Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by The Automobile Association (IT 161)



  The AA was founded in 1905 to promote and to defend the interests of pioneer motorists. Concern for road safety was enshrined in its first rules; and public affairs have remained at its heart for more than 90 years. Today, the AA provides mutual assistance to, and protection for, its 9.5 million members as road-users, as users of other means of travel or transportation, and as home owners or occupiers.

  The objectives of the AA are to promote safety on the roads; to represent the interests of road-users; to provide services and benefits to members; to assist in harmonising the needs of road-users with the users of other means of travel or transportation; and to assist in harmonising the needs of road-users with the protection and enhancement of the environment.


  Car ownership will continue to grow. This is both acknowledged and welcomed in the White Paper, bringing as it does flexibility and a widening of the horizons of many more families and individuals. But if increasing car ownership and use is to be sustainable, it must be planned for now, and managed better in the future.

  The White Paper provides the strategic framework within which future transport policies and investment decisions can be set. The government must now build quickly on the consensus, goodwill and momentum that it has generated.

  In this memorandum, the AA has set out the key issues that need to be addressed now, and the actions the government must take to start the long process of providing the United Kingdom with the best transport systems in Europe.


  The key to the delivery of a new deal for transport is finance. The White Paper recognised this fact, as did the Chancellor in his statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review.

    "Anybody who travels on our roads and railways knows that after years of neglect and under-investment, Britain suffers from an over-crowded, under-financed, under-planned and under-maintained transport system."

  While these are encouraging words, the funding model that has emerged is clear: there will be no additional public investment. Additional investment must come from transport users themselves through higher fares, new charges on workplace parking, charges to enter cities, and motorway tolls.

  However, the Deputy Prime Minister has secured a concession from the Chancellor that the revenue from new charges will be hypothecated to transport investment.

  The AA believes the order of priorities for transport investment to be:

    —  Maintenance of existing infrastructure.

    —  More professional operation of transport systems and services.

    —  Investment in high-return projects bringing economic and environmental benefits.

  The government must act on the high ideals presented by the Chancellor in his statement to Parliament and commit funding to provide the UK with a transport system at least equal to our European neighbours.


  The White Paper proposes the eventual implementation of congestion charges, workplace parking charges, and motorway tolls. Research among AA members suggests that the acceptability of these new charges depends on whether or not people see them as reasonable, sensible and fair. The AA has told the Deputy Prime Minister that public support and acceptance of new charges depends on three key principles being adopted:

    —  The money raised from motorists must be spent on locally popular, workable, value-for-money packages of roads and transport services relevant to those motorists who are paying.

    —  The new charges must be spent wholly on improvements and must not be used as a substitute for existing spending from existing revenues.

    —  The development of new charging streams must be tied to a fundamental review and reform of motoring taxation that has a direct link between what motorists pay for the use of roads and what they get in transport services—separating a charge to use roads from taxation for general expenditure.

  The latter is a critical first step in setting up the framework for new charges dedicated to transport investment. It is a model that has been developed by the AA based on the report Reforming road taxation, commissioned from David Newbery, Professor of Applied Economics at Cambridge University.

  The principle of separating a road charge from general taxation, as proposed by Professor Newbery and the AA, is now widely supported by mainstream transport professionals, and is the key that will unlock the much needed long-term reforms in transport investment.

  The European Commission's White Paper Fair payment for infrastructure use supports the central point of the AA's advocacy-separating taxes from charges and permitting the charge proceeds to flow directly to infrastructure managers to enable rational investment in transport infrastructure.

  The government must establish transparent new accounts embracing new charges and existing revenue and spending, and give binding institutional protection so that new charges on motorists will be additional money for transport investment.


  The Roads Review was a microcosm of the key issues in the White Paper generally. The AA fully supports the key proposals in the review.

    —  Increased investment in maintenance as the first priority.

    —  Second priority to "real time" operation of the network, using new technology operated in Regional Traffic Control Centres.

    —  A realistic, deliverable programme of major improvements associated with a financial plan to deliver it.

  However, the switch of priority to road maintenance and operation means the residual funds guarantee that only 37 schemes will be implemented over seven years, with the popular by-pass programme carrying the burden to the detriment of safety and the environment of local communities.

  Unsurprisingly, the government is undertaking a raft of studies looking at the major traffic, safety and environmental problems that the previous roads programme aimed to solve. It seems unlikely that the majority of these problems could be solved without substantial road or transport projects.

