1 Introduction |
1. The cost of road congestion in the United
Kingdom is astonishingly high. The Eddington Transport Study of
2006 was widely quoted in evidence; this estimated that a 5% reduction
in travel time for all business travel on the roads could generate
around £2.5 billion of cost savings, for example relating
to missed appointments and delayed delivery times.
The Department for Transport's (DfT's) written evidence estimated
that the cost of congestion to business is set to rise by £10-12
billion over the period from 2003 to 2025 (expressed in 2002 prices).
Adding in the value of the lost time experienced by other travellers
raises this figure to £23-24 billion per annum.
2. Tackling congestion should be viewed in the
wider context of transport policy; indeed, it is one of the main
priorities for the DfT. Its Business Plan for 2011-15 sets out
numerous aims in this area:
- to improve traffic flow and
remove bottlenecks on the strategic road network;
- to introduce Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) road user
- to review the operation and structure of the
- to switch to more effective ways of making roads
- to encourage sustainable local travel and economic
growth by making public transport (including light rail) and cycling
and walking more attractive and effective, reducing carbon emissions;
- to tackle the causes of local traffic congestion,
and giving more flexibility to local authorities to tackle traffic
- to reform the management of road works.
Missing from this list, however, is road pricing
(other than for HGVs), which some organisations continue to argue
would be the most effective means of reducing congestion.
We decided to look at how, without road pricing, the Government
could better manage the existing road network and the traffic
that uses it to reduce congestion. The range of policy interventions
at national level is mirrored at the level of local highway and
traffic authorities. Transport for London, for example, outlined
the Network Operating Strategy that it is developing, in recognition
of the fact that "the efficient management and operation
of the road network is of significant economic importance".
Many local highway authorities have developed network management
plans covering similar ground.
3. Our inquiry was launched in autumn 2010. We
sought written evidence on:
- the extent to which the Government
and local authorities should intervene to alleviate congestion,
and the best means of doing so;
- the extent to which road user culture and behaviour
undermine effective traffic management, including the relevance
of The Highway Code to road users;
- intelligent traffic management schemes that can
help to alleviate congestion, such as the 'managed motorway scheme'
on the M42;
- the effectiveness of legislative provisions for
road management under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991,
and the Traffic Management Act 2004;
- and the impact of bus lanes and other aspects
of road layout.
4. We held four oral evidence sessions and received
56 written submissions: we thank all those who gave written and
oral evidence. We also visited a National Grid road works on Regents
Street, London and the Transport for London's Street Traffic Control
Centre in Southwark, London. We would like to thank both organisations
for facilitating such interesting visits, and for their time in
explaining their activities. We would also like to thank our specialist
adviser, Mike Talbot.
Roads: who's in charge?
5. As far as many road users are concerned the
road network is a single entity. But responsibilities for managing
the network are currently split between different bodies. The
Secretary of State has responsibility for overall Government policy
on roads, puts the relevant legislation in place, sets the strategic
framework for new developments in traffic management, and establishes
financial parameters. The Highways Agency is an executive agency
of the Department for Transport (DfT) and, on behalf of the Secretary
of State, operates, maintains and improves the strategic road
networkmost motorways and all-purpose trunk roadsin
England. Local highway
and traffic authoritiesCounty Councils, Metropolitan Borough
Councils, Unitary Authorities, London Boroughs and Transport for
Londonare responsible for all other public roads (including
non-trunk 'A' road, 'B' and 'C' roads) and a small number of short,
motorway standard 'A' roads in major urban areas.
Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) (which replaced the six
English Passenger Transport Authorities in 2009) have full responsibility
for local transport plans in their cities and can modify governance
arrangements within their areas.
What is congestion?
6. In order to investigate how congestion can
be reduced on our roads, we first had to understand what is meant
by 'congestion'. Many of our witnesses pointed out that congestion
means different things in different contexts, a view summarised
by Garrett Emmerson from Transport for London:
It can mean unreliable journeys in terms of the length
of time that journeys will take, taking 20 minutes one day, 40
minutes the next and so on; it can mean that journeys are just
too slow; or it can mean that in times of exceptional disruption,
road works or special events and things like that, journey are
very different from the way they normally are.
7. Congestion is not restricted to specific types
of road, but, as Iain Reeve from Surrey County Council told us,
"it can just as easily be in one of our towns with a main
A road running through it as it can be on the M25 or a large motorway".
Congestion is also not confined to vehicles, although they are
the principal focus of this Report; there are clearly circumstances
where pedestrian congestion is a problem, for example in busy
town centres, as was mentioned during our final oral evidence
session. Garrett Emmerson told us about the issue of pedestrians
disobeying traffic signals and the associated problems of enforcement,
which could lead to more delay and congestion.
While recognising that congestion can be defined in different
ways it was clear from the evidence that it is a concern both
to those who operate, and those who use, the road network. But
is it really getting worse? The DfT's statistics show that congestion
has fallen on both local and strategic roads over recent years.
While the DfT explained the drop in part due to "various
interventions on the road"with the accumulated effect
of schemes such as managed motorway schemes, junction improvements,
and better management of incidentsit stated that "the
recent recession will also undoubtedly have had an effect with
the latest estimates showing overall traffic to have fallen by
1.8 % since 2007".
In other words, once the economy picks up, congestion levels are
also likely to increase. Without significant improvements in road
and traffic management, or a fresh look at road pricing, congestion
may increase again.
1 Ev 104 and Ev 113 Back
Ev 120 Back
For example, Ev w36, Ev w48 Back
Ev 187 Back
The Government has decided not to introduce road pricing on existing
roads, except in relation to road use by Heavy Good Vehicles,
and as a consequence the Inquiry did not cover this issue. The
Committee also chose not to study the issue of parking, but might
return to this issue at a later date. Back
Mr Talbot made formal declarations of interests, which can be
found in the formal minutes of the Transport Committee, Session
2010-12, Appendix B. Back
Although the strategic road network comprises only 3% of the network,
a third of all road traffic in England and over two thirds of
heavy freight vehicles use it. Back
B Roads are numbered local roads with lower traffic densities
than A Roads and are usually no longer than 15 miles. C roads
are the lowest trafficked of the classified roads but many roads
are unclassified. Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev 36 Back
Ev 58 Back
Ev 119 and Ev w7 Back
Ev 19 Back