Examination of Witnesses (Questions 215
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
215. Gentlemen, it is always a pleasure to see
familiar faces. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
(Mr King) I am Edmund King, the Executive
Director of the RAC Foundation.
(Mr Holmes) My name is David Holmes, Chairman, and
I am a Member of the RAC Foundation's Public Policy Committee.
216. Do you want to say something before we
(Mr King) Firstly, we welcome this very relevant inquiry
and are grateful that you have asked for our views. Contrary to
some public perception, the RAC Foundation and indeed many motorists
are not actually opposed to congestion charging, as long as the
conditions are right. Indeed, our recent report, Motoring towards
2050, looking ahead, did find that we would need charging
on a proportion of the network at certain times of the day if
we are going to keep congestion at current levels, and that it
did not really matter what we did to public transport. The only
alternative was quite substantial road-building, which, in the
urban environment that we are looking at today, is almost impossible.
However, on public opinion, which you referred to before, we feel
that this is absolutely essential for charging schemes to work.
We have proposed that there should be a charter that government
or local authorities sign up to. It should be a watertight charter
that should cover things like privacy, cost of charge, implementation
and transparency; and it should be audited independently.
217. Independent of the motorist or the Government?
(Mr King) Both. We have actually called for an independent
roads inspector because we do not have any independence when it
comes to the roads network, where we do to some extent on the
railwaysone can claim compensation for journeys, et cetera.
We feel this is crucial if we are to get public acceptability
because in all our polling, if you ask motorists outright, "do
you support congestion charging?" they say "no".
However, if there are conditionsif it was linked to a reduction
in fuel duty, 76 per cent would support it. Even if it were linked
to improved public transport, and better reliability of the network,
71 per cent would support itso if the conditions are right,
and if people can trust the Government and the politicians. That
is why we need the charter. It is also essential that the Government
develops a national technological framework. We do not want different
schemes in different cities, using different technologies so that
you need different black boxes in your car. Ultimately, there
will need to be a European standard for that. We also feel that
assessment of schemes is essential, both before and after, with
an independent audit. Our point is that charging is not a panacea
for all our congestion problems, and that other schemes should
often be looked at firstbetter public transport, park-and-ride,
co-ordination of road works and traffic lights. That is absolutely
essential. In some cases charging will be required, but not on
its own, as part of a package. You might need to improve a ring-road
before charging. Our concern with London, which we hope succeeds,
is that there is nothing up-front that motorists can see that
will make their lot better. Struggling in today on a Thameslink
train, when we had twenty of us standing in the corridor by the
door and when, after the first stop, no-one else can get on the
train, is appalling. Trying to struggle on to the Victoria Line
in peak conditions today, and having to wait for three trains,
is appalling. The last thing you want is to squeeze motorists
off the road into those conditions. We believe that to sell it
you have really got to get some of those improvements in public
218. Mr King, you have just said that you do
not want to see different schemes in different cities; but is
that not inevitable when we are in something new, and cities will
(Mr King) I am sorry, I did not express myself very
clearly. I would like to see a national framework for the technology,
but there will be differences in different cities because obviously
the conditions are different. In London, the majority of people
use public transport and in Bristol they do not. So within that
package, you would have differences. In Bristol, could there be
a park-and-ride on the M32 to encourage motorists to get out of
their car before they go into the centre? That would not be relevant
to places like York. The technology and the framework should be
governed by the Government; otherwise, we will have a mishap.
I think we have to treat London as an experiment. It is not very
219. You suggest in your paper that local authorities
will have to decide on their objectives and imply that they should
either have congestion reduction as an objective or revenue-raising.
Is it not inevitable that local authorities, once they have established
a new revenue stream, will want to keep that?
(Mr King) We were saying that people should be clear
about the objectives, and rather than just talking about charging
as a solution, ask what you want charging to do. Some of them
may see it as raising revenue to increase public transport; and
others may see it as a deterrent to traffic growth; but they need
to be open, up-front about this, to