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

Memorandum by Transport 2000 (TYP 18)


  1.  Transport 2000 is a campaign and research group which works for sustainable transport policies. Its members and funders include environmental and consumer groups, transport operators, local authorities, charitable trusts and trade unions. It carries out research on transport issues and promotes good practice in transport.

  2.  We welcome the opportunity to comment on the Government's 10 Year Plan for Transport. In general, we welcome many of the commitments and the funding in the plan but have a number of concerns:

    —  traffic and its growth are not seen as issues, yet since traffic (vehicle mileage) is the basis of transport modelling, failure to restrain growth means that, in effect, "predict and provide" is returning to road planning;

    —  the plan focuses on big projects and downplays small scale schemes, which include most measures that promote buses, walking and cycling;

    —  the assumptions on congestion and traffic growth are implausible given the slow progress and lack of clear political support for implementing any form of traffic management or restraint, including congestion charging and workplace parking schemes and also bus priority;

    —  events since the plan, especially on the railways, have brought some aspects and assumptions in the plan into question;

    —  the plan includes provision for significant new road construction and does not consider sufficiently the environmental or traffic-generating impact of this;

    —  there is a danger that in practice the next 10 years will see implementation mainly of big road schemes, because of problems with implementation, political support and funding for all other modes and projects;

    —  the multi-modal studies are highly variable, have in many cases failed to consider a wide range of options and are in some cases producing very large and expensive programmes of new road construction.


  3.  We would question a number of the assumptions in the plan. First, the fuel price assumption seems below the likely outcome. Since the plan was prepared, demand for oil has weakened substantially, while limits on supply, from OPEC and non-OPEC countries such as Russia, have been relaxed. Yet the price has fallen only to just below $20 per barrel. The plan period will see substantial reductions in North Sea oil supply, and a consequent reliance on supply from politically and economically unstable areas. The plan's view that the price will be at $16 a barrel by 2010 therefore seems unlikely. This matters because, in the plan's model, cheaper oil means greater volumes of traffic predicted and therefore a greater justification for new roads.

  4.  Secondly, the plan's link between economic growth and growth in transport needs to be questioned. The last few years have seen very small increases in traffic, down to as little as 1-2 per cent per year, with nil growth away from the motorway network. Yet this is has been at a time of significant economic growth of 2-3 per cent per year. By contrast, during the last period of sustained economic growth, in the late 1980s, traffic grew faster than GDP. The Government seems to have done little detailed work on this phenomenon, though the plan suggests that factors such as rising real fuel prices (through the Government's fuel duty escalator), road congestion and reductions in some rail fares are likely to be involved. It is therefore clear (a) that it is possible for Government to influence traffic growth and (b) that it is possible to have strong economic growth without matching growth in traffic.

  5.  Thirdly, the plan's assumptions on traffic and congestion are dependent on local authorities outside London introducing eight congestion charging schemes and 12 workplace parking levy schemes, as well as the London congestion charging proposals going ahead. On current levels, we believe this to be optimistic. Transport 2000 has good links with local authorities; at present, it appears that, apart from London, only Bristol is firmly committed to congestion charging, with Leeds possibly interested and smaller schemes planned for Durham and the Peak District, and only Nottingham is committed to introducing the workplace parking levy. Of the others which have expressed interest, Reading, Milton Keynes and authorities in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester have not proceeded with schemes yet, while Cambridge, and some district councils in Essex are supportive but Cambridgeshire and Essex, which are the highway authorities, are opposed. The main reasons for caution are concerns about competition from neighbouring areas without charging (for example, out of town shopping centres and business parks), worries about local political impacts and a perceived lack of clear Government support for the principle of charging. The same caution applies to other traffic restraint measures such as increased parking charges, tighter controls on parking, pedestrian priority areas or more priority lanes for buses and cyclists. The plan is markedly cooler and more detached on charging than was the 1998 White Paper, leaving the decision largely up to local authorities. Transport Ministers past and present have made no secret of their own opposition to charging, and the Government has failed to spell out clearly that some restrictions on traffic growth are inevitable, and that the alternative to charging or management of traffic is gridlock. Yet without such political support, the charging and other measures which the plan assumes will reduce traffic growth and congestion will simply not happen.

