Examination of Witnesses (Questions 361
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
361. Gentlemen, thank you for coming this afternoon.
Would you be kind enough to tell us who you are?
(Mr Dawson) I am John Dawson from the AA. On my right
is Bert Morris from the AA.
(Mr King) I am Edmund King from the RAC Foundation.
(Mr Billington) Bill Billington also from the RAC
362. Do any of you have any brief comments you
would like to make?
(Mr Dawson) The thrust of what we want to say is,
after a very long time awaiting it, we very much welcome the Plan
and the pledges to reverse the decline, and in particular the
associated pledges on finance without which the Plan is just vapourware.
The key question which our members are concerned with is just
how quickly will things improve so they actually notice a difference
in their daily journeys.
363. Do you wish to comment, Mr King?
(Mr King) The RAC Foundation also welcomes the 10
Year Plan and wants to draw attention to the continuing dominance
of road transport and the increasing pressure on the road network,
and we feel that is an important aspect. I would like to draw
the Committee's attention to a 1995 report on car dependence that
was actually edited by Professor Phil Goodwin. What that showed
is a graph about car dependence, how dependent people are on the
car. At the top end there are 20 per cent of journeys which are
totally dependent on the carit might be the disabled person
in rural Suffolk where there is no bus or train network. At the
bottom end there are 20 per cent of journeys which are currently
made by the car which could fairly easily be made by other meanswalking
to the local shop, the newsagent, cycling, the things we have
heard about before. In between, there are 60 per cent of journeys,
some could be made by car, some by public transport, but at a
cost. Public transport might cost three times as much, it might
take twice as long, but the lesson in terms of implementing the
10 Year Plan for this is that you do not want blunt policies and
you want to target the policies in the different areas. So for
the 20 per cent of short journeys, yes, walking, cycling, may
provide, but for the car-dependent journeys road transport will
be essential. In the 10 Year Plan our concern at the moment is
with implementation. We believe that the multi-modal study process
will actually delay some of the implementation of schemes in the
10 Year Plan, and that is a major worry for us. We also have concerns
about the actual planning process taking too long, both for road
and rail schemes an average of 10 years. We know that is being
addressed elsewhere but it is a major concern. We also feel that
the consultation process with the multi-modal studies actually
covers quite a wide public consultation, but then if there are
proposals which come out of the multi-modal studies we have to
start that process again and there is further public consultation.
We would like to see some streamlining within those processes.
The final point is that we are concerned about a skill shortage
within the transport industry, and my colleague, Bill Billington,
can give members more details on that, as he has written a report
364. Can I ask you, if you do not believe that
the 20 urban charging schemes to deal with congestion are going
to be implemented, how many do you think will be?
(Mr Dawson) Probably a relatively small number, possibly
even down to zero.
365. That is quite a small number.
(Mr Dawson) Exactly. The point being, how many schemes
of this sort are implemented worldwide after something like 35
years of discussion. The problem is that the theory is quite appealing,
the practice is something quite different and when you work it
out they do not seem that good an idea after all. Let me give
you an illustration: in London, road charging has been heavily
sold on improving public transport, less than 10 per cent of the
benefits, even on the Mayor's figures, actually flow to public
366. But that surely depends on decisions taken
by those who get the money. You could rebuild the whole of the
Underground system on congestion charging if you were to devote
the cash from the London-take surely?
(Mr Dawson) I think, Chairman, you have put your finger
on the question. What is the purpose of congestion charging? Is
the purpose of it to manage the system better with a revenue-neutral
flow, which is the Singapore model, which is the only city in
the world which has actually implemented it, or is it a tax to
raise revenue to do desirable things? If you take it that the
objective of the London charging scheme is to raise revenue, it
will raise maybe £140, £200 million, it will spend about
half of it running the system and all the gubbins. If you think
that is an efficient way to raise money and give local democracy
taxation powers, that is fine, but that is not the legislation
367. You reckon that half of that will go in
the cost of running the scheme, but that has not been borne out
by other schemes, has it?
(Mr Dawson) There are no other schemes to look at.
368. There are some in Scandinavia.
(Mr Dawson) In Singapore, which is a true text book
congestion charging scheme, motorists were given a refund to compensateit
was a revenue-neutral schemefor the new charges. So their
road tax dropped and they had to pay direct charges. That is a
true congestion charging scheme out of the text books. In Oslo,
for example, the scheme was there to raise money. The economists
will tell you that is a revenue-raising scheme, there is a 24-hour
cordon, the money is raised and in that case the pledge was that
it would go to build new tunnels and bus lanes and infrastructure
schemes. What we are seeing in Britain is the typical muddle where
actually the charging is there to raise revenue. That is not a
congestion charging scheme, and I put it to you that it is not
the purpose for which Parliament gave local authorities the powers.
369. Supposing you are right and we fail and
in fact we finish up with this small figure of zero actually being
implemented, what is the alternative?
