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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 239)

WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002

MR EDMUND KING AND MR DAVID HOLMES

Chairman

  220. The definition was in the Transport 2000 Act, though, was it not, Mr King? It was made very clear: local authorities could use this in order to raise money, but they were directly connected with congestion.
  (Mr King) Yes, we have no qualms about that. We are saying they should be more open about that because that will affect the type of scheme.

Mrs Ellman

  221. Do you not think that both things are part of the same project?
  (Mr King) I think they can be, yes. To some extent it is chicken-and-egg. You do need some revenue and income to improve public transport, but we say that also, to sell it, you need some improvements first to carry the public with you.

  222. Concerns have been raised about the definition of congestion in the 10-year transport plan. Do you share those concerns and think it is important?
  (Mr Holmes) I think congestion is very difficult to define and we do not claim to have the professional expertise that the Department has. I do not think you need a PhD to recognise whether you are in a traffic jam or not. In a sense, we would like to speak as a plain man, rather than in a more technical sense. There are accepted definitions of congestion and, clearly, as Professor Begg said, we lead the world in congestion.

  223. Have you offered any suggestions on better definitions on congestion? If you are saying in your submission that there should be monitoring and measurement of what happens, does that not need a more acceptable measurement or definition?
  (Mr Holmes) Indeed, there does need to be a more acceptable definition of congestion in order to be able to monitor what the effects are. All I am saying is that we do not claim expertise in this area, but there are plenty of people who do.

Mr Stevenson

  224. Mr King, do you think there is an argument for government to provide resources for local authorities that are introducing road charging for example, on the basis of future income streams, so that investment in alternatives can be brought forward?
  (Mr King) I certainly think that could help, and particularly if you come to this idea of a national technological framework. If you want the technology to be similar in different cities in order to facilitate that, I think some priming from the Government could help.

  225. Your organisation, as I understand, has come under pressure for being too anti-car—it says here.
  (Mr King) Does it say that there?

  226. Would you confirm and agree that the real cost of motoring has reduced significantly over recent years, and that the real cost of public transport is increasing?
  (Mr King) There are so many definitions of this. Some parts of the cost of motoring have increased, for example insurance and parking costs, whereas fuel over the last two years since the fuel crisis has kept relatively stable. In the motorist's mind it comes back to something that David Begg said: if you had a system that was more transparent and you were paying at the point of use for the miles that you travelled, there would be winners and losers. What we advocate is that under charging schemes we looked at in our 2050 report, the winners would be those that drive in the more rural areas, who might use their cars more because there is no alternative; but they do not drive on the congested roads. They would be better off because they would get a fuel duty reduction. Those in the cities and those that have to use the M25 might not be. We argue that the objective should be to improve the infrastructure first.

  227. We have touched on that but I want to press you a little bit further on the issue of comparative cost, because it is crucial, is it not? It is not only the provision of alternatives but it is the comparative costs of the car and those alternatives. All the evidence that we have taken from a wide range and number of witnesses confirms that the real cost of motoring has significantly reduced in recent years; but the real cost of public transport has significantly increased. It would be interesting to get your view on that. Do you agree with that or do you not agree with that, because it is crucial to our considerations?
  (Mr King) There is no doubt that the cost of public transport has increased. I would argue that the cost of motoring has stabilised. You have to look at the figures. The vast majority of motorists never use public transport. We should not be in danger in over-emphasising what public transport can do. For many people in many areas, public transport is not an option; so it is not a question of costs.

Mr Syms

  228. Can I ask you about cliff edges. Inevitably, you have drawn a circle round the middle of London, and it may or may not reduce congestion in the middle of it; but it might increase congestion round the edge of the congestion zone. I have always found that the worst congested roads are those from the motorway network into the middle, where you are going through various traffic lights and trying to feed in to central London. Do you have a view about what impact congestion charging will have on those who live just outside of the area?
  (Mr Holmes) This is an issue that we have discussed with Transport for London at some length. They have models which claim to demonstrate that with congestion charging in central London, radial movement by car through inner London will decrease, and that therefore there will not be an increase in congestion in inner London outside the central area, even though more people are going round. We are not at all sure about that, because modelling what happens in London is extraordinarily complicated. We notice that the ring-road, which is the boundary of the central area, is in some areas pretty inadequate, and yet a lot more traffic will go on that ring-road. They can change it to some extent by changing traffic lights. I would agree with the drift of your question, that we are rather sceptical about whether conditions in inner London around the central area will not get worse; we think they possibly will.