  6.  The Sub-Committee's press notice asked about the availability of skills and capacity. These are in short supply across the transport sector, except possibly for big construction projects on road and rail. There are well documented shortages of skilled staff in railway signalling, but there is also a large shortfall of skilled staff at a local authority level. This affects in particular the delivery of schemes which involve significant public consultation, including bus priority, light rail, traffic and parking management, cycling and pedestrian priority projects.

  7.  Other assumptions underlying the plan, including notably the ability of the railway industry to deliver the growth in patronage envisaged in the plan, are clearly under question. For all these reasons, we believe that the assumptions in the plan will need radical revision.


  8.  The plan's assumptions on railways have clearly been superseded by the Hatfield crash and its aftermath, and by the placing of Railtrack into administration. It has been argued that very large extra sums of spending on the railways will be needed. However, there are a number of factors in play here, which we hope the sub-committee will be able to disentangle:

    —  Historic underinvestment in the upkeep of the basic railway. This predated privatisation, but since then there has been further underspending on basic infrastructure.

    —  Poor management of assets and asset maintenance by Railtrack. The condition of the rail assets, and hence the extent of funding needed, is unknown, as Railtrack had not compiled an asset register and indeed had been lax about keeping records relating to the assets.

    —  Poor management by Railtrack of maintenance projects and contracts, and of upgrading projects, both minor and major, leading to significant inflation in maintenance and project costs.

    —  New requirements for funding for safety and for disability access (though some of this is in fact already in the 10 Year Plan).

    —  The extent to which private funding for the railways will continue to be available. It is argued that the private sector will now not invest in the railways because of the Government's action in putting Railtrack into administration. We believe that, on the contrary, the simpler and clearer regulatory and finance regime planned by the Government will in principle increase the likelihood of private sector investment, but the construction of packages for the private sector to finance will take time and will have to wait the restructuring of the industry now under way.

  Taken together, these factors make it difficult to establish the real financial needs of the railways. More efficient maintenance and project management, returning to the (substantially more efficient) British Rail days, will tend to reduce the funding required, but against this, the backlog of underinvestment seems likely to require more funding. We believe that the Government should be prepared to make more public money available to the railways if this is necessary. In particular, new regulatory requirements for safety should be subject to additional funding.

  9.  Subject to this, we believe that the plan's emphasis on rail funding, on addressing the backlog in road maintenance, and in funding local transport plans is correct. We do however disagree with the plan's approach to new road construction. Some £30 billion is allowed for this over the next 10 years; it has been pointed out that this would amount to a larger roads programme than that envisaged or delivered by the 1989 White Paper "Roads for Prosperity". The Plan is extremely unspecific about the roads envisaged for funding; indeed, the "360 miles of motorway widening" mentioned in the summary of the plan turns out to be a top-down figure derived from the modelling, which requires widening of 5 per cent of the motorway network to meet the congestion reduction target.

  10.  It is worth restating why we believe that such a road programme would be wrong:

    —  It won't work: in congested conditions, new roads simply fill up with traffic as people use them to make longer commuting, shopping or leisure journeys. So we will end up with bigger, wider traffic jams. A recent US study found that the US cities with the most road building had the worst congestion. The current bottlenecks will simply be replaced by new ones, as traffic pours off the main roads into already congested towns and cities and villages.

    —  It would worsen rather than solve our transport problems: Britain is already the most car-dependent country in Europe; road building on this scale will simply continue and worsen this. It will also reduce the viability and funding available for public transport and railfreight and reduce walking and cycling (as people replace short distance trips for longer ones by car). This will increase social exclusion for those without access to a car.

    —  It would be extremely environmentally destructive: the extra traffic will divide communities. The likely schemes would affect large numbers of sensitive environmental sites, take significant greenfield land and would act as huge barriers across the country; some would affect flood plains. The extra traffic generated and catered for by these roads will also add to climate change, potentially overrunning the benefits from cleaner fuels and vehicles (the plan admits that road building will generate 0.1 million tonnes of carbon, but this ignores any traffic generated by these roads beyond 2010).

    —  It would lead to large scale car-based development: the extra roads will tend to attract new developments around them, which the planning system will not be able to stop. These developments will not be accessible for those without cars, and will themselves generate extra traffic, so adding still further to congestion and social exclusion.

