it further.[31] The Minister for Transport, Mr John Spellar, told the Sub-Committee's inquiry into the Department's 2001 Annual Report that the congestion measure was only "possibly reliable"[32] and that "whether it is satisfactory as to how the average motorist or even, indeed, the average pedestrian perceives congestion is more open to question".[33] In contrast, Mr Willy Rickett, Director General of Transport Strategy, Roads, Local and Maritime Transport at the Department, told the Sub-Committee during this inquiry that congestion, as defined, was measurable, forecastable and "bears some relationship to what road users say they think congestion is".[34]

20. Travel time was suggested as the most useful indicator of congestion because congestion is of significance to travellers only as a result of its impact on travel time and costs.[35] Research by Professor Phil Goodwin for the Council for the Protection of Rural England has shown that the Department's definition of congestion had the effect of exaggerating very small expected changes in the speed of travel, and argued that the Department's own figures show that "for all classes of roads, the traveller's experience of improvement or deterioration in average speeds from any one year to the next will be invisibly small compared with the normal unpredictable variations in the conditions of daily travel".[36] The Department notes that, although travel times on the trunk road network will be on average only 0.6 seconds per kilometre faster than today, they would rise by 1.7 seconds per kilometre without the measures in the Plan.[37]

21. The congestion measure is poorly understood and was considered inappropriate. The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive believes that congestion is a "very difficult concept".[38] The Construction Products Association found the lack of clarity on the congestion measure "alarming" and was concerned that there are "no intermediate targets to allow progress to be monitored".[39] The Freight Transport Association expressed concern about the ability of the road network to recover from traffic incidents that create ad-hoc delays. It suggested the use of an indicator of network resilience, a measure of the time taken for the network to resume normal conditions after any incident.[40] The Highways Agency is currently working on new measures to reduce the time taken to clear major incidents on the strategic road network.[41] The Freight Transport Association believed that the forecast 26 per cent increase in traffic on the strategic road network would reduce the ability of the network to recover from accidents.[42]

22. The Plan has been built around an indicator of congestion that is, by the Department's own admission, less than satisfactory. It is not clear what purpose the congestion measure serves except to multiply almost insignificant journey time savings into comforting numbers that the traveller does not understand. The Plan has been designed around the need to reduce congestion and pollution. If the congestion measure used is inadequate then it is highly likely that the projects designed and constructed to meet the congestion target will reflect those inadequacies, and monitoring may be misleading. A better indicator would lead to better policies and better monitoring. The Department must re-examine the congestion measure on which much of the Plan is based. The Plan must make explicit the changes that it will make to journey times and the day-to-day variability of journey times. This is the information required by business and the travelling public. It is also imperative that the Plan sets yearly or intermediate targets for travel conditions so that progress towards the targets for 2010 can be assessed.


23. The 10 Year Plan sets out the pollution problems currently faced by the United Kingdom. Carbon dioxide is the most significant of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector currently represent a quarter of the UK's total emissions and are forecast to increase by 2010 as traffic grows.[43] Emissions of the most noxious air pollutants from road traffic should fall to a half of present levels by 2010 due to improved vehicle technology. However, this trend may be reversed after 2010 as a result of traffic growth and some urban areas may still fail to meet the air quality objectives over the intervening period.[44]

Carbon dioxide emissions

24. Voluntary agreements with global motor manufacturers to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide have already been negotiated prior to the launch of the Plan. The Baseline 2010 scenario contains these reductions and the legislated reductions in toxic exhaust emissions for new cars in Europe. Voluntary agreements with world motor manufacturers will, it is assumed, provide a saving of 4MtC[45] of carbon dioxide emissions over the period of the Plan. The Plan is expected to produce a further reduction of 1.6MtC of carbon dioxide.[46] Table 2 shows the estimated contribution of different elements of the Plan to that 1.6MtC.

Table 2

Plan Component
2010 Carbon Dioxide Savings (MtC) compared to Baseline
Local Transport
Passenger Rail
Rail Freight
Sustainable Distribution
Trunk Roads
Generates 0.1
Plan as a whole
Plan plus constant motoring costs

Source: Transport 2010: The Background Analysis; fig 16, page 32

25. The Department states that decisions taken in the Plan reflect savings in vehicle-hours as a result congestion reduction and the cost-effectiveness of expenditure on different measures to achieve the carbon dioxide objectives. How that happened in practice is not clear. For example, the Plan states that the increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the extra traffic generated on trunk roads (0.1 MtC) is "very small compared to the overall reductions from the Plan as a whole".[47] However, the extra emissions generated by improved trunk roads are five times the emissions expected to be saved by increased rail passenger use, and the same as all the savings brought about by local transport improvements. Friends of the Earth was concerned that the Plan assumes a fall in motoring costs of 20 per cent over the Plan period. Were motoring costs to remain constant, there would be a further 50 per cent reduction (0.8 MtC) in carbon dioxide emissions (Table 2).[48]

9   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, p13. Back

10   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan. Back

11   Q663. Back

12   Q435. Back

13   TYP35. Back

14   TYP51. Back

15   Q2. Back

16   Ibid. Back

17   Q110. Back

18   Fourth Report of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, The Attendance of Lord Birt at the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, HC(2001-02) 655-I. Back

19   Q472. Back

20   Tackling Congestion and Pollution: The Government's first report under the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act 1998, DETR, January 2000. Back

21   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, p9. Back

22   TYP28. Back

23   Tackling Congestion and Pollution, p14. Back

24   The strategic road network means the trunk roads currently operated by the Highways Agency. It comprises nearly all motorways and the more important A roads. Back

25   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, p50. Back

26   The Baseline scenario describes changes to transport trends over the 10 year period without the measures included in the Plan. Back

27   TYP27. Back

28   Q834. Back

29   Q886. Back

30   Q536. Back

31   Tackling Congestion and Pollution, p23. Back

32   HC (2001-2002) 373-III Q580. Back

33   Ibid. Back

34   Q97. Back

35   TYP7. Back

36   Running to Stand Still, Council for the Protection of Rural England, 2001. Back

37   TYP28D. Back

38   TYP31. Back

39   TYP17. Back

40   TYP53. Back

41   Q621. Back

42   Q881. Back

43   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, p24. Back

44   Ibid. Back

45   Million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Back

46   Transport 2010: The Background Analysis, p32. Back

47   Transport 2010: Background Analysis, p33. Back

48   TYP12. Back

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