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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
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Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Mr Tom Harris
Mr John Leech
Witnesses: Hugh Noblett, Head of Training, Cadence Driver Development, Nich Brown, General Secretary, Motorcycle Action Group, and Jack Semple, Director of Policy, Road Haulage Association, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Would you please give your name and the organisation you are representing for our records? I will start at the end here.
Hugh Noblett: Hugh Noblett, Cadence Driver Development.
Nich Brown: Nich Brown, Motorcycle Action Group.
Jack Semple: Jack Semple, Road Haulage Association.
Q2 Chair: Thank you. What would you say are the main causes of congestion and how does congestion affect the members of your organisation? Who would like to start on that one?
Hugh Noblett: If I may start, possibly, it is the problems of driver behaviour and a lack of knowledge, possibly, of the Highway Code practice which is the main problem. We were on the motorway yesterday and there was a gantry sign saying "Please do not hog the middle lane", and yet almost every driver apart from us was ignoring it, which was causing problems to all other road users.
Q3 Chair: Mr Brown, would you like to tell us what you think are the main causes of congestion?
Nich Brown: In our opinion, the main cause is simply the volume of independent travel that is undertaken by vehicles that are larger than necessary for a trip. Whereas we understand that not everybody has a choice of vehicle to use, because the statistics show us that most car journeys have less than two people in the car, that is a lot of road space that is being used not necessarily for any good purpose.
It affects our members in two respects. First, with motorcycles, because they are very manoeuvrable vehicles, which take up a lot less road space and are able to use parts of the road that other vehicles are not necessarily using, it means that we are able to percolate through the traffic reasonably well. It is the higher level of risk that is caused to us through volumes of larger vehicles, especially where those larger vehicles don’t have good visibility for the driver, whether it is a car with large Apillars obscuring the view ahead or a goods vehicle where, because it has a solid trailer, it is not able to see all the way round it. Our members have to be very conscious of where they position in the road so that they can be seen.
Jack Semple: I would say it is the volume of traffic for the available road space, particularly the number of cars on the road. If you look at the 34 million vehicles, most of them are cars. It is the time when people travel, particularly again cars, and the way we have structured aspects of the economy.
Looking at the existing infrastructure, the number of accidents we have obviously has a big impact on the predictability of journeys and the amount of time on major roads that it takes for the police to clear an accident, if it is a major incident. In urban areas, in particular, there is frustration at the extent of roadworks and the congestion that that adds.
Also, we are getting more and more concerned about the local plans and the creeping reduction in available road capacity. In terms of roadworks and road maintenance, I think the deterioration of the road network condition, particularly in local roads, is storing up some real problems of congestion for the future.
Q4 Chair: Is congestion affecting UK competitiveness?
Jack Semple: From my members’ point of view, undoubtedly. I don’t think the congestion has deteriorated. It may even have eased slightly in the last couple of years with the recession. But, for example, just to take London, we have members who would say that a medium-sized lorry in the school holidays probably does about £100 to £120 more productive work simply because of the reduction in congestion that exists in London because of the school holidays. We don’t take goods down to a baseline of no congestion, but if you factor in the major and predictable congestion, that adds fuel cost, driver cost and vehicle cost. In terms of just the road haulage industry and transport of freight, a huge amount of costs is a result of predictable congestion and it affects the cost of moving goods in the UK.
Q5 Chair: The Government have said that they are considering a lorry road user charge scheme. Are you aware of exactly what is being proposed?
Jack Semple: We have an idea.
Q6 Chair: Is there anything you can tell us about it? Do you think it will be effective?
Jack Semple: I think it will make little difference to congestion.
Q7 Chair: Did you say "a little" or "little"?
Jack Semple: Little.
Q8 Chair: "A little"?
Jack Semple: Little, if any, difference to congestion. I think it will make no discernible difference to congestion. The lorry road user charge will exist primarily to impose a charge on foreign trucks for using our roads and to make the tax difference between foreign trucks and UK trucks a little more even. I think that is the purpose of what the Government has in mind. So, in terms of congestion, it will do little. Actually, I am not sure that any form of charge would do a great deal, because the lorries are there to provide a service to business and you don’t run a lorry, in London for example, unless you have good reason to do so.
Q9 Iain Stewart: I noticed in Mr Noblett’s recent evidence that one option you suggest for alleviating congestion is to improve traffic light phasing to ease flow rather than obstructing it. In urban areas, do you think that, on average, the current phasing of traffic lights does hinder and cause congestion?
Hugh Noblett: I think it does.
Q10 Iain Stewart: You think at the moment it does.
Hugh Noblett: I think it would assist traffic flow to get the light phasing right and possibly vary it, depending upon the traffic flow and the time of day. Maybe overnight deliveries might assist. Certainly, overnight deliveries might well reduce the daytime congestion, obviously with the heavy lorries. I find personally that, certainly in the rural areas, where lorries are restricted through the speed limit and the laws, you get somebody overtaking very slowly and then you get a build-up of congestion behind those lorries. Obviously, they have delivery time problems as well as delivery times in the suburban areas. I think traffic light phasing might well assist. I am not saying it is the entire answer, but I think it might help.
Q11 Paul Maynard: This is a question addressed to Mr Semple. Listening to all three witnesses so far, you have clearly been keen to point out how different modes of transport dominate or utilise road space. In the case of Mr Semple, I was interested by your statistic about how there were 35 million vehicles, of which only a small minority were HGVs. Can I just probe that a little further? Thinking of the bottlenecks on our motorway network, what proportion of traffic using a bottleneck at peak hour, in your view, would be HGV versus passenger vehicles?
Jack Semple: It depends very much on the location and the bottleneck. It is very hard to generalise on that. In some areas it will be greater than others. The industry does what it can to avoid bottlenecks, particularly on the motorway network.
But one point I would highlight is that the HGV is at work, doing its work, whereas the car driver is going to and from work, so he has a very much more period-specific movement. The truck is on the road for up to nine or even 10 hours a day doing its job, and it may be that it has no alternative but to be on the road at that time to get from one place to another.
Q12 Paul Maynard: Would you agree, though, that one of the major delays motorists find or one of the frustrations they experience is when they are travelling along, say, a three-lane motorway and there are two lorries going at 50 mph or 51 mph, one slowly overtaking the other, causing quite a long backlog very quickly on some of our high density motorways? Would you agree that that is an observable problem?
Jack Semple: I am not sure that I would describe it as a problem particularly on motorways. I think it is an issue. One of the lorries is likely to be doing 56 mph because that is the governed speed of the truck. You have a lot of longterm roadworks where the Highways Agency controls the traffic speed at about 50 mph. The traffic moves efficiently in terms of the volume of traffic moving through the roadworks and there would be an argument for saying that that is the case also on motorways.
Having said that, to have a truck pulling out and staying running parallel when he is doing the same speed as the truck in the inside lane is not acceptable, particularly on roads such as the A14, where you have a dual carriageway. We are very strongly opposed to that. It is not acceptable for a driver to run parallel to the driver inside. Quite often, it is a foreign driver, but quite often it is also a UK driver. We are urging, and we are again going to be urging, our members to make sure that drivers don’t do that. It is a small minority, most of the time, on dual carriageway roads.
Q13 Paul Maynard: How could that be stopped? Is that selfdiscipline?
Jack Semple: I think it is industry discipline. We have to get to the stage where it is unacceptable in the haulage industry for that to happen.
Q14 Mr Leech: How important are speed limits in increasing or decreasing congestion, and is it the speed limit or is it people’s lack of adherence to the speed limit that causes the congestion?
Hugh Noblett: If I may answer this one, I think it is a variable system. In my work, the big issue is that, yes, you require speed limits to control society to a certain extent. But, of course, if you find an empty set of roadworks and you have a 50 mph zone on it, then, of course, people are going to disrespect it or ignore it. Therefore, the variable speed limits do work because they segregate traffic. But I still think it creates an awful lot of frustration because they can’t see the reason for the roadworks, particularly if there is no work force around.
We have a classic example on the A46, up in the Midlands, where obviously they are doing the transport. People are trying to do as much work as they can to get the traffic to flow better, but you still have a safety issue up there. Yet, if it is empty at 3 o’clock in the morning, you still have a speed limit imposed. Certainly, on the motorways, it does work in places.
Q15 Mr Leech: I wasn’t specifically thinking about variable speed limits on motorways. I was thinking about 20 mph zones as opposed to 30 mph zones and people going in and out of the different speed limits or between 30 mph and 40 mph.
Hugh Noblett: I think it comes down to human behaviour and the attitude towards them. The attitude is one of the hardest things I am dealing with as an individual coach with our company. I think it is getting the attitude changed, which is a monumental task.
Q16 Mr Leech: What I think you are saying is that people moving from a 20 mph zone to a 30 mph zone, or the other way round, should not have any impact on congestion as such.
Hugh Noblett: Exactly.
Q17 Mr Leech: Does anyone else have a view on that?
Nich Brown: Speed limits are meant to be appropriate to the place that they are governing. 20 mph zones, if they are done correctly, by definition, are areas where vehicular traffic is being discouraged anyway. So congestion within those areas should not be an issue if the local authority has set the speed limit right and set its usage policy right.