  The government must now deliver the seven-year programme of higher investment that it has identified. It must bring forward high-return projects to address the major problems it has highlighted for study, within three years, together with the associated financing plan.


  The White Paper's specific focus on giving motorists a better deal in return for the enormous, and growing, taxation that they bear is very welcome. Much could be done in the relatively short term to implement the government's proposals, including:

    —  Speedy implementation of more professional operational management of the road network—particularly to manage and clear incidents quickly and give reliable information to road users.

    —  A review of the New Roads and Streetworks Act to give highway authorities much greater control over utility roadworks.

    —  An action programme supported by funding to achieve new casualty reduction targets.

    —  A package of measures to tackle car crime and car consumer fraud by reforming the DVLA and achieving 2000 secured car parks by the end of 2000.

    —  Legislation to curb "cowboy" wheelclamping on private land.

  If motorists are to accept access restrictions and new charges on the use of their cars, there must be a package of consumer-focused commitments that meet "Citizens' Charter" principles, particularly in respect of the operation of roads and protection against crime and fraud. It is ironic that motorists are currently the only transport user group where Citizens' Charter principles are reversed—motorists paying increasing taxes and charges for declining levels of service.

  The government must show its commitment to giving motorists a new deal by implementing within three years a package of measures to improve journey-time reliability, safety, and consumer protection.


  The White Paper rightly highlights people's concern about poor air quality in towns and cities, and the effect on health. The government's Air Quality Strategy will set out local action designed to complement measures to improve fuel and vehicle standards.

  Enormous strides have been made by the motor manufacturers and the petroleum industry. A new car today produces less than 5 per cent of the toxic pollution of one manufactured in the 1970s. Since 1992, the year when the catalytic converter became mandatory for all new petrol-engined cars, toxic pollution from cars has been reduced by 26 per cent, despite traffic growth (AA toxic emissions indices).

  Motorists have been willing to accept the additional cost of purchasing—and particularly replacing—catalytic converters because of the clear benefits, based on sound science, they bring to the environment (up to 5 per cent of the car's value can be the catalyst and engine-management systems). All measures aimed at improving urban air quality must similarly be based on sound science and public acceptability.

  The forecast is that as new generation cleaner cars replace older generation polluting ones, and with the new emission standards proposed for 2000 and 2005, toxic emissions will be at half of today's levels. However, half a million heavy goods vehicles and buses today produce more particulate pollution than 23 million cars.

  Most towns and cities will be able to meet the proposed air quality standards because of technological advances, without the need for restrictions on access. However, the new technologies depend on good regular vehicle maintenance, and positive, cost-effective action is needed to drive badly-maintained, grossly-polluting vehicles off the road.

  Testing vehicles' emissions at the roadside is a positive way of doing this, provided the procedures are perceived to be fair, popular and effective. However, the government's current pilot scheme for roadside testing operated by seven local authorities is not fair and effective. It does not discriminate between those who know they are polluting and those who have vehicles regularly serviced, and is proving unnecessarily unpopular for these reasons.

  The government must introduce policies that target real problems—for example, wilful, anti-social drivers who drive grossly-polluting vehicles, and operators of ageing, under-maintained fleets of polluting buses and lorries.


  The main focus of this and the previous government's strategy to stabilise and reduce CO2 emissions has been to target transport through the fuel-tax escalator. For six successive budgets, excise duty on motor fuel has been increased by between five and six per cent above inflation annually.

  There have been several effects of this policy.

    —  Motor fuel in the UK is now the most expensive in Europe—85 per cent of the price of a litre of fuel is now tax and duty.

    —  The cost/benefit analysis of the policy shows that the cost is equivalent to more than £2,000 for every tonne of carbon saved, which compares most unfavourably with other energy saving measures.

    —  An additional £8 billion revenue to the Exchequer from the fuel-tax escalator alone by 2000.

    —  An average increase in motoring costs of around £50 a year every year for every car-owning family.

    —  A continuous decline in transport investment despite the enormous additional revenues generated by the escalator.

  The AA has argued that this discredited tax escalator has had no material effect on the environment. In Germany, on the other hand, voluntary agreements with the automobile industry have resulted in reduced emissions from new cars. The recent voluntary agreement negotiated with the European car industry will also produce significant reductions in overall fuel consumption from new cars in the future. These are policies based on sound science, not opportunist tax raising, and as a result make a striking contribution to the commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

  The cost of motoring is one of the major concerns of AA members. For most, motoring is their third largest expenditure (15 per cent) after housing and food (18 per cent). The blunt instrument of increased motoring taxation hits marginal car-owning families most, particularly the low-waged, the retired, and those in rural and suburban areas badly served by public transport.

