Memorandum by the Policy Studies Institute
INTEGRATED TRANSPORT WHITE PAPER
This short Memorandum represents a commentary
on the Government's White Paper on the Future of Transport. After
highlighting radical elements in the White Paper which provide
grounds for optimism, it briefly raises nine inter-related and
critical themes in the Paper: the justification for traffic restraint;
the breadth of modal choice; the balance between persuasion and
coercion in practice; the dangers of exaggerating the role of
public transport; pricing, subsidy and hypothecation; health promotion
and danger reduction; the scope of technology in energy conservation;
limits on demand for travel; and the response to the threat of
climate change. Theseparticularly the lastprovide
grounds for serious concern about the direction the Paper proposes
for the first decades of the next century.
At the outset, it would be churlish not to acknowledge
encouraging statements in the White Paper such as:
the need to reduce the current growth
in road traffic (1.35);
local authorities required to set
out their strategies for doing so and providing them with the
opportunity for using taxes on car use for other transport purposes;
integrating transport policies with
those for education, health and wealth creation (1.22); recognising
the links of ill-health with less walking and cycling (2.6); declaring
the intention of encouraging healthy lifestyles through transport
decisions (2.12); and increasing provision for safer routes to
acknowledgement of the significance
of walking and cycling (3.7); support for the National Cycling
Strategy (3.9); and support for local facilities (1.41);
a major review of speed policy (3.227
research into measures to improve
vehicle safety and to ensure that they give maximum protection
to occupants and minimise injury to pedestrians and cyclists
a wish to see aviation meeting its
external costs (3.191); requiring airport policy to "reflect
our strategy for sustainable development" (3.191); pursuing
the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) so that an
environmental tax is levied on aviation fuel (4.155);
and, most importantly,
a major effort to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions (1.36); the need to respond to the challenge of
climate change (2.25) which represents "the greatest global
environmental threat facing the international community"
(1.8 and 2.22); recognition of "our obligation to meet targets
on climate change" (John Prescott's Foreword); and "recognition
that emissions from road traffic are the fastest growing contributor
to climate change (1.8)."
However, the White Paper can be challenged on
many key issues. Notable among these are the following:
1. CONGESTION AND
The origins of this viewpoint are
the problems posed by rush hour commuter traffic. They therefore
tend to be only applicable in urban centres where public transport
can provide a realistic alternative to the carbut only
one in seven journeys are to or from work and only a minority
are to these centres rather than elsewhere. Such a viewpoint implies
that there are no important reasons for limiting choice in areas
and at times not subject to these problems. It also provides no
indication that traffic reduction policies may be justified to
achieve other social, economic and environmental gains. This also
raises issues relating to choice.
2. THE APPROPRIATENESS
The White Paper argues that "people want
more choice" (1.3) the aim is to increase personal choice
(1.21), including its expression in terms of increasing ownership
and use of cars"we expect more people to be able to
afford a car" (1.2) and "people want more choice on
whether to use their cars" (1.17).
However, there is a never-ending
scope for this, unless account is taken of the economic and environmental
implications. Moreover, what is implicit in this is the inadmissibility
of denying people the opportunity of using their carsor
flyingif a matching alternative cannot be found. One can
infer from this a judgment that if people cannot "reasonably"
make their journeys without the car or aeroplane, they have an
inalienable right to go on doing so by these means.
Given the wide disparities between
the characteristics and attractions of the different modes both
from a self-interest and a public interest viewpoint, real choice
rarely exists: for instance, comparison of the great majority
of door-to-door journeys reveals that, in most instances the car
takes far less time than does public transport. In any case, "choice"
is very limited for people who do not have access to a car when
they wish to travel.
3. THE ADEQUACY
Remarkably, the White Paper indicates that,
over the next 20 years "we face dramatic increases in traffic.
In our vision, more people will be able to afford a car""the
number of people owning cars will continue to increaseso
we also need to make life better for the motorist". It also
wishes to "persuade people to use their cars a little
(sic) less and public transport a little (sic) more"
(John Prescott's Foreword)but "we are not forcing
people out of their cars" (page 18 of the White Paper Summary)
and "great sacrifices aren't called for" (1.48).
There are distinct dangers with this
palliative, softly, softly, rather than holistic approach. In
particular, the import of an adequate response to the problems
of climate change is that coercion may be necessary and that the
premises of 20th century thinking in the transport domainthe
"further and faster" syndromewill need to be
stood on their head very soon. Allied to this is the related fallacious
assumption about the prospects of public transport.