Similarly, with other urban speed limits, it is a question of what the available road space is very often, because our towns were not built for large volumes of vehicle traffic. They were built for horse and cart and foot. With smaller modes of travel like bicycles and motorcycles, there is less of an issue. The larger vehicles tend to spend a lot of time stationary, which obviously wastes a lot of fuel and doesn’t get anybody anywhere very quickly.
But I agree with Hugh that this is very much down to driver behaviour and it is as much about choosing the right mode of transport for a journey or even deciding whether that journey is necessary at that particular point in time. But, as we have more and more vehicles on the road, unless we build more and more roads, there will be more and more problems. Even if we do build more and more roads, all that does is to encourage more traffic to go on them. I think that is fairly well proven.
Jack Semple: The one area of congestion as far as trucks are concerned that is avoidable is when you get a good A road and lorries are limited to 40 mph. That causes unnecessary delay for the transport industry and a lot of frustration for following drivers, but apart from that I wouldn’t disagree.
Q18 Mr Leech: Can I ask what your definition of a good A road is?
Jack Semple: If you look at roads such as the A1 or the A9, and there are a number of link roads in Somerset, for example, where you have a speed limit for trucks that was designed for a different age, where commercial vehicles were completely different. The trunking agreement at one time up to Liverpool on the M6 was 28 mph for a lorry because that was the employerdriver agreement. We have moved on from that, and there are a lot of roads where a 50 mph limit would be much more appropriate and safer.
Q19 Mr Leech: Can I just ask why you think it would be safer?
Jack Semple: Because drivers get very frustrated following a 40 mph lorry on an A road.
Q20 Mr Leech: You think that slow lorries encourage bad behaviour from other motorists.
Jack Semple: I think there is an argument there. The Conservative Party, in opposition, made the point that they were concerned that there was a road safety risk in lorries doing an unnecessarily slow speed-much slower than other vehicles on the road.
Hugh Noblett: Can I come in on this one and support Jack? I know him personally outside, but that doesn’t matter. We have a gentleman who drives a lorry for a wellknown company next door to us. One of his biggest issues, in fact, is the lack of knowledge of the British Highway Code, and the lack of ability to read English in a basic form is one of the problems as well. They can’t read road signs either-bridges etc. We are coming down to probably the fundamentals.
Nich Brown: I think another issue is the setting of rural speed limits on single carriageways. A lot of those carriageways have now been limited to 50 mph. A lot of trucks, because they are governed to a maximum of 56 mph, if they are carrying a heavy load, and because the kind of roads they are on very often have steep inclines on them, can’t necessarily achieve the maximum speed. You generally end up, then, with a lot of cars behind those vehicles that can’t move forward. That creates a tailback and a lot of frustration.
The trouble with fixed speed limits is that they are a very blunt instrument, whether we are talking about congestion or safety. A local authority setting a 50 mph limit on a rural single carriageway is working to a set of criteria. Local people may agree or disagree with how they have interpreted those criteria. But, ultimately, what we have there is a speed limit that has been set for a set of circumstances that won’t always prevail. You get a lot of frustrated traffic that can’t move forward because the speed limit is a blanket speed limit and it is actually perfectly safe to exceed the speed that has now been set in some circumstances. But, of course, because it is a fixed speed limit-
Q21 Chair: So it is the fixed nature of that.
Nich Brown: It is the fixed nature. We don’t have the technology yet to allow for changing circumstances.
Q22 Kwasi Kwarteng: There are quite a lot of problems and we all recognise those, but, apart from road pricing, which is an obvious route, are there any simple solutions that you think the Government have overlooked that you have found in your experience? Is there any low hanging fruit, as it were, in regard to this situation?
Nich Brown: For motorcycles, we have something that is high on our agenda, which is access to bus lanes. When I was working in local government, I was one of the officer team that allowed access to bus lanes in Bristol. That experiment was proven to be a success. Motorcycles have continued to use bus lanes in Bristol now since the early 1990s.
The difficulty is that the numbers involved in proving the safety case for that are so low that a lot of the experiments come out as statistically uncertain. But there have been a number of experiments since and there have not been major catastrophes. There has been an awful lot of opposition to it, and there is an awful lot of resistance, at political and officer level in some local authorities. Our feeling is that, if motorcycles were allowed access to bus lanes, and that was the common practice and people were trained to expect it and to use them properly, that would make a big difference in urban congestion for our users.
The other thing that we would say, to pick up a point that has been made before, is that a lot of people travel at the same time for the same purpose because of school or for work. If we have a more flexible approach to where we work and when we start and finish work, that can take a lot of stress off the roads at particular times of day.
Jack Semple: I agree with that last point. The RHA also wants greater access to priority lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes, bus lanes, whatever. In that context, you should look at an HGV as a freight bus. There is not an alternative; it is generally well loaded; it is not a single-occupancy vehicle. This is a case that is gaining some influence in local government and we have had some success with that on the basis that it improves movement of HGVs, doesn’t particularly impact on buses and slightly improves movement of cars as well.
The underlying principle is that we should make more use of available space. The most glaring example is the M6 toll, where we have built this swathe of tarmac through the countryside to relieve congestion on the M6 and it is grossly unused. We have put one proposal in our paper to pump-prime the movement of lorries over there. If there is a major incident between 4 and 11, I think it is, on the M6, why not have an agreement with the operator of the M6 toll, open up the tolls and move the cars along there on some shadow tolling agreement?
Q23 Chair: How often does that happen?
Jack Semple: It doesn’t happen at all at the moment.
Q24 Chair: How often is there an incident in the situation where you would like this?
Jack Semple: There is congestion quite frequently, but I think every other week there is a major incident.
Could I make two other very brief points? I think there is a lot of work that can be done by road authorities and the Highways Agency in improving the efficiency and the speed with which they undertake repairs, taking on board the fact that when they are closing a road or part of a road there is a major impact on the economy-and on pollution, for that matter.
We have had examples on the A303 where we have persuaded the Highways Agency to change a closure at Willoughby Edge from six to eight weeks down to two weeks. There was a closure on the A38 last night at a place called Edithmead that was supposed to run for five nights. We objected and they are doing the work in one night. A lot of work can be done like that. We are encouraged with the response we are starting to get from the Highways Agency, but more could be done by the HA and, I believe, also by local road authorities around the country.
Finally, with regard to the police, we understand that there needs to be a proper investigation when there is an accident, but there needs to be a much clearer idea about the impact that an extended closure has. We would be interested to see what the benefit is that the judicial system and society gets from a major closure against doing the job more quickly, which appears to happen elsewhere in Europe.
Q25 Kwasi Kwarteng: Just following up on what you were saying about Europe, have we had any successes in this area in the last 20 or 30 years or are there things that we were bad at that we are now good at? Has there been any improvement in any aspect of this problem?
Chair: Have there been any improvements?
Jack Semple: With regard to the movement through major roadworks and improved traffic flow, I have the impression that major roadworks are managed better than they were. Local street works, my members tell me, are still a major cause of inefficiency, and they feel things could be managed better.
Nich Brown: I would agree with the point that was made about the major roadworks.
Q26 Chair: Mr Brown, can you give us any examples of where things have been done better?
Nich Brown: Yes. I think it comes down to the way that the Highways Agency manages the approach to major roadworks. It is very heavily engineered now. There are a lot of cones, there is a lot of advance warning and the traffic flow is managed much better than it was.
What you find, conversely, is that, on more local roads, especially where you have two lanes running into one, we still have this problem of behaviour where vehicle users will see a sign saying that the road is about to narrow 800 metres ahead and immediately everybody gets into the lane that they know they will be allowed to use, instead of filtering alternately when they get towards where the obstruction is. There is definitely a road user behaviour issue there. It would be completely inappropriate to try to use those heavy engineering methods that the Highways Agency are able to use on the trunk roads. There are a number of human behavioural educational aspects to this about people thinking about how they use the available road space.
Q27 Chair: At the moment I am just trying to focus on examples of where things have actually been done better-the achievements on that system.
Nich Brown: I think anywhere on the trunk road system where there are planned major roadworks, things work better now than they did.
Q28 Chair: Mr Noblett, can you give any examples of where things have improved?
Hugh Noblett: I still believe it comes down to individual behaviour in terms of how we are dealing with-
Q29 Chair: Is there an example you can give us of where things have improved?
Hugh Noblett: Pardon?
Chair: I am looking for examples of where the situation has improved.
Hugh Noblett: A typical example would be where you get this rather greedy or selfish behaviour where you might well get a business driver, who will come down the outside-
Chair: But where is it improving? Can you give examples of where it has improved?
Jack Semple: The managed motorway programme has been put in without a huge amount of disruption.
Q30 Jim Dobbin: My constituency has the M62 going right through the middle of it and I have some very large distribution parks-one in particular. Heavy goods vehicle congestion has been the bane of my life over the past number of years because the heavy goods vehicles always leave the motorway at the wrong junction and they end up going through the local community every two minutes over a period of 24 hours. Even when the Highways Agency put up massive signs saying, "Do not use junction 19. Use junction 18", which will avoid the local communities, they never did that. We had to put weight restrictions on and chicane the route to the distribution park. How do you resolve a situation like that? Utilities have just moved in to lay some new lines and they have had to lift the chicane and it is back as bad as ever again. How do you get that cooperation from drivers?
