Examination of Witness (Questions 200
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
200. There might be one or two.
(Professor Begg) Perhaps, but I would disagree. When
you do it in transport, people take a very different view. It
depends on what the product is. If the product is car use, you
are right and it could be construed as regressive. I the product
is transport and getting people from A to B, it is actually progressive.
201. On that point, you are redistributing from
the not very well off to the much poorer, are you notthose
people who have just been able to afford a car in an urban area,
to those people who are confined to the bus? In that sense, for
that group of people it is regressive.
(Professor Begg) You are right. There are a number
of re-distributions taking place on the income scale. The challenge
for any local authority introducing congestion charging is to
show that for those people who are priced out of their cars, there
is an alternative. One of the concerns that we have expressed,
for example, is that for people in rural areas there is very little
alternative to using a car. That is why we have recommended a
complete reform of the way we pay for road use. We think that
people who are driving in urban areas should pay more because
there is more congestion, and we should be able to provide good
public transport there; and people driving in rural areas, causing
less congestion, should pay less.
Mr Stringer: You are driving down a road that
I did not want to go.
Chairman: Then I will pull you back. What was
your original question?
202. Do you think there are any comparisons
between the London scheme and any other city in the United Kingdom,
or whether it is unique?
(Professor Begg) Comparisons in terms of the congestion
charging scheme we have come up with in London?
203. Would it be of any use, if it works, in
comparing it to West Midlands or to Manchester or Leeds, or the
other big urban conurbations; or is it so different that it will
not be comparable?
(Professor Begg) It is a bit of both. Everyone will
be interested in whether the technology is working effectively.
It will be interesting to see exactly what the reduction in demand
with the £5 charge is. In other cities the traffic problems
are different, less acute than London. A number of cities have
the opportunity to put in park-and-ride around the cordon, in
a way that is very difficult, if not impossible, to do in London.
204. We know which cities we are talking about,
although we are talking in abstract. We know what the ten great
urban conurbations are in this country. Do you think there are
any of those urban conurbations where congestion charging would
be so damaging, in terms of destruction of jobs, because jobs
would flee to out-of-town shopping centres, that it would not
(Professor Begg) I would worry about urban conurbations
where there is high unemployment, sluggish growth and competition
from a neighbouring town close by; so I can understand, for example,
why the three main towns in the East Midlands are nervous about
pushing forward with this on their own. It is one of the reasons
why we think that a regional agenda in Britain would be very helpful
to traffic constraint, because it is very difficult for one city
to do it on its own. One city where I think congestion charging
should be given much higher priority is in Leeds, which has a
very good economic growth record. They have delivered some really
good changes in public transport. I think it will be difficult
for them to reduce congestion without congestion charging.
205. Your paper makes the case that 70-80 per
cent of congestion is urban and the rest is inter-urban. Which
do you think is most economically damaging, and have you any evidence
(Professor Begg) We would argue that it is congestion
that is most economically damaging. Congestion charging, we would
argue, is actually beneficial to the economy.
206. I think you are missing my point, I am
sorry. If you could remove congestion from our motorway system,
inter-urban congestion, or you could move congestion from the
cities, which would be most beneficial to the economy overall?
(Professor Begg) The cities.
207. Can you give us the evidence?
(Professor Begg) I do not have hard evidence to give
you on that, so I am giving you my view. One of the reasons for
that is that there are a lot of measures that we can take to reduce
inter-urban congestion, and the recent announcement by the Department
for Transport that they are going to deal with the pinch-points
and tackle some of the congestion hot-spots, is to be welcomed;
but the difficulty is that so many of our motorways have to pass
through urban conurbations that they are going to have to deal
with that part of the journey at some point.
208. I have another public transport question.
London Underground told me this morning that any new capacity
they create on the tube is immediately filled by new generated
journeys, journeys that did not exist before. Are you worried
that any new capacity that is created to deal with congestion
charges in London is very soon going to be filled by those new
journeys as well as modal shift, and therefore the system will
be even more congested than it was before?