Tom Brake

  229. You have mentioned that the Government should have a technological framework. Does the RAC Foundation have a preferred technical solution in terms of a congestion charging mechanism?
  (Mr King) We do not, but we believe it should be a sophisticated system that could differentiate between congested periods and uncongested periods. We feel that that again is essential to sell the concept to the motorist—if the motorist understands that they are paying because they are causing congested periods. The London scheme, obviously, is not that sophisticated, but we have to start somewhere. Ultimately, we would like to see the technology that can differentiate between type of vehicle, the time of day and the level of congestion.

  230. Do you have any views about what exemptions should apply to such a scheme?
  (Mr King) RAC Motoring Services have lobbied very hard for exemption for their patrol vehicles because they have argued that it helps to alleviate congestion. We do have some concerns in some of the proposed schemes about disabled drivers not being given exemption, and that should be studied in depth.

Chris Grayling

  231. Last week I asked Transport for London about the potential impact of the central London scheme on the M25, simply because there is traffic that goes across London which will choose not to do so. Transport for London were extremely dismissive and said there would be no impact at all, or a minuscule impact. Is that your view?
  (Mr Holmes) I think it is probably right, if one goes out as far as the M25. I think that if one looks at the North and South Circulars on the other hand, the impact could be quite considerable, because one is dealing with a very diverse pattern and a lot of movements. I think there could be traffic which tries to get round the central area by using these ring-roads. It is very difficult to predict exactly what will happen.

  232. By definition, does that not simply have a ripple effect and the roads further out become busier? Would that not affect the whole of the Greater London area?
  (Mr Holmes) In principle, yes, but there are so many movements in all directions that by the time it gets to the M25, you will not notice. Other things will be more important.

  233. Mr King, in the 10-year plan the congestion schemes are a fairly integral part; they generate a substantial part of the revenues to pay for it. In your view, if the 10-year plan goals for public transport improvements are not met in full, or in significant measure, is it possible to introduce congestion charging schemes without doing real damage to city centres and their businesses?
  (Mr King) I think it makes it more and more difficult because the public transport improvements are absolutely essential for the charging schemes to become acceptable. For example, in Bristol I have seen some comments that they do not think the scheme could be introduced before 2007. The main reason for that is that it will take that time to improve public transport. If there is one message about charging, it is to get those improvements done first.

  234. Is it your view that the plan is in a position as of today that the improvements are achievable within a time-frame that will make congestion charging possible, or have the various projects in the plan slipped to a point where you would seriously call into question the viability of schemes that are currently envisaged?
  (Mr King) Some of the schemes could go ahead, but the 10-year plan does not list all the specific schemes. I think the numbers envisaged in the 10-year plan are pretty optimistic.

Chairman

  235. Do those of your members who are opposed to congestion charging have alternative schemes to offer, or are they simply saying that the status quo is acceptable?
  (Mr King) I think what they were saying when we polled motorists in detail was that they do not want it to be another tax.

  236. I understand that, Mr King, but is there any public acceptance by your members that congestion charging may be the only way in which we can go forward, both in congested cities and even our inter-urban motorways?

   (Mr King) At the moment, motorists are split 50/50. I read through about 300 responses to an article in the RAC magazine, and they are about 50/50. In terms of public opinion, that is why it is so important that they see that they are getting something back.

Clive Efford

  237. What proportion of your members indicate in any of your surveys that if they could they would switch to public transport, that they are reluctant road-users?
  (Mr King) I would say there is always a certain amount of hypocrisy in some of these questions. When you ask where the money should be spent, they say it should be on public transport; but when you actually ask if they would use it, that is a quite different question. We still have some work to do there to convince many of our members to get out of their cars.

  238. Does the RAC have any concerns about the fact that the comparative costs in terms of proportion of people's incomes of using cars continues to go down against increasing costs of using public transport, and the impact that that has on the environment?
  (Mr Holmes) Our position is that one has seen that, because of improving efficiency, the cost of buying a motor car is in real terms a lot less than it used to be, and you get more for your money; you get more sophisticated things and you get safer cars. The position of our members is that the public should benefit from those improvements in efficiency that come from manufacture. Public transport is another issue. It will always be at a disadvantage compared with the private car because of the labour costs and the high capital costs. One deplores that, but that is a question for national government to decide on its subsidy policy.

Chairman

  239. Mr King, if the Government decided to run a very high-profile campaign to persuade the motorist of not only the cost of motoring to the environment as a whole and to individuals, but also that congestion charging may be the only viable alternative that we are facing, would that make any difference?
  (Mr King) We would sign up to that and support the Government as long as they signed up to our charter which showed that there were safeguards for the motorist. That would then build the trust between the Government and the motorist that would be essential. If the Government indicated that they would do that, we would support them in a campaign.

  Chairman: You have been helpful. Thank you very much.





 
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