Jack Semple: Forgive me, I am unfamiliar with that specific instance and I would like to follow up with it. Was there any communication through a freight quality partnership or through the users of the industrial park?
Jim Dobbin: Yes, that was attempted.
Jack Semple: I would be interested to see how successful that was and what the process was. Normally, we would suggest that you negotiate with the shippers and receivers of the goods, as well as with the hauliers, as to what route to follow. Could I follow up as to what happened in your example, where the process worked and the extent to which it didn’t work and might it work better?
Q31 Jim Dobbin: Just to follow that through, don’t you think a solution to this would be to get more freight off the roads? Do we need more interchanges?
Jack Semple: There are no more trucks than there were. In fact, there are fewer trucks than there were 20, 40, 50 years ago, despite the fact that the economy and the population have grown and so on. There are tensions, inevitably, and it is a question of managing those tensions as best we can. The distribution park on the one hand is providing employment and is ensuring that the people in that area and elsewhere get food and clothes to wear, and we need the vehicles to deliver.
Even were you to move substantially larger volumes by rail-and there is always a degree to which one goes by one mode or the other-you would build in substantial cost. You still have to deliver the last mile, where the people are, by truck. You can shadow the motorway network by rail, but at the end of the day you have to take the goods to and from the rail-head.
Q32 Iain Stewart: In looking at a whole range of options for behavioural change and for management change, I am just trying to put it all in context. What overall reduction in congestion or, looking at it another way, what increase in road capacity are we looking at attaining here? The reason I am asking is this. Can we solve congestion on our roads just by all these measures in the round, or do we also have to look at additional road capacity?
Nich Brown: I think it very much depends on what your definition of congestion is. For most people the definition of congestion is, "I can’t move as fast as I want to." But, looking at it more objectively, there are definitely geographical locations and times of day where the traffic is practically gridlocked or moving much more slowly than is optimal. We can identify ways in which we can move people and goods around more intelligently, but it is probably unlikely that you will ever get to a stage where everybody is entirely happy that the road ahead of them is clear.
Jack Semple: I would say that we do need more road capacity. We need to ensure that the capacity that we have is managed more effectively than it is at the moment, but I think we do need more capacity. A number of the measures that are identified in the Department for Transport’s paper in January are good ideas. We have always thought we need a fresh approach to working, to what generates the traffic. But the concern of a lot of industry going forward, if George Osborne is successful, as he said last week, in bringing back manufacturing-and you might add the process industry-to the country, is that, in terms of lorries, for example, we are going to be seeing more demand for transport although we will be reducing global carbon emissions, because we will be producing more locally and, hopefully, in a green manner.
Long term, it is very difficult to see a reduction in demand for transport, but we have to work for that. No Government seems to want to have substantial improvement in road capacity, but I think we need some improvement and we need better management of what we have.
Q33 Chair: You see that as the solution to congestion on the roads: more capacity and better management is required.
Jack Semple: More capacity, better management, and better management of the reason why people travel. For example, there is less traffic on a Friday; everybody notices that now. There is less travel on a Friday because more people are working at home. If we can have a more intelligent use of the roads, that has to be an important step forward, given that most vehicles on the roads are cars with one person in.
Q34 Paul Maynard: What benefits do you think have been brought to improving traffic management by the gradual proliferation of Highways Agency traffic officers on the roads?
Hugh Noblett: Coming back to driver behaviour, which is my forte, you have to change the attitude of the individual motorist. Locally, we find very large lorries having great difficulties. They block the roads up; they have a job to do; they have deliveries to do and they have to follow on to the next delivery. So you still get congestion even in a minor way.
Q35 Paul Maynard: What benefit have Highways Agency traffic officers brought to the roads?
Jack Semple: Our members have no great problems with the traffic officers. They encourage the police to call the recovery operator promptly in the case of an accident, which is always useful. We have suggested to the Highways Agency, and we have had a positive response to this, that they look at, say, the top half dozen incidents involving trucks on the motorway network each week and produce a report about what has caused it so that truck operators and motorists can see what the problem is and perhaps the traffic officers can assist with that.
Q36 Paul Maynard: You mentioned earlier the issue of post-accident road management. I was just wondering whether you can give us any examples of how they manage them better in Europe. Am I right in thinking that, in Germany, they prioritise much more highly the reopening of the road rather than the judicial investigative aspects?
Jack Semple: That is my understanding. There was an awful accident on the M25 a week or two ago, for example, when a car transporter went over the road. But the M25 was closed for the best part of a day. The question is what the net cost-benefit analysis is of that. My understanding is that that wouldn’t happen in Germany and I think they have a very robust approach to the judicial process in Germany.
Hugh Noblett: May I return to the roadworks problem? This is slightly out of my remit, but I believe that rolling roadworks is now law in France, and maybe in Europe. Instead of blocking off five or 10 miles of roadworks where nothing appears to be being repaired, in Europe, you get one piece of road blocked and then it goes on to the next one. That is also another reason probably for reducing the congestion. Rolling roadworks, I believe, is the law overseas.
Chair: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.
Witnesses: Robin Heydon, Officer, Cambridge Cycling Campaign, Christopher Peck, Policy Co-ordinator, CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, and Majeed Neky, People and Places Campaign Coordinator, Living Streets, gave evidence.
Q37 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to the Committee. Could you give us your name and your organisation, please? This is for our records. I will start at the end here.
Majeed Neky: I am Majeed Neky from Living Streets.
Christopher Peck: Chris Peck from CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation.
Robin Heydon: Robin Heydon, Cambridge Cycling Campaign.
Q38 Chair: Thank you very much. Is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?
Majeed Neky: It very much is a problem for pedestrians, from our point of view. We relate this problem to the lack of an integrated transport strategy. We need to consider congestion reduction and traffic management as part of a broader picture of reducing motor traffic volumes, encouraging modal shifts to healthier and more active modes and, in the longer term, integrating transport and spatial planning more effectively together to create compact mixed use neighbourhoods that are easier to get around.
Q39 Chair: But is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?
Majeed Neky: Yes. It affects streets as places as well as corridors for movement-things like air pollution and the social effect.
Q40 Chair: Could you focus on whether congestion is a problem for cyclists and pedestrians and explain to me the nature of the problem?
Majeed Neky: Yes. The first point of the problem is that congestion affects streets as places as well as corridors for movement. That affects the pedestrian experience quite profoundly. The second problem is that pedestrians, in the real world, are traffic flow. Pedestrian flow is traffic flow; everyone is a pedestrian at some point. The concept of congestion and the concept of traffic management that we need to have needs to include things like-
Q41 Chair: I understand what you are saying; you are painting a picture, but I want you to focus on the question. Could you give me examples of circumstances in which congestion is a problem for cyclists and pedestrians, if indeed you think it is? What is the nature of the problem experienced?
Majeed Neky: Congestion is detrimental to the pedestrian experience. It puts people off walking. The congestion in pedestrian flows is a problem for pedestrians as well in things like lack of adequate crossing provision. That actually creates congestion for pedestrians as well.
Q42 Chair: Thank you. Mr Heydon, do you have any views on that? Is congestion a problem for cyclists and pedestrians?
Robin Heydon: Absolutely, congestion is a problem. We have significant cycle congestion in some locations in Cambridge. I am assuming by "traffic" you mean all traffic: pedestrians, cyclists and motorised vehicles.
For example, there are entrances to most of the commons and, because the commons have cattle on them, there are cattle grids, and most of those cattle grids are just one cattle grid wide. So there is a place for pedestrians and there is a place for cyclists. But, with the amount of cycling we have now in Cambridge, we have a significant problem of having twoway traffic going through, effectively, a single lane road. That is a significant cause. The other problem, of course, is that there are lots of big metal boxes on the road that restrict the movement of low carbon emitting vehicles.
Q43 Chair: Do cyclists cause the congestion? Mr Peck, do you have a view on that?
Christopher Peck: We would certainly argue they don’t. Evidence from Holland suggests that you can carry 14,000 cycles per hour per lane, as opposed to 2,000 per hour per lane for a car. As we have already heard, the average loading of a car is between 1.2 and 1.6, depending on the time zone and the type of trip.
Additionally, Transport for London have done some recent research which suggested that the value of a bicycle was 0.2 of that of a car when they do their traffic modelling of roads in London. Certainly, it has a much lower impact on congestion than personalised motor vehicles. Of course, the other benefit of cyclists, which has been outlined in the previous session and was picked up by Transport for London, is that they can filter through traffic. Of course, they can be grouped in very large numbers at the front of traffic and there are advanced stop lines that are now used in many places. This keeps them out of the way of motor traffic, allows them to filter through it and doesn’t cause a problem to other road users.
I would very much suggest that cyclists do not contribute to congestion. Indeed, they are a major solution to it. In places where congestion has got very bad, we noticed that cycling levels have increased. A lot of people have moved from car to bike as a means of reducing their own susceptibility to congestion and delays that are caused to their trips.
Q44 Chair: Does the Highway Code help people who don’t drive, or is it just for drivers?
Christopher Peck: Part of the problem is that the Highway Code isn’t adhered to very well. It certainly could be improved for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists, and, indeed, horse riders. I think it is still very much tipped towards drivers. There is a lot of stuff in there about how cyclists and pedestrians should take extra care in certain circumstances.