  The government must take note that motorists will not accept a seventh fuel tax increase above inflation on discredited environmental claims, and certainly not without every penny being ring-fenced for transport investment.


  The AA welcomes the government's commitment to set a new road safety target for Great Britain, leading up to 2010. The AA believes that a challenging, high-level casualty reduction target, built on the British approach of research and sound science, will be motivating and achieve significant casualty reductions.

  The government's commitment to review speed policy is very much welcomed by the AA. Last year the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research commissioned Ross Silcock Limited to review why and when people speed. This major study will be published next year, and will contribute significantly to the development of new policies on speed.

  But research, sound science, technology, engineering, enforcement and changes in behaviour can be delivered only with adequate funding. Road deaths and injuries are a huge cost to the economy, and they devastate many families. And yet road accidents are not prioritised in the same way as other causes of premature death in "Health of the Nation" programmes. The new road safety targets must, therefore, be underpinned by properly funded programmes over the next 10 years.

  The government must include road traffic accident reductions in "Health of the Nation" programmes to ensure this significant cause of premature death and injury has the long-term funding that will provide high rates of return through cost-effective casualty savings.


  The White Paper highlights the reduction of crime and fear of crime as a major priority, whenever it occurs in the transport system. AA research quite clearly shows that travelling is perceived by many people as being threatening and dangerous, particularly at night on public transport, when walking, and in car parks. It is little comfort that, compared with many millions of journeys made each year, very few people are assaulted.

  The AA would like to see a formal strategy developed, underpinned by partnerships between authorities, transport operators and the police. The objective must be to alter how people feel about the risk of travelling. The vision must be that everyone should feel safe to travel after 10 pm.

  The AA has taken initiatives to support the government in this task, and is represented on the Home Office's newly created Vehicle Crime Action Team. In addition, the AA administers the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) Secured Car Park Scheme; the Prime Minister has set a target of 2000 secured car parks by the end of 2000.

  Fear for personal safety now adversely affects many lives, and there needs to be an open discussion about the issue, with positive action implemented.

  The government must put fear for personal security near the top of the transport agenda, and work with all the relevant agencies and organisations to find solutions and solve the problems.


  There is no alternative to the car for many of the journeys people make in their daily lives. The White Paper recognises this, while emphasising the need for policies to help reduce reliance on the car, with better public transport and improved conditions to encourage cycling and walking.

  Quality bus, coach and train services can not only compete with the car but thrive on high-volume, high-frequency corridors such as journeys into town centres.

  But if public transport is to compete with the car, it must be stretched and be re-focused to provide consumer-facing services that offer a genuine alternative. The 1998 consumer looks for quality, comfort, safety and security and value-for-money. People will not switch to second-rate, down-market buses and trains designed and built for the 1960 user.

  There has to be a step change in public transport provision—modern vehicles, comfortably warm in the winter, comfortably cool in the summer; weather-proof shelters with seating; real-time reliable and accurate information; a strong sense and feeling of safety and personal security at transport stops and interchanges; and quality park-and-ride schemes that integrate the car into public transport services.

  The government must develop strategies, partnerships and funding streams to develop public transport services offering comfort, quality, reliability and safety, focused totally on the needs and expectations of users.


  This first transport White Paper for 30 years sets the strategic framework within which transport policies and investment can be set. The White Paper has signalled the government's intention to solve Britain's transport problems and to develop a transport infrastructure and services that are as good as any in Europe.

  The government must build quickly on the goodwill and the momentum that the White Paper has generated. This means setting out an action programme covering short, medium and long-term plans and programmes.

    —  In the short term (0-2 years), launch urgent action programmes to improve operational management, restore the condition of assets, and research, plan and access work to support later stages.

    —  In the medium term (3-5 years), establish new institutions and funding methods to oversee service delivery, restore the country's transport assets, and implement scores of stalled transport packages.

    —  In the long term (5-20 years), plan changes and major new investment to remould travel patterns and transport systems.

  The key is a reform of transport finance. Without reform—and popular acceptance of it—no programme is deliverable to a timescale that will address increasing road congestion and declining public transport services.

  The government must set out short- medium- and long-term action programmes with parallel financial plans showing now that what is promised will be delivered.

Public Policy

November 1998

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