4. THE DANGERS
John Prescott's Foreword states that we "need
to improve public transport and reduce car dependenceeveryone
shares that analysis". "Better public transport will
encourage more people to use it". "People want a better
public transport system as a real and attractive alternative to
using cars"(1.3); "People will not switch from the comfort
of their cars to buses that are old, dirty, unreliable and slow;
motorists will not readily switch to public transport unless it
is significantly better and more reliable"(3.14).
Throughout the White Paper there
is a distinct emphasis on public transport as the principal means
of substituting for car travel (hence the cited attractions of
"seamless journeys" and "park and ride" to
enable people to continue to live in low density energy-intensive
settlements whilst at the same time benefiting from access to
urban facilities). This emphasis is misplaced.
The prime reason for the vast increase
in car use in recent decades is, in the main, not because public
transport has been insufficiently attractive. The confusion arises
from the fact that, in the great majority of cases, journeys by
car have not substituted for those previously made by public transportover
the last 30 years, the number of car occupant kilometres has increased
by 400bn., but the number of bus passenger kilometres has decreased
by only 30bn. Indeed, the number of car journeys exceeds the number
of the combined public transport journeys by a factor of eight,
and even those on foot and by cycle exceeds it by a factor of
Moreover, public transport too is
polluting, dangerous and, per passenger kilometre, highly energy-consuming,
especially in off-peak hours. The White Paper acknowledges that
buses only "usually" emit less CO2 per passenger
kilometre than does the person travelling by car (2.22). This
may prove to be "often" if public transport is increasingly
used in off-peak hours with its associated low seat occupancies.
5. THE PRICING
It appears that John Prescott won his battle
with the Treasury in obtaining permission for the hypothecation
of taxes on car use to be spent on improving the quality of public
However, there is a strong case for
questioning the wisdom of subsidising public transport,
rather than making private transport more expensive to use in
order to better reflect its local and global environmental costs.
The case for subsidy has its origins in a never-ending goal of
enabling people to travel further and fasterwithout regard
to the social, economic and ecological consequences. It is clear
that transport makes a significant call on the public purse£1.6
billion on rail/£3 billion on local transport/£1.3 billion
on roads (4.7). All of this investment subsidises more geographically
spread patterns of travel and therefore promotes their adoption.
Indeed, the rhetoric in John Prescott's
Foreword stating that "This White Paper reflects the Government's
commitment to giving transport the highest possible priority"
sits uneasily with the Prime Minister's often repeated statement
that the Government's top priority is "Education, education,
Investment in public transport is
not evaluated on a level playing field with investment in provision
for the non-motorised modes. Insufficient account is taken
of the far more cost-effective ways for investment by promoting
walking and cycling, in particular. The present wording in the
White Paper "we want buses to be first-class transport"
points to the likelihood of the funds being invested in Manchester's
"Metrolink" type solutionswhere the expenditure
of £150 million on its first stage only carries 14 million
passengers a year and moreover only achieves "some"
switch (i.e., disappointingly low) from car use (3.37).
6. THE ROLES
Although the importance of health and safety
is acknowledged in the White Paper, and the case for safer routes
to school and safer cars is clearly set out, this represents a
very limited perspective of what needs to be achieved in this
area of policy.
Why not safe routes for children
rather than just "to school"? Far more of children's
journeys are made for purposes other than going to and from school.
Why should their safety on these other journeys be considered
less relevant, particularly as only about one in ten of their
fatalities occurs on the journey to and from school combined.
Given the fact that the volume
of traffic represents perhaps the most obvious factor contributing
to danger on the roads, yet the White Paper's statement that "we
are faced with dramatic increases in traffic" (1.10), including
the diagram of the substantial road traffic forecast increases
accompanying the paragraph and the stated "need (only) to
reduce the rate of road traffic growth" (1.35), the
goal of danger reduction seems unlikely to be met. It is
salutary to note that even if a pedestrian is hit by a car travelling
at 20mphthe lowest speed limit currently allowed to public
roadsserious injury is likely to occur.
7. CONSERVING FUEL
Clearly the authors of the White Paper are dazzled
by the allure of technology, citing its role in enabling the capacity
of the existing transport infrastructure to be increased, obtaining
more vehicle miles from a gallon of fuel"greener,
clear vehicles" (1.34) and "encouraging people to buy
more fuel-efficient cars" (2.56).
In the White Paper, the thrust of
policy on this subject is on increasing efficiency far more than
on the more effective means of reducing fuel consumption, namely
by reducing vehicle mileage.