Yes, it also reflects that drivers have to be aware of cyclists and pedestrians, but certain rules-such as Rule 170, which says that pedestrians have priority at side roads when they have started crossing-are very rarely observed by many drivers.
Certainly, with regard to Rule 163, which advocates that when overtaking a cyclist you give as much room as you give a car, I think our members would agree that that happens very rarely amongst the majority of drivers. Of course, there are a lot of drivers who do overtake correctly, but a significant minority do overtake far too closely, causing both a hazard and a discomfort to cyclists.
Robin Heydon: I would say that cycling here I signalled right, put my hand out and hit the white van that was overtaking me. The law or the recommendation, I believe, is that you should give as much space as a vehicle. I believe a vehicle is around 5½ feet to 6 feet wide and my arm is not that wide.
Q45 Iain Stewart: With the advent of "Boris bikes" and other similar schemes, we are hopefully going to see a significant increase in people using cycles as a means of transport-a lot of people who will not probably have been on a bike since childhood. Do you think there is a danger that a significant number of new cyclists will not have good road awareness of cycling in congested urban areas, and is there a need for a better education of cyclists on how to use bikes properly in urban areas?
Robin Heydon: Absolutely. I can’t speak highly enough of, for example, Bikeability, which is aimed at schoolchildren. There are three different levels. I am sure you are well aware of that scheme. I am very happy that the Department for Transport is continuing funding that at least for the next four years.
My concern, though, coming back to your question, is, what about adults? There are, as you say, plenty of adults now taking up adult cycling. Yet, for example, Cambridge County Council have just announced that they are going to cancel all of their cycle training for adults. I can’t see how, when the volume of cycling traffic in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire is increasing significantly, cancelling a training budget for adult cyclists, getting them confident on the road, is a good thing.
Christopher Peck: I would very much endorse that view. Child cycle training has been very, very effective. It is very highly regarded by children. Adult cycle training has also been very effective. As Robin points out, in certain areas they are cutting the funding for adult cycle training.
In London, there is a much more substantial budget for adult cycle training and it has been very well received. It is a key part of both the Barclays cycle hire scheme that you refer to, and the Cycle Superhighways scheme, which has been implemented by the Mayor. Both of those are supported by a lot of adult cycle training. They are going out to businesses and they are recommending cycle training to those users.
On your point about safety, there is a concern there, but I would suggest that, where we see very high increases in cycling and places where there is a lot of cycling, the risks to cyclists tend to be lower than in places where there is less cycling. For instance, in the Netherlands, the risk of cycling is twice as low as it is here. That is a contribution of infrastructure and so on.
In the UK, places like York and Cambridge have a much lower risk per cyclist of being injured than other places where cycling is much lower. We think that is partly because driver behaviour improves or drivers become more used to cyclists. They may not enjoy having cyclists coming at them at all crazy angles, but they have become better at anticipating cyclists. The evidence from the DfT is that the majority of all crashes between cyclists and drivers are deemed by the police to be the fault of the driver. So it is improving driver awareness as well as improving the training of cyclists on which we need to focus.
Q46 Chair: Mr Neky, do you want to add anything to that on cycle safety?
Majeed Neky: We would very much support the role of cycle training and encouraging responsible cycling that meets the interests of all road users, including pedestrians. We advocate a broad modal shift towards active travel. We recognise there is a minority of cyclists who engage in antisocial cycling behaviour, such as failing to stop at crossings, riding on pavements, etc. We advocate vigorous and renewed enforcement of that, but we also want to see it within the broader picture of conditions on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians.
Q47 Mr Harris: First of all, can I just point out that I am probably the only person around this table who has passed all three levels of my Bikeability? I have the badges somewhere; I am not quite sure where.
On the Highway Code, it seems that your criticism of it, Mr Peck and Mr Heydon, is that drivers don’t obey it rather than the Code itself being a problem. If drivers aren’t giving enough space when they are overtaking cyclists, that is the fault of the driver, isn’t it, rather than the Code itself?
Robin Heydon: The question really is, is it the fault of the driver or is it the fault of the situation that the driver is in? What if the road is narrow? There are plenty of examples I can give in Cambridge. For example, at the end of Madingley Road, there is a beautiful cycleway segregated from the traffic, which goes right into a bottleneck which is one car and a little bit wide. The cycleway feeds into that bottleneck, basically putting the cyclist in the way of the cars. The question I would ask is this: is the infrastructure of the roads designed to help cyclists?
Q48 Mr Harris: That is not the question I am asking. Is the Highway Code a problem? Is it the way the Code is written? Is the agency that compiles the Code a problem? Or is it simply the fact that drivers don’t read the Highway Code? I have to tell you I passed my driving test in 1982. I have not read the Highway Code since then, and I expect I am not all that unusual. But is the Code itself a problem or is it lack of adherence to its rules?
Robin Heydon: I would say that the Code itself starts from the premise of car drivers. For example, the first thing it says for cyclists is "Wear a helmet." Oh my God, it’s so scary out there that you’ve got to put some piece of plastic on your head that does no good whatsoever.
Q49 Mr Harris: If you were to take a show of hands in this room, you would find that most people are drivers. Surely, it’s a sensible notion to construct a Highway Code that caters primarily to those people who use a particular form of transport. Given that the vast majority of journeys are undertaken by drivers in their cars, isn’t it sensible to assume that the Highway Code, therefore, will cater primarily to drivers and to car drivers?
Robin Heydon: Sir, I am going to disagree with that hypothesis that the majority of journeys are made by car. In Cambridge, in 2009, 49,956 cars crossed the River Cam every day; 50,822 bicycles and pedestrians crossed the River Cam. The cars are a minority.
Q50 Chair: Mr Heydon, isn’t Cambridge a special case? Isn’t Mr Harris’s general point a good one?
Robin Heydon: No. Cambridge is what we should be aiming for.
Q51 Mr Harris: No, hold on a second. Whatever aspirations you have for Cambridge being the template for the rest of the country, the fact is Cambridge is not typical. I went, as a Minister, to all the cycling cities that Cycle England were funding. None of them was typical of your average town or city in this country. The vast majority of people drive. There are more two-car families in this country than there are families with no cars. All I am saying is would it not be surprising if the Highway Code were not to cater-let me put it that way-for drivers primarily rather than cyclists, for example, or horse riders?
Robin Heydon: I think it should be catering for both. If we are going to encourage a country where sustainability of transport is a goal, then you’ve got to encourage sustainable transport modes, and cycling is one of those sustainable transport modes.
Q52 Mr Harris: We are clearly coming to this point from different directions. Isn’t the Highway Code a guide for road users to deal with the road as it is today in 2011? It is not some kind of aspirational document of what we want life to be like in the next century. It is about how to cope with the roads today.
Robin Heydon: Yes, I agree. But, as mentioned by Christopher Peck, there is a rule in the Highway Code that says, when a pedestrian is crossing a junction, they have priority over side traffic. Even in Cambridge not many car drivers abide by that.
Q53 Mr Harris: Can we conclude, then, that the Code itself is not the problem; it is the fact that drivers either don’t read it or, if they do read it, they don’t adhere to the rules? So it is not the Code itself; it is the users. Is that correct?
Christopher Peck: I think it depends on the rules. There are some rules which we are very happy with but there is a lack of adherence to them. There are other rules we feel could be improved. Obviously, there are aspects of the Code with which we agree.
Q54 Chair: But Mr Harris’s point is that the Highway Code does relate to cyclists as well. Would you agree with that?
Christopher Peck: It does, but, backing up what Mr Heydon said, we feel that cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders are very much secondary in the Highway Code. Many local authorities adopt a hierarchy of road users which puts pedestrians and people with disabilities top and cyclists and other nonmotorised users below.
Q55 Mr Harris: Can I address one other issue because I think the CTC evidence to the Committee suggested that there clearly is a problem with cyclists being intimidated and sometimes physically assaulted by car drivers or their passengers? What do you say to the argument we constantly hear-Mr Neky referred to this-that if, in central London for example, cyclists even occasionally stopped at red lights, that would help develop a more positive relationship between them and drivers, who have no option but to stop at red lights, otherwise they may lose their licence? You understand what I am saying. There is this resentment, and it is sometimes perhaps irrational, but how often does the CTC tell its members to adhere to red lights and not to go through red lights?
My understanding from way back is that cyclists will justify going through red lights, especially in a built-up area, because they have got a lorry at their back. That is not true because, if you go into central London, the vast majority of cyclists that go through red lights are not being pursued by a lorry. What advice do you give to your members?
Chair: Cyclists and red lights-who is going to give us the answer?
Christopher Peck: I don’t think very many of our members are really the problem here. The Cyclists Touring Club are very much the AA of the cycling organisations.
Mr Harris: I am sure.
Christopher Peck : But what I would say is I do think that, as you said, this is perhaps an irrational thought that is going through people’s mind. It is a very obvious form of law- breaking, but there is a lot of law-breaking among all road users on the roads. 48% of cars are breaking the 30 mph speed limit, 2.5% of drivers-
Q56 Chair: Is there more or less law-breaking from cyclists compared with drivers?