  11.  The problems with the road investment envisaged in the plan can be illustrated through the multi-modal and roads based studies, from which many of the road schemes are expected to emerge. Transport 2000 has detailed knowledge of the multi-modal and roads-based studies. Environmental representatives are on the steering groups of each study and we have co-ordinated these representatives. We believe that the studies are being implemented in a highly variable way, and are unrelated to the targets and objectives in the 10 Year Plan. They do not, for example, look at how the Plan's targets to reduce congestion and pollution or to increase the use of rail, buses and cycling can be met within those areas. There are a number of other problems with the studies:

    —  They don't define the problem properly: in a number of the studies, there has been a lack of real analysis of the causes of problems —eg where accidents happen and how they are caused, or the origin and destination of traffic on the roads in question. The problem has generally been defined by many of the studies as how to cater for ever growing demands for car and lorry traffic and movement, rather than how to improve access or address safety and environmental issues. Traffic growth to saturation levels (ie around or above Los Angeles levels of car ownership and use) is, as we note below, taken as given. The studies, and the guidance from Government on how to run them, also tend to overplay the economic benefits of large-scale road building and underplay the environmental and social impacts. Some studies are still making assumptions that new transport infrastructure, and particularly new roads, automatically have economic benefits, despite the SACTRA [Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment] report (Transport and the Economy, 1999) which concluded that this is not necessarily the case.

    —  They have not considered seriously many of the alternatives to major road building. Most studies have included passenger rail and light rail schemes, but many have not looked sufficiently at other options, including:

  Rail freight has not been properly considered by many of the studies, even where there is a lot of long distance or bulk road freight. Demand management options such as tolls on motorways and congestion charging, with the revenue raised paying for public transport, have been seriously considered by some studies but not others, yet where they have been looked at appear to perform well in dealing with traffic problems. And other options, such as employer travel plans, car sharing, safe routes to school, cycling and walking have been ignored altogether in most of the studies. Instead, many studies have focused on road building. In the case of the roads-based studies particularly, old schemes, some planned for more than 50 years, have resurfaced in identical terms, with only cursory re-examination of the case for them or for alternative options.

    —  The computer traffic models assume growth of traffic to Los Angeles levels The Government has rejected a national traffic reduction target, and has focused instead on the problems from traffic, defined as congestion and pollution. But transport modelling is still focused on traffic levels and, in the absence of any limit on growth, some of the studies and the models they use have reverted to using the 1997 National Road Traffic Forecasts, which project 65 per cent growth in traffic over the next 30 years. In effect, some studies are using this as a prediction and are trying to provide the road space to cater for this growth. This is the "predict and provide" philosophy, which the Government has rejected in policy terms. The studies also seem to ignore traffic generating effects of new roads, despite a lot of detailed evidence that road building generates extra traffic. In particular, the models do not seem to take account of changes in destination (people in Nottingham shopping in Sheffield as a result of a less crowded M1) and mode (people driving to out of town shops rather than walking or taking buses to metro stores or local shops)

  The studies have also highlighted problems with delivering non-road options. While many of the studies have suggested non-road options, especially rail service improvements, we are concerned that if delivery of these proves to be more difficult than road schemes, supposedly balanced packages of road and public transport schemes could be picked apart and the roads get built while the other elements do not happen. This concern about delivery has fed back into option identification: the Strategic Rail Authority has downplayed possible rail options during the studies because of the calls on its budget.

  12.  As a result of all these problems with the studies, many of them are coming up with very large road schemes, involving widening motorways to 10 or 12 lanes, upgrading of A roads to motorway or near motorway standard, and some new construction. Examples of options or schemes suggested include widening all or some of the A1, M1 and M6 into 10 or 12 lanes, the widening of the A303 in Somerset, new bypasses of Stourbridge and Wolverhampton through the Green Belt, full dualling of the A66 across the Pennines and new orbital roads outside the M25 in Hertfordshire and Essex. National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that could be affected include the Blackdown Hills, Cranborne Chase, the North Pennines and the Broads. On top of this, the Government has yet to decide on some other trunk road schemes, including ones in the Cotswolds and the Lake District, and we are concerned that some of these will generate further pressure for road building in adjacent areas. The regional assemblies or chambers, which make recommendations on the studies, have no incentive to question the justification for schemes, because the Government, rather than the assemblies and their constituent authorities, will be paying the bills.