(Professor Begg) Is this new journeys on the road,
because you are reducing congestion freeing up road space?
209. This is new journeys on the tube, where
people are using the tube because they have more money, more leisure
time, and the tube service is there, and therefore the capacity
very quickly gets filled up. You would then be putting on top
of that people who were trying to achieve modal shift from cars
to tube or other forms of public transport.
(Professor Begg) I have no evidence to challenge the
assumptions that have been made by Transport for London. They
are making the assumption that there would be 20,000 extra public
transport users during peak hour as a result of congestion charging.
They are assuming that 15,000 of them, three-quarters, are going
to transfer to the bus, where I do think there is a capacity.
There is no doubt that it is going to be very, very difficult
to create the capacity that is required on the tube and on the
heavy rail, in a short time. I think your argument applies much
more to road space than it does to public transport. All the evidence
that we have seen would indicate that if you reduced congestion
by improving infrastructure, where it is a road, or by improving
public transport, you buy time; you free up congestion in the
short to medium run, but by freeing up congestion, that acts as
a magnet to attract additional traffic on the road. Just to back
up that statement, it is interesting that if you look at a large
number of cities in Britain, there has been very little change
in peak-hour traffic volumes over the last twenty years; and that
tells us that we hit saturation point in a number of our cities
during the peak hours twenty years ago, and congestion itself
was constraining the volume of traffic. The only alternative to
this is to introduce the price mechanism, and then you will be
able to regulate traffic at a given level.
210. Do you think that the present models for
congestion charging are sufficiently fine-tuned to differentiate
between different classes and types of vehicle, first in London
and then in other areas?
(Professor Begg) Not quite. We have to
bear in mind here that this is an experimentI would argue
a very brave experiment that is going to take place in London
next year. We cannot see any alternative if we are going to cut
congestion in the city. You are always going to have discrepancies
on the level of exemptions and charges introduced, but at the
end of the day that is a political decision. There are a number
of transport professionals who would argue that the number of
exemptions should be kept to an absolute bare minimum. There are
transport professionals who would also argue that to be effective
the charge should be higher. But the Mayor of London and the local
politicians have got to make that tough political decision about
how far they can go down that line and at the same time carry
211. What about the Government carrying public
opinion? Has the Government done enough to convince the public?
(Professor Begg) No. I think that Alistair Darling
has been much more positive in accepting the need publicly for
traffic constraint, arguing the case for congestion charging in
principle. He has even been quoted in the Observer as saying
that there is merit in the London charging scheme. At the same
time, he is also right to argue that any politician has got to
be concerned about carrying public opinion on this difficult issue.
212. Are they doing enough?
(Professor Begg) No, I do not think they are. I would
like to see the Government spell out just how important traffic
restraint and congestion charging is, if they are going to achieve
their target for cutting the levels of congestion. I would like
those people who argue against congestion charging to be asked
what is their alternative.
213. I have this theory that a lot of congestion
is caused by the massive growth of traffic lights, and certainly
highway engineers these days, with roundabouts, which are meant
to be free-flowing, tend to put traffic lights all over them,
and then they keep them on 24 hours a day, so that when there
is no traffic they are still operating. Do you not think we should
audit some of the use of traffic lights and some transport measures,
which might have an impact in reducing congestion?
(Professor Begg) I wish it was so easy. If it were
as easy as that, no-one would be doing congestion charging. Politicians
do not want to introduce congestion chargingit is so tough.
If it was simply a case of tweaking the traffic lights and trying
to keep traffic flowing, getting rid of vans that are parked on
yellow lines, it would be a lot easier. I am not saying that you
cannot improve traffic flow by doing all of these things, but
it would be wrong for anybody to assume that it would be a simple
solution to a traffic congestion problem. We cannot get away from
the fact that the basic problem here is too many vehicles chasing
too little road space.
214. Thank you very much, Professoras
always, not only very coherent and sensible, but very informative.
(Professor Begg) Thank you for inviting