Christopher Peck: To put it in perspective, in London, over a 10-year period we had evidence from Transport for London which said that about 4% of the pedestrians who were injured following a vehicle braking at a red light were caused by cyclists. Cyclists were 5% of trips in London. The rest of it was motor vehicles, of which about half of that were cars and the rest taxis and buses and so on. There were 46,000 fixed penalty notices for cars jumping red lights in 2006. The only thing that stops them sending out more of these is simply the lack of staff to send out the fixed penalty notices.
Q57 Mr Harris: That is exactly the reason why cyclists don’t get fixed penalties.
Christopher Peck: What we would like to see-
Chair: I think we are straying into difficult areas there. Mr Harris, do you want to pursue it further?
Mr Harris: I am fine, thanks.
Q58 Paul Maynard: Mr Neky, in your evidence from Living Streets, you talked about some of the examples of what were called naked streets. We are looking today at effective traffic management. Would you argue that perhaps the most effective traffic management is to have less management, reduced management, or perhaps even no management at all?
Majeed Neky: I think we need to be quite careful when we are considering this issue, when approaches like that are being yoked to things like removing pedestrian crossings, which I think needs to be considered very carefully in the interests of all road users. But I would say that taking an integrated approach to the management of traffic makes sense.
For example, on Kensington High Street, the traffic was slowed down, there were more informal crossing spaces and there was therefore less need to segregate different road users such as pedestrians and motor vehicles. It is easier for people to cross the road ad hoc rather than having to wait for ages with congestion building up, and there has been a 47% reduction in pedestrian casualties as a result. I certainly think that, while it needs to be appropriate for the needs of that place and the users of that area need to be consulted, it can certainly have a part to play.
Q59 Paul Maynard: Do you feel that motorists improve their driving habits in such an environment more than cyclists improve their cycling habits in an identical environment?
Majeed Neky: Evidence from the British perspective is of quite short standing and there will need to be quite a lot more research on this. But I think that a cultural change needs to happen over a number of years, and part of that is going to be needing to try out more of these schemes and evaluate them properly.
Q60 Paul Maynard: Where it has been tried in Blackpool, the problem we have found is that, while motorists improve their behaviour, cyclists see it as a green light to over-exceed the normal rules of the road that they might otherwise have adhered to. That causes particular concern for the more vulnerable pedestrians, who may have a visual or other impairment. How do you think this perhaps well-meaning idea can be finessed to ensure more effective street management and better protection for vulnerable pedestrians?
Majeed Neky: In relation to the point about cyclists, as I have already said, Living Streets advocates more vigorous enforcement of that very small minority of cyclists who engage in antisocial cycling behaviour.
But the second point, more widely, is that we advocate that schemes like this or any redesign of streets should be done completely in conjunction with the whole range of road users in that area. If you do that properly, you get fewer controversies, as there have been in Kensington, because there is joint working from the start and you find places that people are happier to use across the board. That is what we advocate.
Q61 Paul Maynard: In Kensington, how have those with visual impairments been involved within the system, as it were? What have they done to help the blind?
Majeed Neky: As I understand it, they have reached an agreement in Kensington and Chelsea where there is a lot more involvement of visually impaired groups. I understand there was a lot of controversy over that as certain agreements made that an example of a noted shared space approach.
What Living Streets wants to stress is that it is a spectrum of approaches. There is no necessary reason why a level surface needs to be introduced straight away into every area. That is not what this is about. It is about looking at the broad spectrum of streets as corridors for movement but also places, and deciding on solutions that are appropriate to each place in consultation with the people using them.
Q62 Jim Dobbin: This is an interesting discussion. As a driver of 50 years-I suppose I am giving my age away there-I am becoming less and less confident on the road, especially driving in the City of London. I feel under threat at times, and it is basically from cyclists and motorcyclists because you don’t know where they are coming from.
Don’t you think that there is probably the need for some national campaign of understanding for road users? Don’t you think it is time that that happened? It appears to me that we are all in competition for that road space at the present time and it is quite unsafe. The point has been made about the Highway Code. I see cyclists day after day going through red lights and breaking the Highway Code. All I am suggesting is that it may well be that all road users need to go through a process of minor education.
Christopher Peck: We would be very happy to see a campaign and associated enforcement of all road traffic law, because, as vulnerable road users, both cyclists and pedestrians have the most to gain from an improvement in road traffic behaviour and adherence to traffic law. I come back again to the 30 mph speed limits. 48% of cars are observed to be breaking them. It is all road users who are to blame here.
Cyclists can be obvious. The anarchic behaviour of cyclists upsets people, but, when it comes to red light jumping, I think there is a very interesting thing. There has been some research which looked at why cyclists jump red lights, and Mr Harris referred to some of it. Perhaps some cyclists excuse their behaviour-they are escaping danger or they are doing it in order to make progress without interfering with anyone else; whereas when drivers jump red lights they accelerate through the end of an amber phase, putting everyone at risk. They speed up to go through, and it doesn’t look as bad.
Chair: Could I just remind you that our focus today is congestion and what causes congestion or might alleviate it?
Jim Dobbin: I just wanted to make the point that I feel I am a threatened driver. I have lost my confidence.
Majeed Neky: I think a road user environment where that kind of competition that you mention is encouraged is exactly what we need to change with better street management solutions. I would like to return for a second to the discussion on the Highway Code.
Chair: In relation to congestion.
Majeed Neky: If it is to be reviewed and improved, I think road traffic incidents would be reduced and the smooth flow of traffic would actually be encouraged if it was to state clearly, strongly and up front the rights and responsibilities of all road users and set that out clearly. I think that is a role it needs to play.
Q63 Chair: Is there any actual evidence that if more people walked or cycled, there would be less road congestion?
Robin Heydon: I can only speak from the context of Cambridge. Cambridge is a very congested city. There are many people who want to drive, but we have had a significant increase in the number of people travelling into Cambridge.
When we look at traffic, I think we have to decide whether we are just focusing on the people in the big metal boxes moving at 14 mph average speed, or whether we are looking at everybody moving through the city. In Cambridge, there has been a significant increase in the number of people cycling and the number of people using the bus services, but no increase at all in the number of people using cars. From a car perspective, you could argue that congestion has not improved-that congestion is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago.
Q64 Chair: It has not improved congestion but it has not made it worse.
Robin Heydon: From a car perspective. But, from a prosperity point of view, the number of people travelling into the city, the number of people able to access jobs-
Q65 Chair: That is not the question. I am asking a very specific question. Is there any actual evidence that increased walking and cycling reduces congestion?
Robin Heydon: Yes.
Q66 Chair: You are saying in Cambridge, yes.
Robin Heydon: In Cambridge, we have gone through, I think, four or five phases now of the Core Traffic Scheme, which has basically been reducing-
Q67 Chair: No. Can you just give me the answer whether it has or it has not?
Robin Heydon: It has.
Q68 Chair: Is there actual evidence from anywhere else in the country that it reduces congestion?
Christopher Peck: In London, for instance, we have had the congestion charge. That has meant there are 60,000 fewer drivers, from the year 2000, entering central London every morning. It is down from about 150,000 to around 85,000 to 90,000. Those people have gone on to other modes and we have seen a big increase in cycling. There has been over 100% increase in cycling over that period. There have been increases in bus use. These multimodal things depend, as it were, on people transferring from bus to walking.
Q69 Chair: There, it is cycling combined with public transport which you are saying has reduced it.
Christopher Peck: In some cases, yes, a lot of people coming to rail, but also a doubling of cycling into central London.
Q70 Chair: Would traffic flow more freely if there were fewer traffic lights? That is one of the suggestions that has been put forward to us.
Majeed Neky: As I said before, that needs to be looked at incredibly carefully.
Q71 Chair: I know that, but I am asking for examples. Is there any actual evidence that, by reducing the number of traffic lights, you would have more free-flowing traffic and not more accidents?
Majeed Neky: We are certainly not aware of any, which is why we are concerned about this happening without evidence.
Q72 Chair: I just want examples. I am not looking for the general philosophy. We have all that in the written submission. It is examples.
Robin Heydon: I have an example on the northern entrance of Cambridge. At Histon Road, there is a new junction which has been put in because of recent development. It takes approximately four minutes for pedestrians or cycles to cross basically four lanes’ worth of traffic. That has significantly increased cycle congestion at that location because of those traffic lights. I am not saying we should remove them, because if you remove them, you get the situation that we have at the A14 slip road at Horningsea. Between Horningsea and Fen Ditton, they have just spent a significant sum of money to widen the cycleway but they have not put traffic lights in, which basically means that a cyclist or a pedestrian has to wait five minutes for a gap in the traffic.
Q73 Mr Harris: Mr Peck, I want to pursue this line of inquiry about the congestion charge in London. This is a genuine inquiry because I don’t have the information to hand. There has been a reduction in the number of cars that have come into London since the congestion charge was introduced, which has also led to a modal shift to either cycling or public transport. It sounds like a counterintuitive question, but does the fact that there are fewer cars mean that there is less congestion? In other words, has some of that road space been taken up by other modes of transport?
Presumably, we measure congestion by the average speed of a journey within a particular area. How has the average speed of a car journey changed since the introduction of the congestion charge and can we use that measure to decide whether or not that has been successful?
