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

Examination of Witness (Questions 173 - 179)



  Chairman: Before we begin the session, may I ask if any member has a declaration to make relating to the work of the Committee?

  Mr Stevenson: I am a member of the Transport & General Workers' Union.

  Helen Jackson: I am a member of the Transport & General Workers' Union.

  Clive Efford: Member of the Transport & General Workers' Union.

  Chairman: Just to be different, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Rail, Maritime & Transport Trade Union.

  Mr Donohoe: I am a member of the Transport & General Workers' Union.

  Mrs Ellman: I am a member of the Transport & General Workers' Union.

  Mr Syms: I am Director of a family business with interests in road haulage.

  Mr Stringer: A member MSF-Amicus.


  173. The other bit of housekeeping that I hope you will forgive me for, Professor, is that this is the last meeting at which Richard Cooke will be our clerk. I want to place on record my appreciation of all the hard work that he has put in to inquiries. He has been a great asset, and although he is not going to be lost to us, he is going to be translated to higher things perhaps. Nevertheless, it is important for us to say "thank you". Professor Begg, you have been extremely patient. Welcome. Would you tell us your official status and give us your name for the record?
  (Professor Begg) David Begg, Chair of the Commission for Integrated Transport.

  174. Did you have something you wanted to say to us?
  (Professor Begg) No, just that my mum insists that I pass on her good wishes to you. That was my order before I came down.

  175. Your mother is a woman of taste and brilliance. Given the levels of public concern about the introduction of road pricing schemes, what alternatives are there to reduce road congestion?
  (Professor Begg) A recession, which I do not think very many people want. If you look back at the UK's record on cutting traffic and congestion, the last time we were successful in doing that was in the early 1990s when the economy was in recession. If we make the assumption that the Government are going to be successful in achieving their economic growth targets, we are not confident that there is any other solution to congestion reduction which does not involve some form of traffic constraint. We think the most effective form of traffic constraint is congestion charging. I know that some people still believe that we can build our way out of the congestion problem with an expansive road-building programme, but the reason why that will not work is that over 80 per cent of our congestion is in the urban conurbations, and 40 per cent of congestion in England is in London. I do not think there is either the political will or the desire to start to tarmac over large amounts of green space or demolish buildings. It has to involve some form of traffic restraint.

Mr Stevenson

  176. Professor Begg, in our 10-year plan inquiry you suggested that urban charging schemes could contribute three times more in reducing congestion levels than the Department of Transport estimate. The Department estimated it at about 7 per cent and you estimated it in the mid-twenties. Could you explain that discrepancy?
  (Professor Begg) We still believe that we are right on that. We have been studying this issue now for over two years. It goes back to the statement that I have already made. With more than 80 per cent of our congestion being in the urban conurbations, you only get significant congestion reductions if you are successful in reducing the volumes of traffic. Therefore, while we support the 10-year plan and the extra money that has gone into infrastructure, we do not think that that on its own will be sufficient to cut congestion.

  177. That is very useful, but there is a remarkable difference between your assessments, which I am sure are very learned, based on expert assessments, and the assessment of the Department of Transport. If it were just a marginal difference, then that could be explained away, but this is a factor of three. Therefore, it will play a significant part in the outcomes.
  (Professor Begg) We have made the same assumptions that the Department have made. I think it is best that you ask the Department why they think congestion charging will play a smaller role than we think.

Mrs Ellman

  178. Do we have any difficulties with the definitions of "congestion" being used?
  (Professor Begg) Yes. We do not have other countries to learn from. Because we have got what we think is one of the worst levels of congestion in Europe, we are much more advanced in trying to measure congestion and much more advanced in introducing measures of congestion charging. I do not want to be critical of the Department in this because they are entering into virgin territory here and how to measure congestion. I think there is a general agreement that has been picked up by this Committee, that we need to do a lot better on how we measure congestion. The initial measure that the Department has come up with is not something that the public would relate to. The Department looked at the difference between free-flow traffic speed and actual traffic speed; and the problem with that measure is that if you introduce speed limits to reduce the free-flow speed, you would cut the level of congestion, and intuitively that does not seem to be right. There is a lot of work going on just now to try and come up with measures of congestion that the public will relate to, which include, for example, reliability of the journey, because that is just as important as the time. We also have to come out with measures of congestion that look at journey speed and the time taken for journeys.

  179. When you say a lot of work is being done, where is that happening? Do you think the Government is addressing this?
  (Professor Begg) Yes. The Motorists' Forum comes under the Commission for Integrated Transport, and we have given some detailed recommendations on how we can improve the measure of congestion, and so far the Department has been very receptive on that. I think they are looking for some assistance and some answers.

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