  13.  This is not to oppose all road building; we believe, and have argued on some of the studies, that some road building is appropriate and sensible. However, the revival of old schemes generated by the multi-modal and roads based study process will give priority to roads in the wrong places and at the wrong scale. One way to address at least some of these problems would be for the £60 billion roads allocation in the 10 Year Plan to be used for non-road options identified in the studies, with funding for them going to the SRA or local authorities accordingly. The Government needs to be robust in treating the studies as inputs to policy-making, and to rejecting schemes that are badly justified or which will be environmental destructive or socially divisive.

  14.  As already noted, we welcome in general the funding devoted to local transport. However, there are problems here too. The Plan excludes current local authority revenue spending and grants through Revenue Support Grant. Yet, in many cases, revenue funding for operations or extra staff may be the highest priority and most appropriate response to transport problems. Lack of revenue funding affects local transport in many ways. First, as already noted, there is a shortage of skilled staff at local authority level and this means that schemes involving significant public consultation and staff time will be delayed or are less likely to happen than capital intensive schemes. Second, the capital funding or borrowing powers given to authorities by the Government excludes many useful and necessary schemes or programmes, and authorities then spend a lot of time trying to "capitalise" revenue spending. By contrast, schemes of over £5 million get separate allocations and go through a separate approval process. This is sensible at one level, in ensuring that bigger schemes get fully justified, but it means that authorities tend to give more attention to these schemes. All this means that in practice, programmes of small scale schemes, such as safe routes to school, or small scale safety schemes, are less likely to be implemented than big capital intensive projects. Stoke-on-Trent Council, for example, receives four or five requests for traffic calming every week and has a long waiting list of schemes. Yet we know that under the Government's own cost benefit analysis many of these schemes are very good value for money. Small scale safety schemes have benefit:cost ratios of 7:1 or more, whereas road schemes are funded with BCRs of 1.5:1 or even less. And, as we note below, packages of small scale schemes may do better at dealing with traffic problems than big projects. We would like the Government to encourage and enable local authorities to bundle packages or programmes of small projects together so that they can receive appropriate funding and attention. We are also concerned that the move towards a Single Capital Pot for local authority spending and funding may disadvantage transport at local level, as it did in Scotland. We would like to see the Government monitor this to ensure that councils keep to their commitments in local transport plans.

  15.  There is a particular problem with funding for bus services, which is uncertain and in many cases simply unavailable. Under the current system, bus funding is not even given a separate allocation in Revenue Support Grant and has to compete for funding in the "other services" block with other non-statutory services such as libraries and some social services. This comes at a time when councils are facing increases in tender prices for supported bus services (averaging 21 per cent in the last year, according to the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers) and also pressure to support more services as more marginal commercial services are withdrawn by bus operators. To their credit, many local authorities have increased their funding for bus services despite the lack of allocated grants, but the situation is patchy. We would like to see five year revenue funding arrangements for local authority transport, especially for bus services, to match the Local Transport Plan capital funding arrangement already in place. The bus strategies now required under the Transport Act 2000 would make a good framework for such arrangements.


  16.  We are concerned about the targets adopted in the plan. First, the congestion target has been widely criticised (cf especially "Running to Stand Still", Dr P Goodwin for CPRE, 2000) as being meaningless; Dr Goodwin argues that even if the target were met, motorists would notice no difference. Second, we believe that the plan's downplaying of traffic levels is wrong. The Government argues that traffic per se is not a problem; the bad side effects of traffic (congestion and pollution) are the issues that need to be targeted. But this ignores the effect that excessive traffic levels can have on communities and individuals. Too much traffic divides communities and prevents all sorts of socialising, for example informal support by friends and neighbours for older and disabled people, and children playing outside their houses. It also discourages walking and cycling, especially by older people and children, leading to even more car use for short journeys. All of this adds to social exclusion for those living on or near roads with heavy traffic. We believe that traffic levels are a good proxy for these "community severance" effects. The Commission for Integrated Transport, in its advice to Government in December 1999 on national road traffic targets, recommended that the Government should set targets to reduce traffic in the areas where most people live and could aim to stabilise and ultimately reduce traffic elsewhere. The Government has ignored this recommendation. We would therefore like to see the Government adopt targets or benchmarks for reducing traffic in the areas where most people live. These should be agreed at regional level with the regional chambers/assemblies. For the reasons already given, the Government should also develop a strategy and targets for limiting the growth in traffic nationally, to replace the use of the National Road Traffic Forecasts in road planning.