Christopher Peck: I don’t have the exact data for you. I am sure Transport for London could provide it or I could provide it at a later date. I believe the average speed in central London of vehicle traffic is about 9 mph and in Greater London it is 18 mph. I don’t believe that has changed all that much, but I would come back to what Mr Heydon said. All the traffic must be considered under the Traffic Management Act 2004. We must consider all traffic to be part of that.
I know that part of the movement after the congestion charge was, yes, to reallocate some of that road space to bus priority and also to pedestrian priority, to increase phasing time for pedestrians, who are also victims of congestion in terms of busy pavements around here. You will see a lot of people waiting to cross to Oxford Street or wherever. So I do believe there has been an improvement in traffic flow in central London as a consequence of the congestion charge, and the reduction of private car use has undoubtedly contributed to that.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
Witnesses: Mark Kemp, senior member, Transport Committee, ADEPT, James Coates, member of Public Policies Committee, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK, Stephen Glaister, Director, RAC Foundation, and Nick Reed, Senior Human Factors Researcher, Transport Research Laboratory, gave evidence.
Q74 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Committee. Please could you give your name and organisation? This is for our records. We will start at the end.
Stephen Glaister: My name is Stephen Glaister. I am Director of the RAC Foundation, which is an independent research charity.
James Coates: My name is Jim Coates. I am a member of the Public Policies Committee and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. I am sorry that is a mouthful.
Mark Kemp: My name is Mark Kemp. I am representing the Association of Directors of Environment, Planning and Transport-ADEPT. I am Chair of the National Traffic Managers Forum.
Nick Reed: My name is Nick Reed. I am a researcher at the Transport Research Laboratory.
Q75 Chair: How does bad driving affect congestion?
Mark Kemp: I think there are plenty of examples of poor driving behaviour causing congestion, particularly when you talk about the urban environment. Abuse of the yellow boxes, improper parking, people not leaving space at traffic signals and those sorts of things certainly cause congestion and lock up the system at peak times. That is the critical thing. Congestion tends, in most parts of the country, to be a peak issue rather than an issue throughout the day. There is the other issue around tailgating and therefore shunts happening as people are braking on the faster roads around the network, and then you have planned and unplanned incidents which will then cause congestion.
Stephen Glaister: One of the important considerations as our roads get close to their capacity is the damage to traffic flow caused by incidents, as was just referred to. To the extent that major and minor accidents are caused by bad driving, it is a very significant source of congestion.
I am sure we have all experienced the effect of major accidents on motorways, which causes the road to be closed for a very long period of time. If anything can be done to reduce the incidence of those and the length of those incidents, that would be enormously helpful in reducing congestion.
James Coates: I suppose the other thing is that lane discipline on motorways is often not very good. You find that there are too many vehicles in the fast lanes and not enough people using the slow lane. One of the results of the managed motorway system on the M42 was that by controlling speeds, opening up the hard shoulder and having an influence on lane discipline they got a more even spread of traffic over the whole capacity of the motorway and that increased the throughput. That is a way in which clever traffic management arrangements can cajole drivers into doing things that they ought to be doing but aren’t.
Q76 Chair: Mr Reed, do you want to add anything to that on the impact of actual driving on congestion?
Nick Reed: Yes. Mr Kemp mentioned tailgating leading to potential incidents. It also leads to sharp braking, which can cause shockwaves in the traffic flow and the phantom tailbacks that I am sure we have all experienced from time to time where there is no specific cause of the congestion, but the shockwave from vehicles braking heavily causes other vehicles to brake behind them and so flow is interrupted.
Q77 Chair: Has the Traffic Management Act made congestion better? Has it improved congestion?
Mark Kemp: The Traffic Management Act has been very helpful for local authorities in that it has enabled officers to raise the profile of transport and transport issues within the authority for members. Certainly, the requirement on the lead authority to consider traffic congestion and the expeditious movement of traffic as a whole authority has been very important.
One of the areas where we have a little bit of a problem is where we have twotier authorities and therefore the planning authority, which is senior to the highway authority in terms of the planning consideration, doesn’t necessarily have the same requirements. There is a challenge there for us in terms of the dilemma between economic growth and planning considerations and the impact of congestion on the network.
Q78 Chair: Is the localism agenda a good or bad thing in relation to dealing with congestion?
James Coates: The Chartered Institute, on the whole, is rather in favour of the localism agenda and getting back to the situation where local authorities are as powerful and independent as they were in the 19th century, when Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham wouldn’t have come to Whitehall for a grant to build a new town hall; they got on with it. But there is an important proviso.
Q79 Chair: Can we take it at the localism agenda of today and not go back two centuries?
James Coates: What worries us, I think, about the localism agenda is that it might be half-hearted. The Government may say they want more responsibility to be devolved to local authorities, but they are not giving local authorities the powers and the means to do it. They won’t have enough resources. If they want to raise the money locally, which I happen to think would be much more sensible than getting it from the centre, they may find that they are capped or they are told they have to freeze their rates. That may be okay at the moment as a temporary measure, but in the long run you want local authorities to have access to the business rate, then there is a local democratic decision whether they want to spend more on things or not, and local authorities can get on with it.
The other thing that I suppose slightly worries us is that the localism agenda seems to have got rid of the regional tier. We have the LEPs, and we are not quite sure how they are going to turn out. But a lot of local authority areas are far too small for sensible transport planning, which is what congestion relief is partly depending on. You need sensible arrangements at subregional level, and we have to hope that the LEPs and the local authorities will work together and that in some of the big cities they will use the powers to create integrated transport authorities and so on, but we wait to see.
There is a fourth point, if I could make it, which is that central Government can’t wash its hands. We are rather worried that central Government might just say, "It is nothing do with us." Indeed, I think, when the Secretary of State gave evidence to this Committee before Christmas, he more or less said that. "Stop asking me questions about that," he said. "This is a matter for local authorities."
But there are certain things with which central Government still has to concern itself. One is the legislation and powers. Another is some degree of uniformity in managing traffic, because motorists from different parts of the country don’t want to be confronted with something totally unfamiliar; there has to be some central regulation. And central Government is responsible for the national motorway network.
Perhaps now is not the moment for me to make this point, but congestion on the motorways at the peak period is caused to a very large extent by what local authorities are or are not doing, not by what the highways authorities do.
Stephen Glaister: Just to add to Mr Coates’s answer, which I entirely agree with, there is clearly a very big distinction between the strategic routes and the local road network. Presumably, there is a network for which central Government is and will remain entirely responsible and accountable, currently defined by the Highways Agency.
Our worry is the area between the Highways Agency and the local authority. There are a very large number of very large roads which, for funding purposes, do not come under the direct control of the Highways Agency. If I give you an example, the A12 is a major road going from the boundary of London all the way up to the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich. That road was, for funding purposes, the responsibility of the East of England RDA. I am entirely unclear about what is going to happen about the accountability for that road, but in terms of dealing with management and capacity improvements on that road, we surely can’t expect the local communities through which it goes to deal with the proper stewardship of that major highway. I think that kind of thing is repeated all over the country.
Q80 Paul Maynard: I asked these questions to the first panel, which you may have seen earlier, but I just wanted to compare it with your answers. What improvements to effective traffic flow do you think have arisen from the increased number of Highways Agency traffic officers on our roads?
Stephen Glaister: I am not sure I have evidence to cite about the effect over time on the motorways. Just to go back to the same example, what I do know is that, after an inquiry into the functioning of the A12, Essex County Council provided some funds to put traffic officers on to the A12 where they hadn’t been in the past, because typically, I think, they are only on motorways. That has been looked after by a partnership between the county council, the police and the Highways Agency. It has been enormously successful.
One of the big problems on that road, like many others, is that when you have major incidents there is no alternative route and the road just stops for hours on end. The traffic officers have been very effective in clearing the incidents up more quickly and managing the incident while it is being cleared up. I think the partnership was very keen to continue with that arrangement in spite of the withdrawal of central Government funding recently. I think there is some evidence from that particular example of what we would all expect-if you give some care and attention to the daytoday management of a busy road, you can actually make it function a lot better, and traffic officers have been effective in that case.
Q81 Paul Maynard: Do any of the panel have any evidence or knowledge of what occurs in Europe in terms of clearing up after accidents to reopen roads? Is there anything they do differently from which you feel we could learn? You may not know anything at all.
Stephen Glaister: I can offer something as a result of some work that was published about a year ago, which was comparing performance in different parts of this country. Different police authorities have different ways of dealing with this subject. Some authorities will have trained officers who will go to the site, who can take photographs straight away. Other authorities will use a specialist photographer who may be at the other end of the county when an accident happens. Different police authorities are differently effective in dealing with accidents quickly, which tells me that if everybody adopted best practice, there could be an improvement.
Q82 Paul Maynard: Finally, Dr Reed, I read your evidence about bus lanes quite carefully. Would you be able to identify any key variables that made a bus lane more effective than a bus lane that did not work, because there seemed to be a lot of varying experience and I could not identify what made one work and the other fail?
Nick Reed: The bus lane aspect of the written evidence wasn’t part of my contribution. From what I understand, the length of the setback is a key aspect and that is very location-specific.
Q83 Paul Maynard: What do you mean by "setback"?
Nick Reed: The distance between the end of the bus lane and the junction so you can allow traffic to turn left at that junction.