The same holds true with regard to
the White Paper reference to the environmental costs of air travel
in its reference to carbon emissions per passenger kilometre from
air travel as higher than those from most other means of travel
(1.48)as if conscience can be salved by using high-speed
rail instead of flying whenever possible, again ignoring the more
effective means of reducing fuel consumption, namely travelling
shorter distances. It is noteworthy that carbon emissions per
passenger kilometre by high speed rail is only about one-third
lower than that by air.
Moreover, there are distinct dangers
in aiming to achieve reductions in fuel consumption through the
medium of greater efficiencies, for instance, in obtaining more
miles from a gallon of petrol: the effect of that approach in
the last two decades has been to lower the unit cost of car travel
thereby generating more car travel. From this it may be construed
that it is necessary to pursue the goal of reducing the need for
motorised travel before pursuing the efficiency goal.
8. THE ABSENCE
The White Paper notes that "new policy
will take account of the demand for airport capacity (3.192).
It argues that we need to "make it easier to get to airports
by public transport (2.19 and 3.42). It also states "We will
continue to promote the interests of our successful UK aviation
industry (4.42); and "encourage international flights to
regional airports where consistent with sustainable development"(3.197).
The premise of policy in the White
Paper, albeit unwritten, is to facilitate the objective of enabling
people to travel "further and faster". Only in
circumstances in which the demand cannot be realistically met
owing to limited capacity, does the White Paper propose restraint.
This also holds true for public transportwitness the implied
view that public transport is all "good"(we will
continue to work with the EU on the development of TENs)(3.213)the
As quoted earlier, the White Paper
refers to the need to reduce "the rate of growth"
in road travel (1.35) but not in the much faster growing area
of air travel (one-sixth of transport fuelsand risingbeing
used for air travel).
Indeed, the principle of "predict
and provide" for road travel has been abandonedbut
apparently not for public transport or, particularly, air travel,
in spite of the unsustainable levels of energy use that this entails;
for instance, a round flight from London to New York per passenger
produces carbon emissions equivalent on an equity base to the
annual total that can be allowed for each person living on the
planet for all their fossil fuel using purposes if the
climate is not to be destablished.
9. RESPONDING TO
In the Foreword to the White Paper, John Prescott
calls for an urgent new approach to the problems posed by climate
change, citing it as "one of the greatest threats to civilisation"
and therefore requiring a "framework to respond to the challenge".
Whilst acknowledging the relevance
of this aspect of transport policy, the primacy it must have is
not reflected throughout its contents. Yet, research over the
last 10 years has revealed beyond reasonable doubt that the planet
has a limited carrying capacity for greenhouse gas emissions if
serious destabilisation of its climate from human activity is
to be prevented. In light of this, there must be a substantial
reduction of these emissions.
In recognition of the need for urgent
international action on this, world leaders met in Rio in 1992
and again, five years later, last December, in Kyoto. Whilst the
negotiations that took place at these two venues can be seen to
represent important staging posts on the road to achieving that
reduction, both the inequity and insufficiency of the targets
set on each occasion are all to apparent.
Translating the overall reduction
of 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the emissions called for in the
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Working Group
reports over the last eight years onto an equity baseit
is becoming ever more obvious that not only is this the moral
approach but also the only politically feasible onethe
average reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per capita
in Western European countries will have to be at least 90 per
cent below their current level. Only a system based on a ration
of "carbon vouchers", some of which would be tradable,
has a realistic prospect of success. That represents a fall per
person from about 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per
annum to just under one tonne. Against this, the agreement
reached in Kyoto, including a UK target of 12.5 per cent reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions (and a 20 per cent reduction in carbon
dioxide emissions) by between the years 2008 and 2012 can be seen
to fall far short of what is needed. Nevertheless, whilst targets
are set in the White Paper for many goals, no target is set for
reducing emissions from within the road or air transport sectors.
The magnitude of the problem is daunting. But,
if we do not deliver our fair share of the reduction, there can
only be two outcomes: either those who do not yet use their sharemainly
people living in developing countriesmust be prevented
from doing so or, together with future generations, we must witness
and bear the costs of escalating damage from climate changeas
well as the burden on our consciences. Road and air transport
policies must be determined with far more attention paid to the
obvious routes that will have to be taken to protect the planet
from climate change. Transport cannot be excused from making its
contribution to this imperative. The White Paper fails lamentably
in this regardother than in terms of rhetoric.
Dr Mayer Hillman
Senior Fellow Emeritus
24 September 1998