(Mr Dawson) What is actually happening worldwide is
quite interesting. There is not this interest in city-centre charging
that there was in the 1960s because the real congestion is actually
on the strategic arteries in the approach to city centres and
around city centres. What you are seeing is a new pattern emerging
in places like California of "hot lanes". These are
lanes which are put alongside the artery where you have to pay
to enter, or if you are a bus or you are carrying a lot of people
it is free. In Versailles in Paris, for example, currently under
construction is the Versailles Tunnel where the tolls will be
higher in peak periods than they are in off-peak periods, so it
will be £2 to use the 10 km tunnel in the off-peak period
and £7 to use it in the peak. The environmental benefits
are really quite considerable, because the space that is relieved
by putting the road underground allows you to hand it over to
buses and great amenities. It is a kind of win, win, win solution.
You can see this from Melbourne to Paris. Even our own Birmingham
Northern Relief Road is a scheme of that version, where the tolls
will be higher in the peak periods than they are in the off-peak
periods. That is congestion charging as it is being implemented
in the real world across the world. The British version of tolls
around cities is not actually the normal international pattern.
370. The 10 Year Plan envisages building trunk
roads, widening roads and by-passes. This will obviously generate
further car involvement. Is there another way of doing that?
(Mr Dawson) One of the really important things about
the 10 Year Plan is that we have to grow up a little bit with
it. Just look at the analysis. It tells us that if we do this,
if we build these by-passes, improve these trunk roads, we will
have the consequence of generated traffic, and then as grown-ups
we have to start putting together packages to achieve what we
want. It is an outcome-based plan. So, for example, the reductions
in CO2 in the real world will come from enforcing technology to
be cleaner and more efficient, and that is represented by the
EU ESU (?) Agreement where there was this very vigorous reduction
in carbon emissions required of cars. The Plan and the analysis
say that the trunk road investment element will reduce congestion
on the inter-urban network by some 13 per cent, and that the carbon
emissions as a result will grow by 0.1 mega tonnes, which is actually
very much less than the EU ESU Agreement.
371. Are you saying we can build our way out
(Mr Dawson) No, I am saying we have to look at what
are the outcomes we want. This is where the Government has it
right. We want to reduce congestion, and we will reduce congestion
by some road building at bottlenecks, rail improvements, local
tram schemes, and all the rest of it. It is a package and it has
to be focused on each area.
372. But with the building of trunk roads and
the widening of roads, particularly in the South East, the idea
is to build our way out of congestion. Can it happen?
(Mr Dawson) I would want to extend the argument on
pricing back into it and turn the question round. If in Paris
they can actually build themselves out of a problem by a mixture
of tolling and tunnelling, that is in a sense building the way
out of congestion, but there is also an environmental gain in
doing it. In every location you have to work out what is the balance
of advantage, what can this road sustain. We have been probably
too cheap in the way we look at situations.
373. You are suggesting we go to Paris and see
how it works there?
(Mr Dawson) I have actually been down the hole in
Paris to see it.
Mr O'Brien: I am thinking about the Committee
Chairman: He is offering you a way of ingratiating
yourself with the Committee, Mr Dawson.
374. The Plan assumes that motoring costs will
go down, would it not be better to keep them constant and put
money into public transport?
(Mr King) We have a slightly different emphasis here
when it comes to congestion charging and cost. The RAC Foundation
has embarked on a major study called Motoring Towards 2050,
and, okay, that goes beyond the 10 Year Plan but it is very important.
We actually feel in the longer term that cost is a very important
element of supply and demand, and we certainly will be looking
much more openly at congestion charging and at toll roads but
perhaps giving back some money in other areas. For example, for
the rural Scottish driver, they may get a reduction in their vehicle
excise duty or the tax on fuel, but the money would be made up
with the charging schemes, so they may be better off. But the
motorist who is using the busier roads at busier times may be
charged more. We believe that in the longer-term this is the way
ahead. There is no doubt that currently public transport is expensive
and, for many motorists, the rational choice is to take the car.
375. How would a system of charging more on
busier roads work?
(Mr King) That system would work by rationing due
to congestion. If the roads are not busy, the charge is lower
or indeed zero. Therefore it would make people think twice about
certain journeys in peak periods.
376. Who would decide which roads and which
(Mr King) That would be dependent on the rates of
377. But who would take the decision?
(Mr King) The Highways Agency would take that decision
378. If you want to change people's behaviour,
how much extra do you have to charge in order to persuade someone
like yourself to come back half an hour later or go in half an
(Mr Dawson) What we see in California is actually
the real life operation answering your question. What they have
to do to keep the thing sweet is change the tolls by hour of day
by direction of travel and by day of the week.
379. What I am after is a simple answer. In
this country how much dearer do you have to make it?
(Mr Dawson) I was going to give you the range. I have
given you the £2 and £7 for the Versailles Tunnel which
is the off-peak versus peak rate. In California, for example,
a typical toll would range from between 2 dollars and 7 dollars
for the same trip.