James Coates: Can I answer something on your question about bus lanes? I am not an expert on traffic management but I listen to people who are. Yes, I think there is that point. If you have a bus lane going all the way up to the traffic lights, that would reduce the capacity of the junction for all the other traffic. So, normally, that doesn’t happen; normally it is set back.
One of the bits of evidence you have been given makes the point that, if you reduce the other capacity too much so that traffic tails back, the buses can’t get into the bus lane in the first place. That has happened, for instance, on the Holloway Road in Islington. There is a double bus lane there, but quite often at the junctions the buses are held up by the other traffic and they can’t get through.
My main conclusion from all that is that you have to be very clever and expert in how you do it. You have to tailor the bus lane to the circumstances.
Q84 Paul Maynard: The main lesson is that there are no lessons about bus lanes.
James Coates: There are. There are examples where bus lanes have been extremely successful in improving the speed of the journey for bus passengers. Where that has been done as part of an overall strategy, because of the improvement in the service, more people are travelling by bus and fewer by car, and therefore that has, in some instances, even reduced the congestion to the cars as well as to the buses.
Q85 Chair: Are you saying, Mr Coates, that bus lanes can in fact help?
James Coates: Bus lanes are very important.
Q86 Jim Dobbin: I am interested in this giving power back to the local area-localism. It is my understanding that, in Europe, they manage their utilities and the repair of those facilities much better. We see examples here all the time of the water company coming and ripping up the roads and repairing them, and then the gas people will come in and do exactly the same over a period of a few months. Do you think the Government and local government should look at how to solve this?
James Coates: The Government have legislated on that, and local authorities now have new powers and responsibilities for managing roadworks. I am not an expert on how that is working, but one hopes it makes an improvement. Perhaps Professor Glaister can say something on it.
There was an earlier question about the congestion in London after the congestion charge was introduced, and I think the answer to that was that traffic fell and congestion was considerably reduced at first, but now it has grown back and the speeds are just as low as they were before the congestion charge was introduced. The main reason that Transport for London gives for this is that roadworks have disrupted the traffic and caused this great slowing down. Of course, there is a problem in old cities like London that a lot of the old Victorian infrastructure is crumbling and has to be replaced. In some countries like Germany, they have put them all under the pavements so that when you have to replace them you don’t dig up the carriageway, but we haven’t done that.
Stephen Glaister: I think that the Traffic Management Act has been a step in the right direction. It has been helpful, and the permitting system that goes with that has been helpful. But I think there is probably a long way to go to get to the best outcome.
As I understand it, there is little mechanism for local authorities to persuade the utilities to put more effort into those physical situations where there is a lot of congestion on the very important routes as opposed to a back street. Essentially, the permit system is blind as to whether it is a minor road or a major road. I think, at the end of the day, the only thing that will solve that is if there is a financial incentive on the utilities to put more effort into the places where it really matters, and, at the moment there isn’t that incentive.
I am very interested, as I believe the Mayor of London is, in the idea of lane rental, where the utility, like everybody else, should pay for the amount of road space that they use in doing their legitimate business and delivering services. That charge should relate to the value of the particular piece of road and therefore to the amount of congestion they are causing. That will give them financial incentives to put more people in and to plan and do all the things they could do to get the roadworks done more quickly rather than less quickly.
To achieve that, to get the utilities to accept that, we have to persuade the utility regulators to allow the cost of lane rental into their legitimate cost of doing business, provided they do that economically and efficiently, as the phrase goes. At the moment we have a difficulty because the financial incentives are not aligned. Until they are aligned, I don’t think we will make a lot of progress.
Q87 Jim Dobbin: I understand that, to be able to tackle local flooding, they determined that a local authority would be the lead agency. Isn’t that clearly what we want here? In other words, the local authority would lead all these other agencies, the utilities and so on, and coordinate those plans?
Stephen Glaister: In the sense that it would take a lead in planning everything and deciding when things got done, that kind of thing, if they had the resources and powers to do that, that may be a way forward. I am not sure they have either at the moment, though, do they? Do they have the powers?
Q88 Jim Dobbin: I understand that, as far as coordinating action against local flooding is concerned, the local authority has that power now. That is my understanding.
James Coates: I am a bit out of date on this, but I believe that the utilities have to notify the highway authority if they wish to dig up the road. Sometimes it is an emergency-the gas main has fractured or something and they have to do it, and the local authority then has to introduce traffic management measures to try and minimise the disruption that it has caused. There is a system in place already that I think does not work very well and the new legislation is supposed to rectify this, but I am sure it is the case that the utilities have to tell the local authority and, in principle therefore, the local authority, having had requests from the water board, the electricity board and the gas board, can coordinate things. But in practice it is much more difficult than that.
Q89 Chair: Mr Kemp, can you assist us with this and how it actually works?
Mark Kemp: Yes. There is a role for the highway authority in terms of coordinating and we work very closely with the utilities to try and coordinate works. It is very difficult, as Mr Coates was just saying, with emergency works and that sort of thing. But there are plenty of examples. For example, we have major gas works going on in the middle of Cambridge at the moment. We have had quite a lot of meetings with the gas board to get the works coordinated, timing it around when they can do work and when they can’t. We do have certain powers there.
I think, as Professor Glaister was saying, there is an issue of how we drive utilities and highway authorities to make sure they coordinate best, to mitigate the congestion issues. Fiscal is clearly one of the options.
The Kent permit scheme has charges for certain categories of road but not others. You can do that to some degree, but the level of charging that you can put in has to be at nil cost. So the authority has to just charge what it is costing them to do the work. What that means is that, in terms of the actual works that are going on, it is a very small amount of money and doesn’t really incentivise that creative thinking to pull the authorities together to get the highly coordinated solution that you are talking about in terms of utilities working together in those sorts of ways.
Q90 Mr Harris: In the earlier part of this session it was suggested that certain types of driver behaviour, like occupying the yellow box and bad parking, increased congestion. Have any international research studies been carried out to show whether other countries have the same kind of problems? Is the standard of driving in other countries better or worse and does it result in more or less congestion? Is there any evidence to enable us to assess where we stand internationally?
Mark Kemp: I am not aware of any international evidence, but what I would say is that, under the Traffic Management Act 2004 and not yet enacted, there is part 6, which enables local authorities to take on moving traffic offences so that you can use camera enforcement to deal with yellow boxes, etc. In fact, in London they have these powers already. You can see these things working in London and, to some degree, some of the benefits they have had have come from those powers. But, quite clearly, there is a win to be had in getting that part of the Act through so that local authorities can take on that responsibility should they wish to do so. I know that some of the major cities around the country are keen to do that.
Q91 Mr Harris: I just wondered whether there was any way of benchmarking Britain in terms of international competitors. I have seen a couple of pieces of research that show diametrically opposite conclusions when it comes to the effect on congestion of increasing the top speed limits, especially on motorways. A piece of research that I saw a long time ago showed that if you increased the top speed limit to 80 mph it would actually make congestion worse, which sounds to me counterintuitive. But I have also seen research that showed that reducing the speed and encouraging drivers to drive more moderately will help congestion. Mr Glaister, are you aware of any particular research showing one or the other?
Stephen Glaister: I am not an expert, but I am sure you will find that the way the managed motorway schemes have been designed has been based on a lot of research into that particular issue. What I am confident about, in terms of the followup to the managed motorways, is that they have greatly succeeded in increasing the throughput of a piece of road by limiting the maximum speed to 50 mph or 60 mph, whatever the limit is. The reason for that is that, at low speeds, vehicles can travel closer together safely. You do not have to have such a long distance between them. Crucially, you regularise the speed so that they are all going at the same speed. It is not just a matter of what the maximum speed is; it is a question of what the mix of speeds is to determine the actual throughput of the vehicles.
My colleagues will confirm or not, but I think the evidence is very clear that a managed motorway scheme-which is, as they are, very carefully enforced, and people do comply with them-has been very successful in increasing throughput and reducing the accident rate.
Q92 Chair: Mr Reed, I think you have been involved in some work on this, haven’t you? Can you tell us about your findings?
Nick Reed: I would echo Stephen’s comments. Reducing differentials between traffic travelling at higher speeds and then the congested areas is very important in maintaining traffic flow. From the studies we have done, we find that people generally behave quite conservatively. They follow the signs; they do what is being asked of them by the managed motorway information. That really does help to improve the traffic flow-the traffic situation-and increased throughput has been observed on the active traffic management scheme on the M42.
Q93 Chair: What can you tell us about other aspects of your work in relation to reducing congestion? What have you found to be effective ways?
Nick Reed: As I said, with the managed motorway scheme the drivers do behave correctly, from what we have seen. They follow the information that is given to them. The position we are in now is that we have the opportunity to be more progressive in the measures taken with managed motorways. We can try to do more with less infrastructure and increase the rollout of managed motorways across the network to gain those improvements elsewhere.
Q94 Mr Harris: Just on the ATM system on the M42, it is not, though, just about limiting or regulating people’s speeds, is it? It is also about extra capacity at peak times; it is about using the hard shoulder. It is, presumably, quite difficult to get decreased congestion with all of these traffic management schemes in place unless, crucially, you actually have that extra space on the road. Would that be right?