  17.  We believe that it is possible to reduce traffic levels. Pricing measures are one way to do this and all the analysis suggests that they can be effective. Such pricing, whether through congestion charging, parking charges or road tolls, need not disadvantage travellers or the economy if the revenue raised is recycled into other transport measures or into reducing other charges and taxes. However, there are many other ways in which traffic can be reduced, and, as noted in the comments on roads and multi-modal studies, a full range of public transport measures and improvements, involving increases in quality and quantity of services and, in some cases, reduced fares, should be considered. Reallocating road space to give priority to buses, trams, cyclists and pedestrians can also be effective in improving alternatives to car use while reducing traffic. But this is not just about public transport and pricing—there are a wider range of alternatives:

    —  employer travel plans, which include options such as car sharing and teleworking, as well as cycling and better bus services. Many of the country's best known companies now have travel plans in place for their headquarters, and early results from some of these suggest reductions in single person car commuting of 12 per cent or more over just two years. Under Government planning policy such plans are expected to become widespread in the future. They can be supported by, for example, high occupancy vehicle lanes or priority routes for cyclists and buses. Despite the DTLR having promoted these widely, they are not treated as mainstream in the 10 Year Plan or in individual schemes. In the roads based studies such as Deeside Park Junctions or Blunsdon near Swindon, where commuter traffic is a key issue, travel plans have not even been thought about (and are apparently unknown) by the consultants and officials.

    —  Safe routes to school, which include options such as "walking buses" (making walking to school safe and supervised) and new school bus services. In many areas, school travel accounts for 15 per cent or more of peak hour car traffic.

    —  Travel marketing, giving people personalised travel information about public transport and other options. This has been tried out in Perth, Australia, where it cut car traffic by 14 per cent in an area more car-reliant than most of Britain.

    —  Walking and cycling could be an alternative for many of the short car journeys that clog up local roads.

  The DTLR has shown itself reluctant to model packages of measures that might together reduce traffic. Such packages could include public transport improvements, safe routes to school, travel plans, area wide travelcards and bus priority networks, paid for by increases in town centre parking charges or road user charges. We would like to see the Government, in revising the 10 Year Plan, seriously examine the total and cumulative effect of such packages.

  18.  We have comments on other targets in the plan:

    —  We support the targets for the growth in passenger and freight rail use, but would like to see the passenger target disaggregated to avoid an excessive focus on SE England. We and others have suggested in evidence to the Committee's recent rail inquiry that a 40 per cent growth in the use of rural railways over the next 10 years is desirable and feasible.

    —  We believe that the bus target of 10 per cent growth is far too low; it could be met simply by growth on current trends in London while bus use elsewhere declines.

    —  While we welcome the recent announcement of a national walking strategy, in response to the Sub-Committee's welcome report, we would like to see the Government set a target to reverse the decline in walking, and to assess local transport and other plans accordingly.

    —  We believe that additional targets to reduce social exclusion in transport may be appropriate. The plan's target to increase access to rural buses may be the right approach and we hope the Government will develop this. The current inquiry by the Social Exclusion Unit on transport should provide the framework for this.


  19.  The connections between the Plan and the Government's integrated transport policy have largely been dealt with above. We believe that the Plan does not give enough priority to social and environmental policy and is not integrated enough with many other areas of Government policy, including the promotion of welfare to work, brownfield development and social inclusion. It downplays walking and cycling and small scale projects at the expense of large infrastructure schemes. It significantly backtracks on the 1998 Transport White Paper by downplaying measures to manage demand for road transport and by ignoring the White Paper's presumption that road building only be sanctioned once other options had been fully tested.


  20.  We support many aspects of the 10 Year Plan. However, we are concerned that some of its underlying assumptions are unrealistic, its implied reliance on road building is undesirable, and its downplaying of traffic levels unacceptable. There are also problems with several of the implementation mechanisms for the Plan. We would like to see these remedied when the Plan is revised.

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