Stephen Glaister: Absolutely. If I may, I think that is an excellent point. The motorways, I think, carry something of the order of 20% of the national traffic. The rural trunk roads and primary roads carry 30%, and they of course don’t have hard shoulders available, typically.
While we at the Foundation are very much supportive of the managed motorway programme and we would like to see the previous Government’s programme restored to what it was and indeed extended, we are also concerned that they distract attention from everywhere else, where you do not have the option of a hard shoulder that you could use.
Also, of course, the managed motorway hard shoulder doesn’t give you an increase in junction capacity, and very often the problem is access to the motorway, not the capacity on the motorway itself. So you need to think about dealing with that problem.
Finally, managed motorways have worked well, but they give less capacity than a widening scheme, at less cost. There are situations where the right solution will be to widen rather than have hard shoulder running, and the M25 may be a good example of that. The choice is just how much capacity you need and whether you can provide that capacity through the managed motorway system or you need something different.
Q95 Mr Harris: Motorways don’t suffer from congestion outside peak periods, essentially. When we are talking about congestion, we are talking about peak periods. Surely, Active Traffic Management is very well suited to that particular problem because you are expanding capacity when you need it and reducing it when you no longer need it. That is presumably more cost-effective, because if you add an extra lane on to the M25 it is there at all periods of the day and it is costing a huge amount of money. Going back to what you said about the extension of ATM, that is something, presumably, that is cost-effective and could be spread throughout the country at a far more cost-effective rate than widening.
Stephen Glaister: I would agree with you and I think I said that. But you need to make sure that there aren’t situations where the widening is really justified. There are parts of the motorway network that are congested for a very large part of the day. One thinks of the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester, which is chockablock almost all the waking hours of every working day, other parts of the M6 further north and the M25.
All I am saying is that you need to do the sums to make sure that the managed motorway is an adequate solution to the problem. I submit that that particular piece of the M6 north of Birmingham should be looked at very carefully, as to whether we should revert to the previous plans to have some kind of widening scheme or an additional piece of capacity in the interests of making that area function properly, because it doesn’t at the moment. I am talking now about the economy in that area.
Mr Harris: Just on that point, I drive up that particular piece of road fairly regularly and it is often very, very busy, but I have actually rarely found it chockablock, as it were, at a snail’s pace.
Q96 Iain Stewart: You have answered the questions I was going to ask. Can I look at using technology in the more informal sense? More and more cars have satnav technology. What evidence do you have that that changes drivers’ planning in terms of the route that they take between two given points? Is that an effective, informal method of managing traffic flow or do drivers tend not to take too much notice of it?
Nick Reed: I think it could be. If there were a central resource that could manage the guidance given by a navigation system and help in implementing a managed motorway type of scheme, then there is an opportunity there and the technology is there, or will be in the near future, to do that. There is an opportunity there perhaps to make progress with using navigation technology.
Q97 Iain Stewart: Forgive me; I am not terribly au fait with the different systems. At the moment there are lots of different satnav systems that will have different degrees of accuracy and traffic information. Is there a need for a standard control that they can all link into?
Nick Reed: Yes. That could happen, yes.
Q98 Iain Stewart: But there is not at the minute?
Nick Reed: No.
Mark Kemp: Obviously, at the moment there are algorithms within the satnavs that give you shortest journey, quickest journey-whichever the solution is that you want. What they don’t give you is the most appropriate journey in terms of the highway network and managing the network properly.
As an example, if you have an accident on the A12, there may be times when, rather than letting people go through Ipswich because that is where that satnav is telling them, they would be better off sitting on the A12 for a short time. Making those decisions, I think, is critical in taking the next step in terms of incident management.
Stephen Glaister: That is a very interesting example. It may not be so much to do with satnavs as other sources of information to drivers. We did find on the A12, when we looked at it, that there was a lot of scope for better signage operated by the road manager, in realtime, to direct the traffic round an incident. However, you are always very limited by the alternative routes. If there isn’t an alternative route, you are stuck. This is very much a geographically specific issue.
James Coates: You have got to have a system that is dynamic if you want it to deal with the incidents of congestion rather than something that is around all the time. There are systems but I can’t remember the name. There is one that predates satnav which you can buy, which tells you whether the road is congested or not and advises you to take an alternative route. How well it works I don’t know. It is a very wellknown system.
But most people’s satnav has the hard disk on it which has the road network on it. It doesn’t tell you whether the road happens to be blocked at the moment or where you might go if it is. Perhaps there are some that have these whistles and bells, but most of them do not do that. You would have to have a system that was in communication with the highway management organisation to feed that information back.
Q99 Chair: Is there such a system?
James Coates: What is the one called that-
Q100 Chair: Does such a system exist where it is in touch in an ongoing way with traffic management?
James Coates : There is one. I can’t remember what it is called.
Mark Kemp: The higher end satnavs certainly have traffic information on them, which is fed by Trafficlink and all those sorts of organisations. They do have that at the higher end, but a lot of the more basic end ones don’t.
James Coates: The cheap one I have doesn’t do it.
Q101 Chair: So it is there.
Mark Kemp: I suppose as they become more popular and the technology increases-
Q102 Chair: So there is a solution but it is not available.
Stephen Glaister: It is essentially the same information source, I believe, which is used by the local radio stations. Trafficlink provide information to local radio stations; they also provide information to satnav providers.
Q103 Chair: How can parking controls help congestion?
Mark Kemp: To me, there are two levels of this. I am the Director of Highways in Cambridge. If you take parking in its widest sense, then using parking patrols for offstreet and onstreet parking, and linking that to alternative modes to get in better site facilities, bus lanes, park and ride, those sorts of things for all your major conurbations, can help. That is how Cambridge have managed to keep the vehicles over this green line, as was referred to earlier, down to the level that they have, by careful management of all these items.
At the other end, there is the issue of people parking inappropriately, in difficult locations, and therefore causing congestion through driver behaviour, going back to your initial point.
Q104 Chair: Is the type of parking system that you have just described, where it is linked to traffic management, found commonly across the country or is it just in certain areas such as Cambridge? Can anybody else answer that? Is this something that is found more generally?
James Coates: Most local authorities that have a congestion problem try to regulate the parking that is under their own control in such a way as to alleviate the problem. For instance, in London, well before the congestion charge was introduced, the Greater London Council, and before it the LCC, had restricted permission for parking and introduced parking meters and so on, not only to make the roads work more efficiently but also-
Q105 Chair: Mr Coates, I want to know what is happening now in other places. Is the situation Mr Kemp described found, generally speaking, across the country or is it just in certain areas?
James Coates: I think the answer is yes, but there are two difficulties. One is that if you want to manage the total demand for parking, and particularly all-day parking compared with shortstay, and peak hour parking compared with off-peak parking, those can be very effective ways of having an effect on the level of traffic at different times of the day. Local authorities do do that to some extent, but they do not have control over the private nonresidential parking at office blocks, NCP car parks and so on. In some large cities, these are a very significant part of the total parking stock. I think it is true of Manchester and Birmingham, for instance.
Local authorities have powers, which I think they have never used, to establish zones in which offstreet parking has to be licensed, and they can then determine the mix of the longstay and shortstay and the charges that are made. But if that results in the offstreet car parking provider suffering a loss of income, he has to be compensated, and because of the fear of this local authorities have always shied away from doing anything about it.
You have had a submission from a group called the Green Light Group, and the CILT is one of the institutes that is a member of that group. They have made suggestions about how the law could be changed to make it easier for local authorities to use the amount of parking and the peak and off-peak split and the overall charge for parking, if you like, as a substitute for road pricing. Over and above that, of course there is workplace parking, which was introduced by the last Government and which Nottingham are actively pursuing, but I don’t think anybody else is. We wait to see what happens in Nottingham. That might be very effective.
Q106 Chair: Could each of you perhaps give me just one final thought on what the Government can do to deal with congestion problems? Is there any one thing you would like the Government to do? Maybe there isn’t anything.
Mark Kemp: I have already mentioned Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act and enabling local authorities to deal with moving traffic offences as we can in London.
Q107 Chair: Thank you. Does anybody else want to volunteer any proposals for the Government?
Stephen Glaister: I am afraid this is a proposal I made to you on another occasion. It is simply that the Government should have a proper understanding of what is going to happen to congestion in the future on the bit of the network that it is responsible for and have a plan for dealing with it, because it does not have that at the moment.
Nick Reed: I think it is a common thread in the sessions that we have had this morning related to attitudes. It is driving attitude, driver behaviour, gaining an understanding of how those attitudes are represented across the different road users-pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, truck drivers, motorbikes-and ways to improve compatibility between those groups.
James Coates: I think what the Government might do, which I am sure won’t happen, is what the previous Government said it was going to do and never did, which is to explain to the public what the advantages of a fairer charging system might be. Some people say we should put up the fuel duty. That could indeed cut traffic, but it would be an extremely inefficient and unfair way of doing it, and there are arguments for saying the fuel duty is far too high from a transport point of view and should be cut. There are other ways of charging people for using roads and the public are against it.
Q108 Chair: Do you mean road charging?
James Coates: What they would get out of it has not been explained to them.
Chair: We will note that, but this Government have said, as the previous one did, that they are not going to do it.
James Coates : No, they are not going to do it.
Chair: There we are. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.
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